February 14, 2019

Our perspective on Valentine’s Day

Last updated on May 3, 2021

You should show someone you love
how much you care about them all year long


Last year—about a month before Valentine’s Day 2018—fellow autistic Resh Wazari wrote about his confusion about Valentine’s day:[1]Resh Wazari’s answer to Do autistic people understand Valentine’s Day? | Quora

  1. If you truly love a person, you wouldn’t be so lazy as to require a special day to prove it to them. I wouldn’t need it to show someone just how much I care about them all year long.
  2. It places an obligation on a relationship and sets unrealistic expectations between partners.
  3. How loving is it to subject yourself to a repetitive ritual that becomes routine, stale, and less feeling over time when its purpose is to do the opposite? It’s superficial in expression and shallow in emotional value. As a wasteful and empty gesture, it offends sentiment.

Based on this, Natalie and I discussed Valentine’s as we perceived it, which may or may not constitute an autistic perspective. Your mileage may vary.


Natalie: I share Wazari’s confusion. I would say however that in my previous relationships (with neurotypicals), love seemed a lot a like a roller coaster*—both neurochemically and how love is expressed in terms of psychology, based on those chemicals.

Speaking of roller coasters, our guest poster Gareth Greetham—who has an obsession with amusement parks[2]Autism & relationships | Embrace Autism—found this on Twitter:

You know, you meet a person, the relationship might initially be intense in terms of feelings for each other, and then you appear to be on this long, downwards slide—desperately holding on to the relationship while you want to feel like your partner still loves you.

You and I have been together for more than two years now, and I can say with certainty that my feelings have not decreased, nor my expression thereof; and I truly feel loved and cared for by you daily.

Basically what I felt when I first fell in love with you has deepened.


1

It places an obligation on a relationship and sets unrealistic expectations between partners.

Natalie: Do you think that you should express care for your partner every day?

Martin: I am not sure that one necessarily should show that you love the person every day; it probably depends in part on the needs and expectations of one’s partner. But I reckon it’s probably conducive to most relationships—especially in relationships with romantic ideals. Romanticism isn’t inherent to loving relationships, as philosopher Alain de Botton explains in the following video:

Natalie: So why do you show me every day that you love me? Because you care about me?

Martin: I’m not always aware that I love you. I suppose an inclination to show love—and a lack of awareness that I do—is just who I am.


2

It places an obligation on a relationship and sets unrealistic expectations between partners.

Martin: I don’t know if it sets unrealistic expectations necessarily, but indeed there is such a risk. And I agree with Resh’s sentiment. I am not sure how to approach the notion of reasonable expectations.

The man gives his partner flowers, and in turn the woman is more willing to have sex, and there is an understanding that the man expects to have sex, and the woman knows that the man expects it. I am not sure that it is reasonable, but I do notice that many relationships feature these kind of expectations—consciously or not.

Natalie: What do you mean by that?

Martin: Chocolates, roses, fine dining, wine, Venice, Paris… these are all the things we connect to romance, and these are all the culturally appropriate and culturally expected ways of showing affection.

Natalie: That is not what I thought all these years.

Martin: What did you think?

Natalie: I always find those expressions so trite.

Martin: Presumably Valentine’s Day was not created as a vehicle or excuse to express those things, but clearly that is what society wants it to be. Or rather, this is what society thinks it wants, based on media influences. I do think that romanticism as portrayed in movies, series, and other media has a large influence on how people think they ought to relate to each other.

Natalie: I always disliked Valentine’s Day, and felt very uncomfortable for my partner. I always felt they could never win; if my partner gives me something, it holds less significance because it was given on Valentine’s Day, which is a day where these gifts are expected. On the other hand, despite not holding as much significance, when these expectations are not met, and no gifts have been offered, I get hurt. Suddenly, the lack of a gift holds a lot of significance.

Martin: At most expectations are met, and often there is a lot of disappointment. In that sense Valentine’s Day isn’t nearly as wonderful and charming as people make it out to be.

Natalie: Yes, and I would suspect it is a veritable landmine for autistic people. For example:

A recent survey showed that of the 75% of survey respondents who demurred on receiving a gift, only about a quarter say they meant it, while about half would like their partner to go ahead and buy them something anyway.[3]The Truth About Valentine’s Day Spending | Yahoo Finance


3

How loving is it to subject yourself to a repetitive ritual that becomes routine?

