by Carrie Kirk
"Valentines were really the innocent love-links of the humbler classes, and while they would infuse anxiety, and thought, and affection, and curiosity, and sometimes disappointment into a thousand minds -- they often carried balm to a wounded heart, blessings to a happy spirit, and woke the first blush of felicities that were to crown a life!"
Such was the sentiment in Victorian times when ruffled laces and strict social graces reined. But that was then. Now such emotions are expressed less thoughtfully. With less devotion. Where a package of preprinted love letters replaces the singular salute to your loved one.
Stocked with everything a family would need, Target is my go-to shopping run. With a history of crazy-high credit card statements, I have learned to enter through its doors armed with a pared-down list. And just as all the fitness magazines say to shop the perimeter of the grocery store to eliminate impulse junk-food purchases, the same rule applies to Target. Stay out of the center aisles, people. There you will find more hand towels, skillets and notepaper, all trendy and cute but none of which you or I need! It was when following this rule of shopping for what my family required, that I encountered the obnoxious pink and purple, over-the-top Valentine's Day display.
Along with February's day for love and lovers, it's also the month of yours truly's birthday. A lady never reveals her age, but let's just say that I have hit my mid-40s and have begun the downward slide toward 50. No condolences, please. I'm happy and healthy, and there's always therapy. With this in mind, when I approached the aisles of amour, I remembered a much, much simpler time. A time when Ayr-Way was the Target of the '70s, and while there were choices, they were fewer in number. Not so today. Along with cards, now there are rows of Valentine-themed chocolates, stuffed animals and heart-shaped kitchen utensils. Love knows no bounds at our local big-box store.
In elementary school, I always looked forward to our annual Valentine's Day room party. We students worked hard to decorate our shoe boxes with paper doilies and construction-paper hearts, for the valentines we would receive from our fellow classmates. And while the mass marketing of this holiday was, of course, in full swing then as it is now, there were fewer options for candy and/or ornamental pencils, erasers, stamps or temporary love tats. If you were lucky, you might get a chalky, pastel candy heart inscribed with something like "Be Mine" or the racier "You Rock My World" taped on a card's envelope.
With all this intimacy for sale, intimacy has been lost. In the 18th century, friends and lovers would convey their affection in the form of handmade valentines. And although this style of greeting with its lacelike decoration and a large embossed scrap pasted to it might not be your style, the details in these cards were remarkable. And what made them all the more special was that the card made for you was just for you and you alone. It was in the 19th century that commercially produced valentines became popular, allowing the sender to give a message of love to a wider circle of friends and relations. And while there was a lull in the holiday's popularity from about 1880 to just after World War I, it came back with a vengeance so that today you can find a note of adoration in a packet of 32.
This fantastic ability to connect, communicate and share in today's culture is awesome. It's also a bit numbing, at least for me. You know when you get that text from someone and you think, Cool. That person was thinking about me, right? And then it hits you that the text was a mass send with a distribution list that you can't even pinpoint. It's at that point I stop feeling so special. And I wonder if that isn't a similar feeling for others when it comes to Valentine's Day, a day of the year when you once revealed or confirmed your love, adoration and commitment to a number of folks you might be able to count on one hand.
Now the holiday meant for one is much like a Facebook account or the number of photo holiday cards mailed in December. We can reach a wider group of people now, but in doing so has that group of individuals become an audience to us? Have we replaced our whispers of love with a uniform shout-out, providing no balm to those wounded hearts and no genuine blessings to a happy spirit? Through the power of the product, our love has been evenly distributed and readily dumbed down in the process, proving that love really is for sale. But I'm not buying it ... are you?