Valentine’s Day: A heart-shaped package of heterosexuality – Screen Shot
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Valentine’s Day: A heart-shaped package of heterosexuality

In a world that presents heterosexual relationships as the norm, Valentine’s Day compounds this year-long signalling into a neat, heart-shaped package, symbolically enforcing the outsider status of queer individuals.

In my Catholic girl’s high school, I remember being seated in our school hall prior to our graduation celebrations. We were told that we weren’t allowed to bring other girls as our dates. Although the words were sugar-coated, the message was still clear: either come with a boy, come alone, or don’t come at all. And while I’m sure (or at least hope) that things have changed at that school over the last decade or so, Valentine’s Day acts as just one more large-scale example of the world’s obsession with assumed opposite-sex attraction. The day works to make queer people feel excluded in the same way: come with your straight partner, or don’t come at all.

In schools internationally, from the study of exclusively heterosexual literature, to the sole reproduction focused sex education, opposite-sex relationships are enforced and normalised, and youth are forced into “compulsory heterosexuality”, as feminist Adrienne Rich points out. With teachers and schools having such significant impacts on the lessons passed onto students, systemic exclusion of queer youths signals what is societally acceptable from early teen years.

For me, Valentine’s Day has brought this exclusion that was drilled into my teenage subconscious through into my adult world. Heteronormativity is pelted at individuals—who are all potential consumers in the eyes of V-Day marketers—from every angle. Mainstream Valentine’s Day television and movie specials idealise straight cis relationships, advertising is predominantly heterosexual, and ‘his and hers’ merchandise swamps the market on the days leading up to February 14.

While gay and lesbian relationships are becoming more visible in the media in general (even if they do often appear as token extras), other minorities are frustratingly being left behind. For transgender, non-binary and asexual people, the Valentine’s Day issue extends beyond underrepresentation into basically no representation in mainstream outlets at all.

Studies have shown that LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. For a community that already experiences higher rates of mental illness internationally, particularly in the youth demographic, a day that assumes heterosexuality as one of its benchmarks poses inherent problems. Around Valentine’s Day, there has been an associated spike in suicide attempts in the general population, particularly in adolescents. While there’s no research into how queer mental health is impacted around Valentine’s Day, this spike, alongside the acknowledged higher rates of depression in LGBTQ+ individuals is a cause for concern.  

Apart from the implicit effects on mental health, the modern meaning of Valentine’s Day—a day that commercialises love in order to encourage consumerism—should be rejected regardless.

While Valentine’s Day is being approached with this increasing sense of global cynicism as each year passes, the event still marks a significant occasion on the economic calendar. In 2018, the day contributed almost $20 billion to the U.S. economy alone.

This significance shows that it won’t be leaving public view any time soon; marketers will continue to use this important economic event to their advantage, and advertisers are slowly realising that the queer community, with literally trillions in annual global spending power, is one very important untapped market.

Lush, Hallmark, and Adidas—to name a few—have all cottoned on and begun using LGBTQ+ couples in their advertisements on Valentine’s Day in the last few years. The message is perfectly queer: we know you have money, and we want you to spend it with us.

While this exposure from mainstream brands is admirable and a step forward for queer people, there is still a strong demand for further diversity in such advertising, and the underlying capitalist (and therefore inherently unsustainable) issues with the day remains.

In the U.S. alone, Valentine’s Day contributes the weight of 4000 cars in paper and packaging waste—that’s including 36 million heart-shaped boxes. Issues with sustainability arise even for those attempting to be aware. The flower industry contributes tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, and is a large user of pesticides. And to keep up with growing demand, the chocolate industry needs to increase its production from 4 million tonnes to 20 million tonnes by next year, which is putting increasing strain on the producers.

For a day that encourages consumerism, increases financial pressures, and leads to heightened relationship expectations, while often excluding single and queer people, it seems a bit misleading to operate under the guise of love. As a community with such large spending power, maybe it’s time that we check in on what we’re really celebrating and avoid buying into a day that was never for us.

Should we blame humans or dating apps for the trend of ‘ghosting’?

Picture this. You go on a date. It’s lukewarm—the company, not the wine. The date is nice enough that you head home feeling somewhat hopeful. Then you never hear back from them. You’re confused so you look over the past messages, which took up both of your time, and ask yourself, “have I just been ghosted?”

