Valentine’s Day is here once again, the day generally associated with lover’s celebrating their affection. But did you also know that this commercially designated day of love has actually been known to trigger stress, anxiety and even depression? Honestly, it’s true.

Whilst we’re unloading some truth bombs, I have to say that I’m not that surprised. From the lead up, to the day itself, whether I’ve been in a relationship or not, Valentine’s Day has often felt a bit pressured and underwhelming. Maybe it sucks a bit for most people, whatever situation they’re in?

Valentine’s Day puts immense pressure on anyone in a relationship, and makes anyone sans partner, feel a bit left out

When I’ve been single, I’ve tried to offset it with a, ‘What’s that? I don’t have to plan or purchase anything, for anyone, out of calendar-inspired obligation? Cool!’ Seriously, being able to duck out of it all is a weight off your mind. So on the plus side, that really has been awesome. But it’s also been a bit rubbish tbh. I’ve tried to get through the day as quickly and quietly as possible. Pretending not to notice other people’s affectionate displays, or that every film on Netflix seems to be a rom-com. Bypassing the heart shaped chocolate boxes swamping the aisles of Tesco that no-one is purchasing for me that year.

On any other day, I didn’t feel incomplete, or lacking in any way without a partner. And I knew that being in a relationship wasn’t better than being single. But on Valentine’s Day, gosh the social pressure was a bit overwhelming. Single on Valentine’s Day, has sometimes sucked a bit.

Yet when I’ve been in a relationship, in all honesty I’ve never felt that the day has lived up to my expectations

Being partnered up hasn’t actually been a better scenario to singledom on Valentine’s Day. Why? Either they made little to no effort, and I sat comparing my relationship to the co-worker whose partner sent them a huge bouquet to admire and swoon over. Or on the flip side, I’ve sat through an overly expensive Valentine’s Day meal in a restaurant filled with other couples awkwardly forcing themselves into displays of commercially inflicted upon affection (ruing at how expensive the damn menu is just because of the darn date).

The latter was actually my worst kind of way to spend Valentine’s Day. Because everything felt so forced. I was walking on eggshells trying my hardest to be the perfect couple for the day. Doing my best to ignore being a little pissed off they hadn’t hung the washing out earlier like they were supposed too (or whatever it was that had annoyed me). And wondering how I was going to feel sexy in the lingerie I’d obligatory purchased after the massive meal I’d just eaten (FYI, it’s practically impossible).

I’ve personally had so many expectations, whilst always trying to act like I had zero

Buy me some flowers or don’t, I really couldn’t care (I totally could, and I’ll stew silently and ignore your affections for the night if you don’t). Do something, or not (but it better be something, I’ll pretend I’m being all ‘chill,’ but there better be a date planned in). And I’m really not sure why?. My relationship could have been pretty decent all year round, yet on this one day, suddenly their affection was measured on whether or not they bought me a £3 rose from a garage on the way home, an expensive one from a Florists, or nothing at all.

So whether single or partnered up, Valentine’s Day hasn’t actually been that enjoyable for me

There is a lot of pressure, isn’t there? I’ve created it for myself and the person I was with. But there is also the social aspect of thinking we need to appear as happy as we could ever be in our coupledom. It naturally makes single people feel like the odd one in the room, because it’s designed for couples alone. Yet it’s just one fricking day, but there is so much opportunity for disappointment. And it almost feels designed for dissatisfaction.

Valentine’s Day can bring a lot of scrutiny and strain on a relationship

From the worry of our tokens displaying how much we might love someone (is a box of chocolates, romantic card and a bunch of flowers enough? Should there be more? Are they going to be okay with the gifts?) And despite the relationship being particularly awesome all year round, suddenly on this one day, you could both feel heavily judged and a bit underwhelmed at your significant others efforts. There is a real pressure to not fuck it up. As if your efforts on February 14th alone quantifies commitment to your entire relationship.

On the opposite spectrum, for couples who decide they are opting out of the Valentine’s Day ritual, I wonder if it’s a bit like Christmas? Like when you make a decision not to buy one another gifts, but one of you decides you’ll sneakily buy something and then secretly hides their disappointment when the other stuck to the agreement. So then the recipient feels guilty for doing the very thing you’d both said you’d do. What if you agree because you’re trying to appear non-bothered when your partner suggested it? Secretly hoping they do buy a sneaky gift, and they don’t? It really does feel like everyone is set up to fail the more I think about it.

