NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Woe to the sap who proposes marriage on Valentine's Day this year.
If it isn't you, then some friend, colleague or family member is going to decide that this greeting-card holiday of out-of-season flowers and dubious historic merit is the perfect occasion to tell someone else that they want to spend the rest of their life — or at least a number of unspecified years — with them. Last year, a full 6 million Americans told American Express' Spending & Saving Tracker that they were either expecting a Valentine's Day proposal or planning to propose that day. That was up from 4 million in 2012.
A Valentine's Day proposal doesn't inject more love into the loveliest day of the year, it just helps tilt the scales away from a holiday that's falling out of favor to begin with. While IBISWorld notes that the $21.6 billion consumers planned to spend on Valentines Day last year ranks second only to Christmas among consumer holidays — and is a 3.7% uptick in spending from last year — that's only part of the story. The National Retail Federation is predicting a bump in spending too, but notes that just 55% of Americans plan on celebrating the occasion this year, down from 63% in 2007.
That's 45% of U.S. shoppers who couldn't care less about Valentines Day, never mind using it to pledge eternity to someone. Why? Maybe it's the paper cupids and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate that appear on supermarket shelves before the New Year arrives. Maybe it's the throngs of novice shoppers who turn every long-stemmed rose and "special" prix-fixe dinner menu into a Randian market-based nightmare.
Maybe it's because all but the most devout Christians draw a complete blank on not only who St. Valentine is but why he has a holiday — which was celebrated by some churches only on a whim.
Either way, the folks at wedding website TheKnot (XOXO) consider Valentine's Day the official end of a proposal season that starts around Thanksgiving and stretches through the winter holidays. It still trails Christmas and the waning summer days of August as prime time for proposals, but is one of the more unoriginal proposal dates on the calendar nonetheless. It's like making the Fourth Of July the day you decide to light your first firework or St. Patrick's Day the occasion for your first sip of Guinness.
It's a cliche, but one with myriad drawbacks festering beneath it. Here are just five worth warning folks about before an impending proposal:
5. Valentine's Day is a sham
Nobody's 100% clear which of the several saints named St. Valentine is responsible for the Feb. 14 date bearing his name, but the most educated guess is that he was a third-century bishop who supposedly cured a blind girl and aided Christians in the Roman Empire during a time they were more commonly used as lion feed. This particular Valentine made the fatal mistake of getting himself thrown in prison for his deeds and, while there, trying to convert Roman Emperor Claudius II to Christianity.
Claudius didn't care for Valentine's proselytism and ordered him beaten to death. When that failed, he had Valentine decapitated. That beheading, apparently, took place on Feb. 14. Valentine and the date of his death were added to the Catholic Church's list of saints, though that particular church no longer joins Anglicans, Lutherans and other churches in celebrating his gruesome, state-sanctioned murder.
With the exception of the 1929 mob-ordered Saint Valentines Day Massacre in Chicago, there's very little connecting the saint to this day. What about that winged Cupid and his arrows, you ask? Actually that's the god of love, desire and affection worshipped by the Romans who killed Valentine, as well as by the Greeks under the name Eros. You can thank him for the more erotic, erogenous portions of Valentines Day celebration, but he and Valentine likely wouldn't have hit it off.
So how did we get this strange blend of Christian and Roman religion all swirled into one overblown American shopping spree? Some say it was a blending of the Roman love-oriented holiday Lupercalia with the relatively new Christian observance of St. Valentine's Day, but history doesn't support it. Geoffrey Chaucer drew the first link between love and Valentines Day in the 14th century and the idea of "valentines" and romantic poems gained steam during the English Renaissance. Valentines as we know them weren't printed until the early 19th century, but you can thank Esther Howland for stealing the English tradition and imposing the first mass-market Valentine's Day cards on the U.S. public during the 1840s.
Valentine's Day is, as we know it, a greeting-card holiday. It doesn't promote love, but billions of dollars worth of paper, chocolate, floral arrangements, dinners, movies and the like. If you propose on that day, it also boosts the false notion that a diamond engagement ring is a tradition etched into centuries-old stone. Please. Giant diamond company DeBeers couldn't give a diamond away during the Depression and decided it needed to be a must-have item. It gave them to Hollywood actresses for free and told them to just wear them around. It paid jewelry designers to talk up the fake "trend" of diamond rings. In its most effective bit of psychological warfare, however, it had single copywriter Frances Gerety — who never married — come up with the slogan "A Diamond Is Forever" and slapped it on a picture of newlyweds on their honeymoon.
Your grand "tradition" is less than 70 year old and, 50 years ago, cost only one month's salary compared with the two-months guideline the diamond cartels issue today.
Speaking of cost ...