If you’re not down with the kids, the term ‘ghosting’ is the practice of suddenly ending a personal relationship with someone without any explanation and withdrawing all communication. Sound familiar?

We all know dating in the past five years has changed dramatically. From meeting people online, whether that’s on Tinder or sliding into someone’s ‘dms’, to arguably having more stages of ‘pre-dating’ such as ‘seeing someone’ or becoming ‘exclusive’ before becoming a couple. Sigh, dating feels much more complicated and exhausting than in our parent’s generation.

Though admitting you swipe right for love (or a good night) may not sound cool, dating online is not something to roll your eyes at. In a report from TSB, lovers sought out dating services worth £14.5 billion in the U.K. last year while the dating app industry alone made £11.7 billion. Online dating is not slowing down either as Facebook is attempting to take over the dating market by currently beta testing its own dating app while LinkedIn, the go-to networking site for professionals has also launched InLove, using already made LinkedIn profiles. Who doesn’t want to work where their future spouse was interning in 2011? And have I mentioned, Bumble, a dating app where women make the first move is valued around $1 billion, thus making its 29-year-old founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, a $230 million fortune?

The options for many dating apps are rather basic and require just a thumb to swipe through someone’s selfies. Other apps, such as Hinge,offer a more curated and elaborate selection interface and information display. However, when it comes to any dating app, or dating in general, ghosting remains a common and prevalent fact phenomenon. It is unclear, though, whether dating apps encourage ghosting or whether it’s simply a byproduct of the digital dating revolution?

Founder of dating website My Friend Charlie, Charlie Spokes explains that the phenomenon of ghosting is not entirely new, however it has increased in the digital-first communication that has enabled us to exit a conversation incredibly easily. “I think the fact that we are swamped with almost unlimited choices of potential dates, with a need for immediate satisfaction, has contributed to the regularity of ‘ghosting’, there’s the feeling that the grass is always greener!”.

Though it seems to be a common thing to do, ghosting doesn’t arise out of the blue, says Dr Sheri Jacobson, founder of the therapy platform Harley Therapy. “It comes from the fear of honest communication and intimacy, or an inability to understand social mores and respect other people’s feelings.” Dr Jacobson further adds that ghosting can also be a personality trait of impulsivity, and derive from a difficult childhood or a past trauma and even be a part of a personality disorder. To put it simply, regardless of how nuanced situations around ghosting are, as every conversation and meeting varies from person to person, it’s safe to say that just like the saying ‘hurt people hurt people’, those who are emotionally secure tend not to ghost others.

But for those who are wondering how do you end something that hasn’t started, dating app founder Charlie Spokes advises to be clear as ambiguity is not helpful to either party. If it’s one brief conversation that has fizzled out naturally, you can leave that situation guilt free, but if you aren’t interested anymore, “On a dating app then it takes very little to be polite, so be honest about your disinterest”.

For many, this simple gesture of being genuine sounds easier said than done, yet with the way dating apps are constructed, it is still easier to delete a conversation and move on therefore arguably, this dating trend of ghosting would slow down if it was thought about during the construction of the app or during software updates.

Spokes agrees that this should be contemplated, and by the looks of it, the issue is coming up more in the environments where these apps are created, as not finding results means a lack of faith from users. However, Spokes also speaks to Screen Shot about why dating apps arranging more activities offline is becoming popular. Bumble hold events for women for their ‘Bumble BFF’, ‘Bumble Bizz’, and panels on the dating scene, while the essence of My Friend Charlie is that you choose an event instead of a profile, and thus end up meeting someone —a friend or a romantic possibility—in a group setting. “You’ve already got something in common having picked the same event and it takes the pressure off any boring small talk. We create an environment where a genuine connection can form first. It’s much harder to ghost someone you’ve spent a bit of time getting to know.”

Though it may seem like scepticism against online dating to go back to doing things offline, it actually may be the answer to merge the two realms for relationships to succeed. 2018 has seen a wave of encouragement to get off our screens via books like How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price or Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K. Glei, and a flood of wellness classes and events asking everyone to be more present in their lives. So surprisingly, maybe the future of dating online may have to do with having more fewer but better options than a flurry of many subpar dates found due to your location. A way to exit the cycle of ghosting may mean for apps to slow down and create spaces for a safe conversation to happen where everyone can seek some old fashioned connection that has nothing to do with their wifi.