Martin: This is an interesting question, because some core aspects of autism are repetitive behaviors/rituals[4]Repetitive behaviors in autism: relationships with associated clinical features (stereotypy)[5]Stereotypy in young children with autism and typically developing children and adherence to routine (insistence on sameness).[6]DSM-5 — Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition[7]Interrelationship between insistence on sameness, effortful control and anxiety in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)[8]Exploring the Relationship Between Anxiety and Insistence on Sameness in Autism Spectrum Disorders So how loving is it to express affection through routine? It’s not necessarily lacking in genuine affection when it’s done routinely. A mother’s love is—or arguably ought to be—routine.

At the same time though, I can’t help but feel repelled by the idea of showing affection in adherence to a cultural convention. I mean, I show affection all the same, regardless of the day. But like Resh Wazari stated, affection shown to meet demand on a culturally established day of love—not because it stems from authentic feelings, but based on cultural convention—it offends sentiment.

It’s also curious that love seems to be the only feeling or way of relating which requires a token. What about a gift as an expression of hate? Nevermind—this isn’t going anywhere good.


Martin: I find discussing Valentine’s Day boring.

Natalie: I don’t really find Valentine’s Day boring—more a source of anxiety. Not the day itself, but the social consequences…

Martin: If there are social consequences including anxiety, would you say Valentine’s Day is immoral?

Natalie: Maybe not inherently so, but there are certain consequences to Valentine’s that most people don’t seem to think about. We are culturally so consumed with profits that no one really cares or speaks about what the costs and consequences of this day are.

Martin: What are the costs and consequences?

Natalie: In terms of potential harm to the planet, in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day gold jewelry sales generate 34 million tons of mine waste.[9]Valentine’s Gold Jewelry Sales Generate 34 Million Tons of Mine Waste | Oxfam Another example is the production of red roses, which emit about 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide on this day.[10]Blooms Away: The Real Price of Flowers | Scientific American These mass quantities of red roses are shipped from South Africa, which wastes fossil fuel.

In terms of harm to people, for those without a partner, Valentine’s Day can emphasize the fact that they are alone/lonely, and thus influence their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. As such, around Valentine’s Day depression increases, and suicide rates almost triple—making it the time of the year with the highest rate of suicide. Dr. John Robertson states:

Valentine’s Day is the day of love, and people that commit suicide
usually feel unloved or feel unworthy to love those that they’re with.[11]Suicide increases on Valentine’s Day | WVLT8

There has been almost a three-fold increase in the rate of suicides among women during the period immediately after a Valentine’s Day. The major causes of this is the shame felt after the breaking of pledges, and promises made on Valentine’s Day (i.e. men promising love, but dumping women after they had sex on Valentine’s Day).

Martin: Okay, you convinced me. Valentine’s Day is evil!

In seriousness though, there are apparently a lot of economical, geological, and social repercussions, but I wonder then how this balances out with the economical and social benefits. Valentine’s Day seems to promote feelings of loneliness and/or shame for some, but how many couples are reminded of what they feel about each other because of this day? It may have great social benefits that are hard to quantify.

So are the suicides and societal, cultural, and geological impacts somehow “worth” the reminder and the (minor) economic boost?

Natalie: I think it is sad to require a day as a reminder to show affection or a token of appreciation to your partner. If you need that, it may indicate a lack in the relationship with your partner.

Martin: Ultimately, I just don’t really care about Valentine’s. I don’t know how the pros and cons balance out at a societal level, but before this discussion it didn’t even dawn on me that there were such dire consequences to Valentine’s Day. Now that I am aware, I can’t say it changed my opinions much. Valentine’s Day is still met with the same level of apathy from me.

The day has always been an annoyance to me. When I was single it didn’t pertain to me, and potentially would only have emphasized my loneliness; and now that I am in a relationship, and Valentine’s is arguably meant for us, it annoys me on account of giving pressuring me to participate. Thank God you are autistic, and care as little about the meaning of Valentine’s Day as I do.

Natalie: Yes, I guess we can chock that up to one of the benefits of autism. I don’t have to worry about it, and nor do you.


Today we showed affection, like any other day. And today we presented tokens of appreciation, expressed in small things such as packing in the dishwasher, or making sure to stock up on foods and drinks we like, etc.

Ironically, most of our affection seems to be expressed through our daily routines.

Embrace Autism | Our perspective on Valentine’s Day | illustration Heart

For information about the dark side of
romance and relationships, have a look at:

Unhealthy relationships
This article
was written by:
dr-engelbrecht-and-martin-silvertant

Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht RP ND is a dually licensed registered psychotherapist and naturopathic doctor, and a Canadian leader in trauma and PTSD, and she happens to be autistic; she got diagnosed at 48.

Martin Silvertant is living up to his surname as a silver award-winning graphic designer. He also loves researching autism, astronomy, and typography. He was diagnosed with autism at 25.

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