In my previous relationships, more than one partner on more than one occasion spat out the following emotional expletive at me:
“Your feminism has ruined you!”
I have explicitly self-identified as a feminist since my undergraduate days and enacted this feminism in my social and personal relationships. My strong feminist identification led me to to political activism and vocal critiques of women’s place in society.1 This created some tense situations in my twenties when I took pleasure in loud arguments about women’s issues and the importance of being a self-professed feminist. My close college friends and I named ourselves feminists, cursed loudly in public, flirted with insults instead of hair flips, gave one another dead roses for Valentine’s Day, and even penned a poster for our apartment that read “The Hairy-Leg Café” to play with the negative stereotypes of feminists we knew some of our peers held.2 For me, using the F-word as a proud marker of my belief in equality means that I hear subtle and not so subtle put-downs when I’m critical of sexual double standards, traditional heterosexual marriage, differences in pay and prestige, and who cleans the bathroom. I’ve been called a feminazi, dyke, man-hater, and ugly bitch by students, random men at bars, and peers when I’ve voiced my views. Fortunately, it seems that self-ascribing oneself as a feminist is not as argument-provoking or unfashionable as in the past. In fact, popular women’s magazines such as Glamour and websites like Jezebel.com claim that calling oneself a feminist is “The New Do.”3
Wanna talk about your love life? People in China do. For the past year, I’ve been living in Shenzhen and working on a collection of true stories about love and marriage experiences since the rise of Communist China. Far from being viewed positively, romantic love often generates suspicion among the older generations and confusion among the young. This brief Valentine’s Day story, told to me by a charming twenty-two year old Buddhist woman, illuminates the clash of old and new ideas about love:
“The first time a boy kissed me, I was fifteen, and it was Valentine’s Day. He pretended to have a school question to ask, but instead he declared that he liked me. He pressed a rose into my hand, which I tried to refuse, stammering that I didn’t like him at all. I turned to go, but he pulled me close and kissed me! I wrestled my arm away and raced into my house, very flustered. After that, I hated him, thinking he was a morally rotten boy. I had never seen anybody kiss or hug in my hometown, not even married people, and nobody said, “I love you” either. I just wanted to cultivate friendships and avoid loving anyone, so I never talked to that boy again. If people in my hometown ever kissed like young lovers do in the cities, everyone would think they were degenerates, even today.”
Every year around Valentine’s Day people start agonizing about finding the “perfect” gift for their partner, and some spend extraordinary amounts of money on it too. But no matter the effort or financial cost incurred, many of us quickly discover that our gifts provided only fleeting happiness and were quickly forgotten. In order to avoid this outcome, I recommend giving your partner something much more personal this year: touch. It will be much easier on your wallet, and it has the potential to improve your relationship far more than any material object that you and your money can buy.
One of the reasons people indicated that they hate Valentine’s Day is because it’s too commercial. The vast majority of our survey respondents indicated that some form of gift is expected (88%). So we wanted to know (a) how people prefer to receive their gifts and (b) what types of gifts they prefer. Below, I address the first question. Stay tuned for a breakdown of gift preferences in subsequent posts.
How do people prefer to receive gifts?
Do people want to flaunt their Valentine’s Day riches by receiving a gift in public? Or is it best to receive a gift privately? The vast majority (65%) of those surveyed preferred a private gift. One-third of our respondents indicated they had no preference --- public or private is fine. If you’re adding up the numbers, it should be clear that very few people prefer to receive their gift in a public setting; less than 2% of those surveyed opted for a flaunt what you got approach.
So if you’re on the fence about giving your gift during an intimate one-on-one moment vs. sending a singing Valentine-A-Gram to your not-so-secret Valentine’s place of work, opt for the more personal approach. It’s the safest route (worst case scenario, you’ll find out whether your partner is one of the 2%).
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?