Why Is It…?

“Why Is It…?” was designed by Dr. Steiner to address readers’ questions about human behavior from a social psychological perspective in order to inform and stimulate dialogue about the ways in which our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced by the presence of other people. Dr. Steiner holds a Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology. In addition to working as a university professor over the last 15 years, she conducts individual and group consultations in matters of social relationships and behavior. Readers are invited to submit their questions anonymously in one paragraph or less to Dr. Steiner at [email protected].

Why is it that my girlfriend makes such a big deal about Valentine’s Day?

I’m an attentive and caring boyfriend and do my best to show her how much I care all throughout the year. I’m not good at keeping track of dates, and if I should forget February 14, I really don’t think it should be the end of the world.

It just seems like what I do all year doesn’t matter as much as this one day!

And, Why is it that my boyfriend never seems to remember Valentine’s Day?

If he does, he never plans something special for us. Valentine’s Day is a holiday meant to celebrate the special bond we share. It just makes me feel sad, neglected and uncared for.

A: Every year, many couples experience the sentiments described above – and rather than spending Valentine’s Day in a state of romantic bliss – many find themselves in heated arguments or conflicted silence, instead.

First and foremost, it’s important to realize that Valentine’s Day is just another one of those “Hallmark-induced” holidays that is designed to separate us from our hard-earned dollars. Corporate spin-doctors play on our sentimentality with a barrage of advertisements and products presented as obligatory necessities. Red and pink permeate the stores and print/television media – insisting that Valentine’s Day will not be complete without flowers, candy, stuffed teddy bears donning hearts, and the all-important Valentine’s Day card. And although most of us are aware of this commercialism, many feel compelled to comply with this cultural icon.

The questions posed represent typical conflicts that arise among couples this time of year. While some hetero men are dutifully attentive on Valentine’s Day, others may not even realize that Valentine’s Day is upon them until it’s “too late.” At the same time, many women place so much importance on this single date that they erect a relational “shrine” to honor its arrival. This difference in perception and regard typically leads to hurt feelings for women and guilt and frustration for men. But why is there such a difference in attitude and approach between the sexes?

As mentioned in previous columns, most women possess a relational orientation toward life and love. They tend, more so than men, to define and build their self-concepts around the primary intimate relationships in their lives (wife, girlfriend, mother, etc.). Even women who attain positions of power and authority are likely to value their personal relationships just as much, if not more, than their professional roles. Women also tend to score high on the “sentimentality scale” and often assign tremendous emotional weight to holidays – and especially those that are relationship oriented (wedding anniversaries and Valentine’s Day). Women are socialized to be more emotionally expressive than men, and eagerly anticipate any occasion that provides the opportunity to show their loved ones “how they feel.”

In contrast, men tend to be achievement-oriented. This isn’t to say that men don’t value their intimate relationships – it’s just that their focus leans more toward their professions and the accomplishment of practical tasks. For many men, it’s more about what they “do” rather than how they “feel.” Of course, we’ve all heard about the “prince-charming” who plans an elaborate marriage proposal on Valentine’s Day, complete with the candle-lit dinner and engagement ring sparkling in the bottom of a champagne glass. But for many guys, this is matter best left to the fairy-tales. Men tend to show the women in their lives that they care by coming home every night, supporting their families, tending to home/auto repairs, and removing that “all-terrifying” spider from the bathtub!

For the hetero-males out there – realize that the women in your lives probably desire (and expect) some expression of romance come Valentine’s Day. And while this date may not be of particular importance to you, the value comes from knowing that your Valentine will be warmed by a sense of worth and security from your efforts.

The ladies out there should realize that a man has every right to feel slighted when his efforts each day of the year appear to be dismissed or overshadowed by the 24 hour period of Valentine’s Day. And before succumbing to your anger and tears, carefully weigh the differences between daily realities and fairy-tale fantasies. You would no more want a Valentine’s gift offered out of guilt and obligation anymore than you would want a mate who “properly” celebrates Valentine’s Day, while neglecting your relationship over the remaining 364 days of the year.