There is a lot of pressure to impress your romantic partner with a fabulous Valentine’s Day date (I should know – Valentine’s Day is also my wife’s birthday!). If you decide to go to a fancy restaurant, how do you know which cuisine to choose? Should you go with spicy Thai or cold sushi? If you’re going to buy your partner a gift, do you choose something practical and imminently useful but unromantic (the Science of Relationships book?) or should you instead go with something useless but romantic (a stuffed teddy bear holding a satin pillow shaped like a heart with “Valentine’s Without You Would be Un-Bear-able” written on it?). Or, if you’re going to get your sweetie something, well, sweet, should you choose the heart-shaped box of chocolates that is the candy equivalent of Russian Roulette or should you buy some specialty hot cocoa?
*Wikipedia defines “middle age” as 41 – 60, so it must be true.
Everyone in a long-term romantic relationship has a story. Each of our stories is unique. Our story begins when we were 21 (Charlotte) and 25 (Patrick). We were both coming off other long-term, serious (or so we thought) relationships, and we really didn’t know what we wanted out of a relationship or what we could offer a partner. Now, 17 years and 2 kids later, we both feel pretty lucky that things have worked out as well as they have. Back then, we had no idea what challenges we would face or how we would help each other maneuver through them. We were young and optimistic, but there was so much we didn’t know.
Due to practice and a bit of research (it doesn’t hurt that we are both researchers who study romantic relationships!), we know a little more about relationships now. However, we are still never sure what to do each Valentine’s Day (see past reflections on this matter here and here). It seems like a holiday for “new lovers,” and we’ve known each other too long to feel “new” to each other. What are those of us approaching middle age and in long-term relationships supposed to do on this holiday?
Being the nerds that we are, we decided to review some relevant research to help answer this question, and we offer a few tips in case you find yourself in a similar predicament.
Valentine’s Day is what it is. At its best, Valentine’s Day is a day where you can be a little extra romantic and take the opportunity to celebrate your relationship. At its worst, it is an overly commercialized “Hallmark holiday” with too much of an emphasis on chocolates, flowers, and pushy jewelry advertisements. Think what you want, but if you’re in a relationship, you should probably be thinking about what to get your partner.
You need a gift. You can read here about what to get or here to read about bad gifts to avoid. But how do you figure out how much you should spend on that gift? You could take a guess, ask a few friends, or you could do what we did and survey over 1000 people in the United States. (Click here for more details about our survey) Here’s what we found out...
We all know that Valentine’s Day is a heart-filled holiday, but is it possible that seeing a heart changes how much you tip at a restaurant? In a study of over 350 restaurant patrons’, waitresses delivered the bill under one of three candy-filled dishes: square, round, or heart-shaped. Results revealed that more people tipped (the study was in France, where tipping isn’t necessarily automatic) when provided with a heart-shaped dish and tipped a higher amount compared to the other two shapes. If you work as a waiter or waitress, perhaps you can make hearts work for you throughout the year.
Guéguen, N. (2013). Helping with all your heart: The effect of cardioid dishes on tipping behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(8), 1745-1749. doi:10.1111/jasp.12109
When it comes to making Valentine’s Day plans, who’s in charge? Is it the guy’s responsibility? Or are women supposed to be the planners? According to the ScienceOfRelationships.com survey (learn more about this survey here), it turns out that most people think both members of the couple (in heterosexual couples) should plan the Valentine’s Day festivities (70%). If only one partner does the planning, most believe it’s the man’s job (27%), with very few people believing it falls on the woman to plan (2%). This makes sense: If Valentine’s Day is a celebration of relationships, shouldn’t couples work together to make sure they’ll both enjoy the day?
Editor's note: We are privileged to be able to share an excerpt from Dr. Bella DePaulo's book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. Ten of the chapters in Singled Out debunk myths about single people. This send-up of Valentine’s Day advice is from Chapter 5, which mocks the myth of “the dark aura of singlehood,” which dopily proclaims that if you are single, “you are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.”
If you want to see fools rush in to provide well-meaning advice to hapless single people, buy a ticket for Valentine’s Day. One of my favorite examples appeared in USA Weekend in 2003, under the title How to survive Valentine’s Day without a sweetie. Here’s what it said:
“Valentine’s Day alone need not be depressing or embarrassing; you can survive and even thrive without a lover if you plan accordingly. These tips come from dating guru Jennifer Frye:
- Don’t just sit at home and mope. Keep your spirits high by getting together with other single friends. Make dinner, watch empowering movies (The War of the Roses is a good one) and talk trash about love.
- If you have no single friends, take the day for yourself. Do something fun: Take yourself shopping, go for a nice lunch, go to a museum. No errands today!
- Avoid romantic restaurants and bars. The scene will just remind you of your loneliness.
- For a little end-of-the-day affection, kiss your pets, if you have any.”
The guru is so smart that she knows without asking that if you have arrived at Valentine’s Day without a sweetie then you are miserable. Moreover, you are also stupid, and cannot figure out how to survive this tragedy without professional help.
In conjunction with “Relationship Science Month”, we surveyed over 1,000 adults in the United States, representing 49 states (Alaska, step it up next time!), to learn more about what people really think about Valentine’s Day. Over the coming week, we’ll be sharing our results with you, our readers, including answers to the following questions:
- Do people love, hate, or view Valentine’s Day as “just another day”?
- Would people prefer to spend Valentine’s Day alone, in a bad relationship, or on a bad first date?
- Is it okay to go on a first date on Valentine’s Day? Is it okay to pop the question on Valentine’s day?
- Who should be responsible for planning Valentine’s Day festivities?
- Do people prefer to receive Valentine’s Day gifts publically (e.g., at work) or privately?