Unless you’re proposed too or getting married I suppose. These scenarios must feel like hitting the gold mine on Valentine’s Day. But that’s only possibly one Valentine’s Day of a lifetime. There’s still years to go through all the rest of the disappointing Valentine’s Day’s ahead. Lucky folks.  

And what about the people who aren’t that happy in their relationship, the ones debating whether to continue?

Valentine’s Day must really add to the stress for those who aren’t sure whether they really want to be in the relationship any longer. Yet are forced to appear affectionate when that’s likely far from what they want right at that moment. Then there are the in between relationships, of course. And I’ve been in enough of those over the past seven years to have got really used to those uncomfortable feelings.

Like what the heck do you do after only a couple of weeks or a few months of dating? When you haven’t made a commitment to one another and aren’t on ‘in love’ terms. Or are considering where the relationship is going. Perhaps riddled with hope, Do they love me too? Are we taking this to the next level or are we not on the same page? Does buying something suggest feelings that aren’t quite there? Does doing nothing signify they never will be? In these situations, I’ve never had a clue what to do or how to approach the day. I either ignored it entirely and disappointed them. Or expected a bit more than I got and they disappointed me.

And not forgetting the frustrations and internal debates that might already exist, brought to life and highlighted more than ever on February 14th. Why do we argue so much? When are they going to get a job? Do they not want to spend time with me? Are we going to get married? Is this person making me happy? Do I love them still, do they still love me? Yeah, that’s what I mean, February 14th ain’t an easy day, that’s for sure.  

Maybe for people who love to express affection and appreciation, the strong assurances provided on the day are complimentary to the rest of their relationship

However, the day itself can really have quite the opposite effect.  In a 2004 study, Valentine’s Day was found to spark insincere assurances that were more harmful than reassuring. And as the romantic gestures are publicly on display and open for discussion, it often lead to false impressions of how ‘in love’ a couple really felt towards one another, but added pressure to perform.

Valentine’s Day forces people into roles of commercialized romantic duty. And in some cases, it backfires completely for couples whose relationships weren’t going that well. Because the study found that Valentine’s Day actually instigated a breakup that was found likely not to happen during the non-Valentine’s period.

Single, has felt much easier on Valentine’s Day in comparison

At least with single I could just somewhat ignore the day and carry on like normal. Once, I even cooked myself a nice little dinner and tucked into a bottle of wine just for the hell of it. I thought I’d treat myself. The added bonus, I wasn’t ever going to disappoint myself in any way as I knew exactly what I was going to do for myself. I was just over there celebrating Valentines Day in my own way, and loving it. As long as I didn’t sit next to colleagues receiving bunches of flowers. Or have to wander into Tesco’s for something for dinner of course. 

But seriously, the thing I loved the most was the lack of failure to meet any expectations. All of that, was totally removed. And it made me realize how stressful Valentine’s Day can actually be when coupled up. How high I had sometimes set my own expectations of someone else, and how the same could be said the other way around. Because mostly, it’s been awkward and disappointing, and really not that enjoyable at all.

And it isn’t even the day itself that causes all the stress and worry, it’s the lead up too. The wondering whether it will be a big disappointment for the days and weeks pre-Valentine’s Day’s arrival. And assessing the entire relationship completely as the day draws nearer. Picking it apart and awaiting that one day to tell you how a person really feels, and somewhat forgetting the other 364 days when Valentine’s is so close by.

In the end, Valentine’s Day really just one day. And that one day shouldn’t determine an entire relationship, add significant stress or anxiety, or make anyone feel bad sans partner or otherwise

I mean it is literally a day that was once associated with naked Roman’s beating women with dead animals. Sexy stuff right? There are so many tales of how Valentine’s Day became connected with exchanging sweetheart gifts and tokens of love. Many are weird at best, and pretty gory at their worst. So I’m not entirely sure how we got from there to current Valentine’s Day, but in some respects, the former sounds like a welcome alternative to the pressure surrounding it nowadays.

It’s hard to remember with all that pressure, stress, anxiety and disappointment surrounding it, but it is just a capitalized institution. So if you’re feeling bad on Valentine’s Day, relationship or not, remember it’s essentially just February 14 in a bad suit. And seriously, I don’t think many of us really actually enjoy it at all.

Do you really enjoy Valentine’s Day? Is it all show for the spectators, or is it actually as lovey dovey and wonderous as we all kind of think it should be? I’d love to know your thoughts.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.