Hate Valentine’s Day? There’s a Market for You, Too.


Lilly Calman is not in the mood this Valentine’s Day for the flowers, chocolates or a romantic dinner for two, especially after a recent breakup.

“I’m very angry,” said Ms. Calman, 26, adding that it had been painful to see all the holiday paraphernalia in store aisles.

She found a more fitting outlet for her mood this year: a fund-raiser for the San Antonio zoo that will symbolically name a roach or rodent after an ex and feed it to one of the zoo’s animals.

“The visual image of him getting eaten by a Komodo dragon is pretty satisfying,” said Ms. Calman, who donated $25 for the rat option. She is hoping the zoo sends her a video so she can host a screening with a friend. “I love reptiles. I think it’s cool.”

The annual campaign has raised over $235,000 since the zoo first ran it in 2020, underscoring the appeal of alternative Valentine’s Day rituals for people who are uninterested in the coupledom of it all.

The traditions of Valentine’s Day bring strong feelings, both for and against. Do you appreciate a cute tradition? Or do you hold it in contempt as a consumerist scam? Critics have blamed it for upholding a narrow-minded model of relationships as heterosexual and monogamous.

But the holiday, and its spending, isn’t going anywhere; a majority of people in the United States plan to celebrate or mark the day this year, according to this year’s version of an annual survey by the National Retail Federation, a lobbying group for the industry.

Those celebrations, however, have broadened to include friends and family, pets and even yourself. Marketers are taking note, and trying to find more avenues that resonate with even the naysayers.

“Valentine’s Day is a holiday that has basically morphed over time,” said Barbara Bickart, associate professor of marketing at Questrom School of Business at Boston University. “Marketers are figuring out ways to be more inclusive and sensitive.”

The candy brand Sweethearts this year, for example, launched a “situationships” edition with blurred writing for those in undefined relationships. (They sold out quickly, said Evan Brock, vice president for marketing for Spangler Candy Company in a statement.)

What to do on Valentine’s Day itself, when couples clutching roses fill restaurant tables? Marco Di Pinto has organized an “Anti-Valentine’s Day” comedy show in London for the past few years.

Comedians will encourage singles to share their terrible stories about dating and relationships, he said. Couples will — in good fun — be roasted. “I think this celebration is silly,” he said. “If we do a show like this, people maybe feel more included.”

João Pedro Santos, 41, has attended the comedy show the last few years — with his girlfriend. “That was one of the things that bonded us,” he said. “It’s about messing about with the whole concept of Valentines.”

Spending on romantic relationships still dominates the holiday, but demographics offer insights on a fringe that is growing. About 30 percent of Americans are single, according to a 2022 survey from Pew Research Center, and more than half of them say they are not looking to date.

“Marketers alienating entire groups of consumers — not only is it bad for society, but it’s bad business in general,” said Angeline Close Scheinbaum, associate professor of marketing at Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business at Clemson University.

“This is a prime time to communicate with people,” said Peter McGraw, a behavioral economist at University of Colorado Boulder and the author of “Solo: Building a Remarkable Life of Your Own,” adding that businesses could be doing more to cater to a large group. He pointed to the spending spree on Alibaba’s Singles Day on Nov. 11, a lucrative day for online shopping in China. “It is just so easy to do in your messaging.”

Even the self-care market, which has become a multibillion dollar industry, now plays into the holiday. Searches on Etsy for “self-gift” ahead of Valentine’s Day have increased 12 percent this year compared to last year, the company said.

“Learning how to love myself is a big undertaking right now,” said Kim McCoy, a speech language pathologist from Oregon. This year, after a breakup, Ms. McCoy is taking some time to romance herself. She has bought herself some flowers and is planning to attend an “ecstatic dance” event with a friend.

Naming a rat after her ex made Ms. Calman feel better, but it also helped her connect with friends and family as she shared a funny story. “Maybe platonic love is more important,” she said. “I do get to spend it with people I love and care about, and doing things we enjoy.”

The marketing around the day may ultimately hide the truth about why the holiday has persisted through time. “The point of the day is pure,” Dr. Scheinbaum said. “It is to celebrate and recognize love — and that will never go away.”

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