4. Valentine's Day is unnecessarily expensive
We've already mentioned this in the lead-up to the day, but everything about this holiday is a not-so-veiled attempt to empty your wallet during the slowest period in winter retail.
You're being told to buy roses during perhaps the worst time to do so, knowing full well that the $50 bouquet you just picked up will be worth maybe $10 when roses start blooming on their own in the warmer months. You're being prodded to take someone out to dinner on a day restaurants are slammed and offering the equivalent of a banquet hall buffet for nearly double the price of their regular, better menu items. You're being told to go to the movies during a Hollywood "dump month" during which the movie studios are going to unload their dreckiest dreck knowing full well that A) Few people will be watching and B) Valentine's Day audiences will have few other options.
It's one of those days when you just know you're going to get crushed by simple supply and demand. Millions of people who can't be bothered to go out to eat the rest of the year will go out to restaurants and treat the experience the way people still treat ATMs and self-checkout lines at the supermarket: as if aliens just dropped it out of the sky yesterday for them to use for the first time ever. The same candy, cards and stuffed animals that will be half-price in the bargain bin Feb. 15 to make way for Easter items are going to bleed last-minute shoppers dry this afternoon.
On just about any other day on the calendar, those proposing wouldn't have all of these forces making every aspect of their proposal — from the flowers to a ride home — incredibly costly. But because their imaginations fail them, they're going to pay a premium of 50% or more. You're basically getting, and giving, less proposal for your money, which is kind of a shame since ...
3. Valentine's Day is the bane of many people's existence
We've already mentioned that a full 45% of folks in the U.S. aren't going to acknowledge the day at all, which means you're already basically flipping a coin over whether the person you're proposing to will be impressed by the price you're paying for what's an already inherently romantic gesture.
As American Express found out last year, only 32% of couples think that it's an important day for celebrating their relationship. Another 35% think it's a fun little day, but not a major holiday that anyone needs to go out of their way for.
That's a roughly one-in-three chance that the two-months' salary you extend across a table over a mass-prepared meal fit for a church bingo night will be greeted with a sigh. It doesn't matter if you're overpaying for a weekend getaways (as 11% of those proposing on Valentines Day have) or shelling out too much for dinner (53%), chances are you're going to overextend yourself for no greater return on your investment then if you proposed on some random Tuesday in March.
In fact, Valentine's Day is so hated in some circles that:
2. Valentine's Day is a great day for divorce
Divorce mediation company Wevorce discovered in a recent poll that one in 12 people — and one in eight women — were considering divorce during the holiday season.
Know when "maybe" becomes "definitely"? Right around the time stores full of lovestruck cherubs remind everyone how not in love they are. That's when the wheels really start turning.
Avvo, a legal Q&A website, discovered that the number of consumers seeking information about divorce on their site increases more than 40% in the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day. As much as the person proposing may think that their significant other is so wrapped up in the romance of the holiday that they can't help but say yes, there's a chance that all those hearts and poems are just reminding them of the hollowed-out, loveless relationship they've put on cruise control for months, if not years.
At the very least, it may be amplifying some of the more annoying and worrisome aspects of that relationship and bringing those fears to a head as soon as that ring appears. They're taking stock in their relationship, and there's a chance they're seeing a very different picture.
That's probably a discussion both sides of that proposal should have had by now, but it's all the better reason not to propose on a day that's an enormous emotional trigger. That applies especially to folks in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Phoenix and Dallas, where most pre-Valentine's divorce inquiries came from.
Besides, why stress the holiday itself when ...
1. Valentine's Day is just another day in Presidents Day weekend
If you've laid out all of this evidence and the person proposing still isn't convinced, at least try to suggest that they can avoid the majority of Valentines Day hassles by avoiding Valentine's Day itself.
Not only does it fall on a three-day weekend for some folks this year, but it's an opportunity to be a bit clever while getting a little more for the money. If a person is obvious and drab enough to plan a Valentine's Day proposal, there's a strong chance that the person they're proposing to knows this and will approach each Valentine's Day knowing this might be the year the question is popped.
By letting Valentine's Day pass with fleeting interest or none at all, that internal clock resets and the countdown to Valentine's Day starts anew. Postponing by even a day or two reintroduces the element of surprise and makes it look as if that person put more than a modicum of thought into the proposal.
And why shouldn't that be the case? With any luck, that's going to be the one time that person proposes to the other. Shouldn't there be some mystery to it? Shouldn't the person being proposed to not see it coming years ahead of time? Shouldn't there be at least some effort made and some modest financial reward for not taking the sucker's route?
Absolutely. There's a loved one to impress and a wedding to save for. It's a good idea to do both right off the bat.
— By Jason Notte for MainStreet
>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.
>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.
>To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.
>>9 Completely Worthless Collectibles
>>10 Crazy Prices Paid For Sports Memorabilia