Love in the time of apocalypse

As the world wobbles on its axis the consumerist masses of our republic prepare to open their wallets for that most hallucinatory pop culture ritual: Valentine’s Day. It is the ultimate mugging of your emotions by the capitalist bandits that will turn anything, absolutely anything, into a flashy commodity. Walk into any regular supermarket or pricey hipster shop and the crimson, pink and plastic wall of desire meets you right at the entrance. Look at all these pretty things. If you don’t receive one it must mean you’re unwanted. What boggles the mind is why consumers spend over $19 billion annually on celebrating for one day a concept of romantic “love” that is brushed away for the rest of the week, if not the year. The divorce rate is high, people are getting married at a much older age, and for millennials this is the age of the “hook up” and “open relationships.” And yet they spend an amount of capital on Valentine’s Day that would make Venezuela’s inflation-ridden government drool.

If the reader suspects bitterness I can assure you there is little of it. The last three journeys into derangement by this author went as follows: I asked out a colleague who preferred to go to Berkeley (wise choice); I asked out a fellow wordsmith who was still drooling over a buffed Israeli guy with dreams of being a fighter pilot and bombing Palestinians (hard to compete with “Top Gun”); finally I recently dated a quite fun set designer who simply was too busy (the split was mutual and we still hang out here and there). At the moment I am quite content as a lone wolf, but I suspect a lot of the world is not because they know it’s all falling apart.

In the March 2015 issue of "Perspectives on Psychological Science," a new study concludes that loneliness could be considered a new public health risk in the United States. Feeling lonely can apparently increase your chances of death by 26% and both subjective and objective forms of loneliness are considered by the study as a hazard for your well-being. In 2014 the National Science Foundation also reported that an alarming number of Americans feel lonely with more than half claiming to lack someone to talk about personal issues with. One day walking through the fast-paced world of Los Angeles and these numbers are not surprising at all. The young are tech-obsessed and flog themselves to try and “make it” before hitting 30 and the middle aged are jaded and worn out. About a year ago I asked out a girl who replied with “I simply don’t have the time. You’re the greatest guy I’ve ever met, but the men I sleep with I don’t even give a damn about.”

Yet the National Retail Federation reports that consumers are about to spend about $20 billion on Valentine’s Day 2016, while the majority of those celebrating fall between the ages of 18 and 29. $4.4 billion will be spent on jewelry alone. In a recession-smacked era, this is nothing more than a portent of social anarchy.

So why in this more individualistic, career-obsessed generation are people dumping so much on useless trinkets of affection? Probably for the same reason that so many young people are gravitating towards the Bernie Sanders campaign: they know everything is going to hell and still cling to some hope.

Imagine being one of the unlucky souls in the loneliness studies cited above, and let’s say you happen to be up to date on world events: Not only are you living in an economically wobbly, high-pressure society, you are also well aware that Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s egomaniacal regimes might invade Syria any day now, risking a confrontation with Russia and Iran. You would also be aware that the Chinese economy is on the downturn, North Korea is firing missiles, and Ted Cruz might become President and hasten the Rapture. Let’s say you’re not a political junkie, you still can’t escape the nearly monthly mass shootings taking in the republic. It must be a terrifying, almost dystopian reality to be absolutely alone right now.

Of course you have your iPhone, or tablet, or Skype, or whatever other bit of technology required to be a part of civilization now. But how much actual human interaction or intimacy is even possible through an LCD screen? We’re a highly automated society, our feelings are being reduced to emojis. Yet we insist on either feeling better about ourselves on Valentine’s Day or feeling miserable because no gift was received. I myself have never received a valentine, and this 14th I will be content at work with co-workers who’s company I luckily enjoy.

Maybe the real alternative to dropping $20 billion as a society on fantasies is to take the time to interact with real humans, amongst ourselves, in friendship for more than just one day. For the lovelorn who take February 14 too seriously your gods are dead, and soon you will enjoy your chocolates and fleeting copulations under radiated skies.