WASHINGTON — Talk about a day for all reasons. Retailers like Valentine's Day a lot, to the tune of about $17.3 billion they rake in, according to the National Retail Federation's spending survey.
Still, shoppers are cautious, and the survey by Prosper Insights and Analytics said only 54 percent of Americans will celebrate with their loved ones this year, down from last year's 60 percent. Spending is up slightly, though, at an average of $133.91 on candy, cards, gifts, dinner and more. That's about $3 more than last year's average.
It's a day that's even been given its own distinctive look, replete with pink, white and red hearts and bows, cuddly stuffed critters, an abundance of flowers and colognes, textured chocolates and perfectly arranged food.
Still, it remains at its core a day about love. And not just the heart-pounding, dry-mouthed, all-atwitter romantic love of newly minted couples. Feb. 14 is an on-the-calendar reminder to consider all kinds of loves — including the ones you have and the ones you may not even have met yet, said Deborah Roth, a relationship, career and life coach in New York City. Roth is a member of the International Coach Federation and an interfaith minister.
Not everyone comes joyfully to the day, she and Charles A. Johnson, a relationship coach in Miami, agree. The day can be hard for someone who is weathering a rocky patch in a relationship or who has endured a breakup. The same is true for one who has no partner but longs to be in a committed relationship.
Expressing love is still important, and it's a great day to do it, said Roth. It's as important to show yourself some love as it is to shower someone else with affection. If nothing else, you can think of Valentine's Day a little like the day Daylight Savings Time begins or ends and you check the batteries in your smoke alarm. It's a day for an emotional checkup.
Roth and Johnson offer strategies for loving oneself and others in different situations, today and beyond.
"If you have just broken up with someone, I'd encourage you to be in a place of self-love. It's a good day to do something fun with others or do something special for yourself," Roth said.
She encourages people to do something loving for themselves, whether it's extra pampering of even making themselves a valentine. She said while people may roll their eyes at the idea, it's a tangible symbol of love and "symbols are the language of the subconscious. It can be balm for the soul and remind you of all the good things about yourself."
Jay Ryan, who co-founded a company called BreakupGems in Montreal, Canada, believes there's a lot to be said for taking the occasion of a relationship's end to think about what you really want in your life and to get intentional about it. His company sells jewelry to "celebrate" break-ups as a time to launch new beginnings. He emphasized the importance of recognizing that the failure of a relationship is not always a bad thing. It can be a time of growth and introspection and figuring out what you really want so that the next relationship is stronger.
"I think we can all identify a time in our lives when we realize our significant other is not the person we thought he or she would be and it's time to move on. A break-up can signal time to get healthier, focus on what makes you happy, figure out what creates positive momentum to take on new challenges," he said.
Looking for love
Roth sometimes tells clients who are looking for relationships to create what she smilingly calls a "magical love candle." It's easy. You take a fat candle (taller is better) and a pen or nail and carve into it symbols or words that represent the qualities that you hope to attract in your life. The act of creating a distinctive list and then paring it down to a manageable number of words or symbols creates focus and helps you see what really matters to you, she said. The candle is visual reinforcement. It's a way to know what you value and seek.
"You can see what I call the deal breakers, the negotiables and the wouldn't-it-be-nice traits," she said. Too often, she added, people drift along and then are surprised that they have attracted the wrong people or can't find someone they really want to spend time with. This type of exercise helps.
Johnson said to watch for a "tell" that a relationship needs work or you are dating the wrong person. "People believe what they hear, though their eyes are telling them something different. Watch, don't just listen. If actions don't match, see that. If someone says 'I love you,' but there is nothing about their actions that says that, believe what you see, not what you hear," he said.
The hearts and flowers of Valentine's Day are probably most suited to couples who are in the infatuated, fast-pulse stage or the settled but committed and enduring stages of love, Johnson and Roth agree. Before she performs marriages, Roth said, she suggests that some couples carve their promises to each other in a "unity" candle. It's a nice gesture on Valentine's Day, too. Or any other day. She encourages her clients to write each other poems or love notes or promises. "The process is deep and powerful. It forces one to think, 'What do I love about this person?’ ”
Johnson remembers one Valentine's Day he approached a little carelessly. He was out of town on business and had his assistant send his wife flowers. The assistant didn't know that the name he was called at work was not one he and his wife used. "She told me, 'The flowers were nice. Tell your assistant thanks,’ ” he said, still rueful years later. Whoops.
Roth has been married for more than 30 years, and while she does not consider herself a "flowers and chocolates" person, she is profoundly grateful for a habit her husband has always had. Whenever he has given her flowers, he's written a note on the wrapper that encases them. She, in turn, has kept every wrapper. It is a record of their relationship. "We have a very dynamic and growth-producing marriage. We fight and love and touch; we are affectionate. We don't need Valentine's Day to do that."
Johnson said if he could get those who don't feel the hearts-and-flowers concept of Valentine's Day reflects their lives to understand one thing, it would be this: Valentine's Day is just one day. It can be fun or romantic or even a bit melancholy, "but it cannot be the day that defines you," he said.
"The first thing I tell single people is 45 percent of the population is single. There's an opportunity to find somebody who is excellent, and Valentine's Day is just another day. But it is a good time to look back and say, have you made time in your life to make somebody your valentine? We get so busy building careers, doing acquisitions, mergers, important stuff that sometimes we haven't formed and nurtured a relationship. Carve out time. Then make it last."
People who only express love because it's the designated day for it probably won't stay in a relationship over the long haul, Johnson noted. "A man or a woman will often treat you the way that you demand to be treated. Bring the romance and love back to life."
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