Last Thursday morning, as I was surfing my usual radio station medleys on my drive to work, I stumbled across a humorous Valentine’s Day promotion. Hot 99.5 was offering men who had not yet made Valentine’s Day dinner reservations the chance to win pre-made reservations at popular local restaurants. In exchange for the gift, the men had to imitate how mad their female significant others would be if they found out that the men had nothing planned for the big day. While male impressions of female nagging can be hit or miss, two of the three I heard were hilarious.
The station also made a similar offer to women the following hour, which I didn’t get to hear. Supposedly, the women would win reservations if they phoned in and imitated their male partners’ unacceptable excuses for why they had not planned anything.
Funnily enough, when I arrived at work twenty minutes later, one of my coworkers was venting frustration over a conversation she’d had with her husband the night before. She wanted him to “surprise” her with reservations to a restaurant she’d been excited to try, but by the time he finally did, they had to accept an earlier time slot than she preferred. When she complained to him about her disappointment, he, in his sassiest impersonation of her voice, quipped, “THANK YOU, HUSBAND, FOR MAKING RESERVATIONS. THAT WAS NICE OF YOU, HUSBAND.”
(Having met her husband and being familiar with his smart-assed sense of humor, the story was twice as great. For example, the man dressed up in a Halloween costume for Thanksgiving dinner — dingy tank top, blonde wig, and all — and would not speak to anyone who did not address him in character. I might have to marry his son.)
The giveaway and my coworker’s anecdote speak volumes about our collective heteronormative gender roles surrounding Valentine’s Day.
The social expectation is that (1) couples must have a going-out date on Valentine’s Day, preferably involving food; (2) the man must engineer, orchestrate, and finance the date; (3) he damn well better do a good job of it; and (4) if he succeeds, the woman will reward him with sex, which he damn well better appreciate and enjoy — and, oh yeah, they both likely expect him to be responsible for conjuring their orgasms, too. He’s supposed to know what he’s doing, after all. He’s a man.
Unsurprisingly, this social convention doesn’t bode well with my preferences. I’m a control freak. Making decisions is something I love to do, so I would rather be involved in every step of any decision-making process than to leave everything up to my partner to surprise me. The exception would be if he was well-versed in enough of my behavior patterns to already know all of my favorite and usual preferences for things and places. But, I digress.
For dominant men who enjoy sex and whose partners enjoy sex, great. For anyone else who doesn’t like making decisions, or if either partner finds sex to be stressful, this sequence can be an impending trainwreck.
Further, stunts like the radio station’s giveaway perpetuate the stereotype of women nagging their mates instead of directly asking for what they want, in addition to reinforcing the behavior of nagging, itself. I cannot over-stress the importance of direct communication with your partners, rather than passive-aggressively circumventing confrontation. Nagging is not a communication tactic that encourages the longevity of relationships. Rather, it breeds resentment.
Overall, I like that Valentine’s Day can prompt some couples who hadn’t otherwise remembered to take extra time to appreciate each other to actually spend extra time appreciating each other. That’s marvelous. But all these antiquated, unspoken social expectations? Not so marvelous. We can do better.