A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing Valentine’s Day plans with my boyfriend. I asked him what kind of gifts he would like for Valentine’s Day, and he responded, “You don’t need to buy me anything. Valentine’s Day is more about the woman.” I found this response heartbreaking. It prompted me to find out exactly how men feel about Valentine’s Day, and the pressures they face leading up to this ‘big day’, which seems to be centred so much around women’s pleasure.
Studies show that Valentine’s Day is one of the most expensive holidays in the year, surpassed only by Christmas, and in North America, Thanksgiving. With the increasing expense of this holiday, more and more of us are becoming fed up with the commercialisation of this holiday, which is meant to be about showing your love for others, not necessarily breaking the bank for them. Unsurprisingly, men are more likely to be amongst those who are most fed up by this pocket-emptying holiday, since research carried out by Statista discovered that men in the UK spend almost twice as much as women on Valentine’s Day, £44 on average, in comparison to a woman’s average budget of £26. On top of this, this gender gap widens amongst the younger generations - millennials and Gen-Z. With this in mind, I decided to interview a few young men from Generation-Z about how much pressure they feel to break the bank for Valentine’s Day. Here’s what they had to say:
As a heterosexual man, do you feel like there’s pressure on you to spend a lot of money treating your girlfriend/love interest on Valentine’s Day? Do you think this is specific to you as the man in the dynamic?
Ik, 21: Yes. From my perspective there is significant pressure to spend a lot of money on your girlfriend/love interest on Valentine’s Day, simply because that’s how society has put it. Social media does play a part in it, but I’d say that it was even like this way before social media. Even before social media had a stronghold on society, society has always used money as the barometer of showing how much you care about someone on Valentine’s Day. You know, how many presents will you buy? How expensive are those presents? What type of hotel do you book? What type of expensive restaurant will you take them to? What type of expensive flowers will you buy? But of course social media has greatly accelerated it, with women eager to post how they spent Valentine’s Day’, to show how much money their significant other spent on them. Then your girl is gonna come back to you now and ask “Why am I not getting XYZ, when this person got XYZ?”, when the two situations are never related.
I do think this financial pressure is specific to me as a man in the dynamic, purely because that’s just how it is - it’s so deep rooted. If we are talking about spending money, the onus is always on the man to treat his woman and buy her nice things, whereas women can get away with not doing that. The way Valentine’s Day is perceived in society is almost like the woman’s second birthday, where the onus is on the man to make sure that they feel special on that day. The man plans everything, whilst the woman can just kinda turn up and look nice and accept all the nice gifts. She can get away with doing the bare minimum, whereas if the man does that, it would be a problem.
Segun, 22: Generally speaking there is a lot of pressure on us as men to spend a lot on Valentine’s Day. I feel like both genders place that pressure on men. Women do it by shaming guys into having to do it or making them feel like it’s the only way to show love. Obviously, it’s good to give your partner gifts, but in some situations, women can make men feel like if you don’t do it, then you don’t care about them or you’re doing something wrong.
As for men, I feel like our pride and our ego get in the way. We try to compete with other guys, when in reality, you know your pockets and you know what you can afford, and also spending recklessly doesn’t show good financial judgement. Valentine’s Day is a day where you can express your love, but to an extent it can feel like a waste of money. You can do a nice gesture, but some people feel like they need to go all out.
Do you think that it is a man’s responsibility to treat the woman more on Valentine’s Day? Or do you think that responsibility should fall equally on both parties?
Ik, 21: I feel like Valentine’s Day should be equally the man’s and woman’s responsibility to treat each other because it is a day of love, is it not? It’s not a day of how much the man loves his woman. It’s a day of love, it’s about how much you love each other, so it doesn’t make sense for the burden to fall more on the man to make the day special. If it is truly a day of love, a day which signifies how much we love each other, why is the woman not expected to put in the same effort as the man into making the day as special as possible?
Adrian, 22: I believe that the man should do a little more, seeing as Valentine’s Day is a bigger deal for women. So, in terms of organising the plans for the day, e.g. paying for the hotel, flowers, restaurant reservations or whatever activity is going on, that could be down to him. But both parties should definitely get each other gifts. Overall, I would say the responsibility should be split 60:40, but whatever works for the relationship is fine, as long as everyone is happy. I know that certain guys are suffering in silence; they will be doing the most, buying expensive items and then they’re only getting sex back. I was one of them, which is not good enough. If any of my boys are going through that, I would tell them to leave. If you’re a good man, you should be treated like a king. It’s nice to see when one of your guys gets treated well and they deserve it.
So, why all this much pressure on men?
Overall, men feel inclined to spend significantly more than their female partners on Valentine’s Day. Dr. Andrew Smiler, therapist, author and expert on boys, men and masculinity, says society’s expectations are a big factor in influencing this trend. Smiler says, “At the cultural level, we talk a lot about men being valued for their wallet and the size of their paycheck. So the idea that they express their love through their wallet and their purchasing power — it’s kind of what we’re told by society to do.” He adds that the gender wage gap could also be a potential reason. Women earn 80.5 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts. Smiler argues that this wage gap, combined with societal expectations for women to invest more money into their physical appearance and wardrobe reduces women’s discretionary income. “Women have additional expenses that men don’t have,” he says. “(Men) aren’t expected to spend as much on a wardrobe or on cosmetics as a woman is. All of that eats into available income.”
What does this mean for young men in particular?
According to research, the financial pressure placed on men can also be influenced by age. . Overall, millennials expect to spend about $161 (£119) on Valentine’s Day, and 15% of younger millennials expect to spend $500 (£369) or more on their partners. Undoubtedly, younger millennials had the highest expectations of Valentine’s Day, with 18% of them expecting their partners to spend $200 to $500.
Such sky-high expectations are shaped by the younger generations’ fixation with social media, which puts young people under pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, even at the expense of their financial security. Ultimately, this means that Gen-Z and millennial men in particular are most likely to feel pressured to lavish gifts on their love interest on Valentine's Day. However, there are plenty of ways that you can save some money whilst still making your partner feel special. Next Valentine’s Day, instead of a luxury 3 course meal out, why not try cooking a meal at home instead and setting a romantic ambience with some candles and music? Or, rather than forking out on a bouquet of cut red roses which are high in demand, you could buy a nice potted plant which your partner can enjoy for longer. In our increasingly materialistic society, it becomes so easy for young men and women to forget the essence of February 14th. Valentine’s Day is about expressing love and not about men breaking the bank for their female lovers.
Estelle is our Founder and Editor-in-Chief. She is a final year student studying BA English & Sociology at the University of Leeds, but is currently spending a year abroad in Montpellier, France. She is pursuing a career in journalism, writing and activism, and is interested in society, politics, foreign languages and cultures. Her Instagram handle is @estelleuba.