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Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011

Milwaukee Does Valentine’s Day

Readers take a halfhearted view of required romance

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Perhaps no other holiday has the ability to both depress and inspire like Valentine’s Day. While Madison Avenue would have us spend lavishly to impress our objects of desire, many in Milwaukee prefer smaller gestures. Moreover, there are plenty of people who regard Feb. 14 with disdain or outright loathing: an unwelcome reminder that our love lives fall far short of the ideal depicted in mass-media narratives.

We asked our readers to hold forth on the obligatory midwinter observance of all things amorous, and found that Milwaukeeans, if not quite cynical, take a decidedly realistic view of the whole enterprise. Opportunities to meaningfully connect with our significant others grow fewer in an increasingly impersonal and hectic world. In what I would regard as an especially intimate exchange, my wife twice last month clicked “like” on my Facebook status update, but I haven’t had the chance to discuss it with her.

By and large, Milwaukeeans welcome the chance to clear even a small block of time to devote solely to their mates, even if it comes with a bit of eye-rolling at the silliness of it all. A survey respondent summed up the prevailing attitude by saying, “Yes, Valentine’s Day is all about businesses making money, but what holiday isn’t? And it gives you a chance to do something nice.”

“Nice,” of course, is subjective, and when asked what their actual itinerary involved, most respondents said their plans leaned toward simplicity—a nice dinner at home, maybe accompanied by a trip to the local multiplex. Perhaps this is a nod to economic realities, and the fact that the holiday arrives so quickly on the heels of Christmas, for which many are still paying off credit cards.

As to the question of whether or not Valentine’s Day is a good time for a first date, the response was overwhelmingly negative.  “There’s too much pressure for everything to be perfect,” said one reader. Another respondent cautioned that “the only thing that says ‘I’m a loser’ more than being alone on Valentine’s Day is asking someone on a first date on Valentine’s Day!”

The pressure to orchestrate the perfect night out isn’t entirely without benefits to the local economy, however. A waiter at a fancy Downtown restaurant stated that he loves Valentine’s Day, as he “makes a load of bank from guys overspending to impress women they have absolutely no chance with!”

A popular school of thought holds that for the unattached, the commercial and societal importance artificially attached to Valentine’s Day provides a depressing reminder that they won’t be batting eyelashes across the table. Not so, according to our single respondents, who laugh at the notion that something mandatory could have any real romantic value. Milwaukee singles, evidently, have more pressing concerns.

Asked if they could reinvent the holiday to their liking, most of our readers said they would do away with the enterprise altogether. “I don’t think you should feel like you have to spend a lot of money to tell someone you love them,” said one woman. “I’d be more impressed if a guy just did something small and cheap.” That’s good news for guys, especially those who work at alternative weeklies. Many readers stated that the obligatory nature of the holiday drains it of all significance, and that they would be far more pleased with a nice gesture on a day where it was not required by the calendar.

So while Milwaukeeans may take note of the holiday and make some effort to do something nice for their significant others, they’ll be doing so while concurrently acknowledging the silliness of the whole endeavor.