- What are the top ranked gifts for men and women on Valentine’s Day?
- What are the most preferred types of flowers to receive on Valentine’s Day? The least preferred?
- Do people expect sex on Valentine’s Day?
- What’s an acceptable amount to spend on Valentine’s Day gifts?
We’ll start rolling out the results very soon. In the meantime, we have provided a description of our study sample below so that we can focus on results in upcoming posts.
Most people believe that infidelity is a very bad thing,1 yet a majority of people admit they have cheated on a romantic partner. In fact, studies have shown that about 75 percent of men and 68 percent of women have cheated at some point in a relationship.2,3
There are many reasons why people are unfaithful to their partners, but one possibility is that cheating may seem like a more acceptable behavior for us to engage in if we think it’s commonplace and widely accepted. If we think that our own cheating is less frequent or severe than the norm, we’ll be more likely to let ourselves slide and succumb to temptation. “Everyone else is doing it, so if I have one little dalliance that wouldn’t be so bad."
We often compare ourselves to others and compare ourselves to what we believe is typical behavior. According to social comparison theory, if we want to know where we stand on a particular behavior, we compare ourselves to our peers.4 So if you want to know if your faithfulness to your partner is typical, you can compare yourself to others.
What should you do to get ready for Valentine’s Day? According to YourTango, you should delete your ex-partner from your Facebook friends list. They have even designated a day for doing it; February 13th is Break Up With Your Ex Day, and this means deleting, blocking, untagging, and unfollowing your ex from Facebook and other social media.
Researchers examined whether subtle reminders of love increase men’s willingness to help. Men who had been approached by a woman asking for directions to Valentine Street were willing to help a different woman retrieve her cell phone from “thieves”, helping her almost 37% of the time. Men asked for directions to Martin Street only helped 20% of the time. The simple mention of “Valentine” unconsciously motivated men to behave in a more chivalrous manner.
Lamy, L., Fischer-Lokou, J., & Guéguen, N. (2010). Valentine Street promotes chivalrous helping. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 69, 169-172.
It’s that time of year again. I’ve barely recovered from Christmas, and yet the stores have pulled out all the Valentine’s Day decorations and cards. When I spot the shades of red and pink at my local Target, I find myself silently groaning. Another gift to buy. Already. Again. Really?
Michelle Kaufman is a researcher that focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globetrots regularly, engaging in ethnographic work along the way in order to inform the quantitative and qualitative research she conducts. Recently, Michelle visited Tanzania and investigated how people celebrate Valentine’s Day.
While in Tanzania last month, I asked everyone I met about Valentine’s Day. Do Tanzanians celebrate it, and how?
Who celebrates Valentine’s Day in Tanzania? First, Valentine’s Day is not commonly celebrated in Tanzania. Not surprisingly, it is viewed as a holiday for urban, wealthier people, and mostly for the youth. Those living in rural areas or those who are living day-to-day just trying to survive don’t give Valentine’s Day much thought (they are more focused on things like food, shelter, etc.). All my informants made it clear right away that this is a holiday for the well off with expendable income.
According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, Americans spend upwards of $10 billion on for Valentine’s Day. And in true Valentine’s Day fashion, most of the adults surveyed were expecting to purchase candy, flowers, and/or a nice evening out for their partners. If you are one of those who celebrate Valentine’s Day, you might be thinking that these behaviors sound pretty familiar. The smell of roses and cologne will fill the air. Succulent wine and chocolate will dance on our tongues. We will go out dressed in our very best. Valentine’s Day truly is a day to indulge in some relational hedonism. But is the Valentine’s Day feel-goodery helpful for our relationships, or have we merely bought into a big consumer ploy? Although the answer to this question might be a matter of opinion, some research suggests that sensual pleasures – many of those that are heightened on Valentine’s Day – actually have a lot to do with feelings of attraction and relational health.
Do you enjoy giving Valentine’s Day gifts? Or is it an unpleasant obligation? Your feelings about giving presents depends on your attachment style. Across two studies, secure people reported that giving gifts to partners was more pleasurable and not done out of obligation. Conversely, people high in avoidance experienced less pleasure, whereas those high in anxiety felt more obligated to give gifts, possibly because they feared losing their partners when their relationships weren’t going well.
Nguyen, H. P., & Munch, J. M. (2011). Romantic gift giving as a chore or pleasure: The effects of attachment orientations on gift giving perceptions. Journal of Business Research, 64, 113-118.
Valentine’s Day typically serves as a time to show appreciation for that special someone in our lives or as an opportunity to take a relationship to the next level. It’s a time to celebrate love in all of its forms. But can it be a dangerous time for the health of your relationship?
Holidays can be stressful, but your relationship probably made it through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, and New Year’s in one piece. Congratulations! Valentine’s Day should be a piece of cake, right? Not so fast…
Now that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, you may be worried about picking out the perfect gift for your partner. Is it something he will like? Will she be disappointed by your efforts? And how is a partner’s response to your Valentine's Day gift related to thoughts about the future of your relationship?
Editor's note: Relationship researchers Drs. Charlotte and Patrick Markey give us "his and her" takes on how to approach Valentine's Day gift giving.
I went to the mailbox this morning and found a turquoise blue catalogue amongst the undesirable bills and solicitations. On the cover, heart-shaped jewelry reminded me that Valentine’s Day was quickly approaching. I was tempted to strategically place this little blue reminder from Tiffany’s in my husband’s view -- on his dresser, in his briefcase, or perhaps on the kitchen island. But then, I found myself realizing I did not actually desire expensive jewelry for Valentine’s Day. Perhaps I was ill? Wasn’t I supposed to want something fancy?