DASHED HOPES ON VALENTINE’S DAY

Posted By: Shannon Fischer
Valentine's DayValentine's Day

IStock Photo 8335713 © quavondo

Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day of romance and hope, when secret admirers make themselves known, and when couples in love exchange tokens of their everlasting passion. It's a day when millions simultaneously experience that frisson of anticipation, on edge for a rose or twelve, or maybe even a small, velvety box.

Mind you-there's a downside. If no gifts appear, or if the wrong gifts appear, that anticipation can turn in an instant into disappointment and dismay. That's the thing about Valentine's Day: for every heart that soars sky high, there are many more that wind up bruised and sore and full of aches instead. Sometimes it can seem less like a holiday and more like an emotional minefield.

It starts early. In grade school, February 14th can be a little bit of a popularity contest. Some desks end the day piled high with Scooby-Doo cards and sticky handfuls of foil-wrapped chocolates. Some desks finish up with only a few obligatory tokens of affection and a belly-full of crushed hope. But hope becomes habit (aided and abetted, perhaps, by the media storm of love fantasies leading up to the holiday), and the mid-winter rollercoaster of emotional investment grows up with us. So it's understandable why only 1 in 3.7 adults look forward to the holiday, and 1 in 4.55 positively dread it.

If you're one of America's 95.7 million singles, it can be an especially rough day. According to an informal survey by Men's Health magazine, a little more than 20% of both genders (20.7% of women and 21.9% of men) consider it absolutely horrible to not have a date on Valentine's Day. One can always try to shrug it off and pretend it's no big deal, but it's awfully hard to ignore the red and pink festooning every grocery store and pharmacy, or to brush aside the flower shops overflowing with all the roses you almost certainly won't receive from (or give to) that special someone you haven't got. According to a 2004 study sponsored by an online dating site, singles that spend the holiday on the sidelines can experience minor depression and anxiety that can linger even weeks after the holiday has passed.

But if you're in a relationship, the holiday can be just as stressful. Anyone who ignores it does so at their own peril-so if you're one of the 1 in 3.13 men in a relationship who doesn't plan to do anything special, you'd better make sure your girl is the 1 woman in 2.86 who intends the same nonchalance. Otherwise, the pressure is on both partners to find the right way to show their affection and satisfy their significant other's hopes.

It's not a stress-free endeavor. 1 in 3.85 men plan to give a gift to their partner, as do 1 in 3.45 women. But what to give? Flowers and a card? Candy? Jewelry? Or maybe something more elaborate, like a weekend away or a trip to Tahiti? Both genders feel the pressure-especially men, on whom the greatest burden to produce a surprise rests. And unfortunately, not everybody gets it right.

People can start to feel stressed out, resentful, anxious, and disappointed-none of which fall in line with traditional Valentine's feelings, like romance, affection, and desire (which could, perhaps, explain the odds that only 1 in 50 men and 1 in 100 women in relationships actually plan to have sex to celebrate Valentine's Day). These mixed emotions and upsets can take their toll. According to a study by researchers from Arizona State University, breakups are more than twice as likely to occur in the 2 weeks surrounding Valentine's Day than at other times of the year-although the effect was only found in couples already on a downward swing. Blogging psychologists have recognized the season's threats as well, and a proliferation of mid-winter posts have appeared in recent years, coaching readers on Valentine's survival strategies (most of which fall under the gentle suggestion that couples focus rather less on the loot and more on the intended emotion).

But take heart-there's more to love and romance than expectation alone. After all, while it's true enough that only 1-2% of people plan on sex, 1 in 6.25 women will be sexually satisfied by the end of the day anyway. Planning just isn't everything.

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