I once tried to give a slightly squished Ferrero Rocher as a “casual” Valentine’s Day present. It was rejected. Needless to say, having lived through that shining moment, I am now something of an expert on the subject of gift giving. And with this wisdom, I say keep the gift giving, but forget the holiday.
The process of giving and receiving gifts, though generally accepted as enjoyable, is often brushed off as a waste of time and money, especially on college campuses. Interactions of all kinds are streamlined by social media and sheer proximity; thus, friendships and relationships can be maintained with minimal effort. People hardly need to make plans—they have dining hall friends, dorm friends, and library friends, all of whom appear with hardly the need for a text. In this environment, it’s easy to fall into a “why bother” mindset.
Gift giving is a basic human instinct and one that shouldn’t be brushed off as “meaningless, socially constructed drivel,” as I have often heard it described. From an early age and without prompting, children give gifts to the people for whom they care, whether it’s a drawing, a cookie, or a stick that they found in the park. Many psychologists argue that there is social value to gift giving, saying that it can serve to demonstrate interest and strengthen bonds.
Present swapping is a valuable routine. Ideally, it is a positive experience for the giver, who gets to spend time exploring the other person’s personality and anticipating making that person happy. A job well done will of course be a positive experience for the receiver, who gets something enjoyable and gets to bask in the notion that someone cared enough to pick out a good gift.
This isn’t to say that the selection process cannot be downright painful at times. The Google searches “What to get my girlfriend for Valentine’s Day” and “What to get my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day” yield a combined total of 83,100,000 results. Even if you spent the time perusing each of those articles, my guess is you could easily walk away without a satisfactory answer to that question.
So what should you do? Should you buy a tasty-singing-charity-unicorn candygram from one of the many Usdan sales? Should you adopt a Wesleyan attitude of aloofness and irony and buy that three-foot-tall teddy bear from Rite Aid? Should you decide that irony is passé and buy an engagement ring for your significant other (or that random girl you’ve been eyeing in class)?
Honestly, as much as I value gifts, I think Valentine’s Day should not be celebrated on its own terms. For a day, Feb. 14 turns relationships from unique to generic. All of a sudden, you’re not John and Janie, but rather just another couple celebrating the way the calendar (and Hallmark) tells you to. One of the best parts of present getting is the surprise, a factor that is entirely eliminated with a holiday that mandates shopping. Add that to the pain it may cause people who are not in relationships but wish to be, throw in a little sexism with differing present expectations for men and women, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a holiday.
I stand firmly behind the notion that with presents, it’s the thought that counts, and the problem with Valentine’s Day is that it often removes the thought. Sure, jewelry, chocolate, and flowers can all be great gifts. But if my significant other told me, “Hey, if you don’t buy me some chocolate for Valentine’s Day, I’m going to break up with you and burn all of your clothes,” and then I bought them chocolate, I really wouldn’t except them to be bowled over with happiness. It was sort of the obvious choice.
Instead of making Valentine’s Day the foundation of your relationship, focus on finding other excuses to give gifts of all kinds. The gift of Indian food leftovers to your friend slaving away in the 24-hour study room. The gift of a $1.3 million gilded roll of toilet paper, if that’s what they’re into (and you have the resources). The gift of attention. Whatever you choose, just make sure it comes from your now-candy-encrusted heart, and not from the demands of the calendar.
Zalph is a member of the class of 2016.