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The Science of Valentine’s Day

Love to hate it or hate to love it, Valentine’s Day is a thing. For many of us it may mean nothing, while others prefer to perform a comprehensive taxonomy on what their love and relationships mean on this day. With all the glorification and stigmas bubbled around this abstract celebration, there is some truth and ideas to shovel out of what this commercialized love day embeds.

Love – an evolutionary minx 

How do we love? Most people are not able to describe what “love” is, but some scientists have tried to decode what causes us this sensation, suggesting that being in love might be an evolutionary survival mechanism. Humans have evolved to live in groups for support, shared resources and safety but in these groups, people have also learnt to abide by hierarchy, compromise and self-sacrifice for kin so it is not always “home, sweet home”. This “love” towards friends, family, lovers might have arisen for the benefit of maintaining those relationships and enjoying the safety of group settings. 

When we meet someone, who might be the “one” or just interesting “someone”, our bodies release and respond to different neurochemicals. Oxytocin creates the initial attraction bond as it hushes the fear center of brain to make you more willing and able to approach and explore this person. If done so, dopamine is released as a reward for making this step and together with oxytocin it makes the brain more plastic to create new memories about and with this person. As the dopamine reward feeling is so good, it gets further exploited by wanting to meet and talk to this person more and more. After getting past this initial lust and dizziness of the liked person, our serotonin levels drop, causing the usual mental symptoms like over-thinking and obsession which may even lead to physical ones like loss of appetite or sleep. If we get further in the relationship, the effects of oxytocin lust wear off, but they are replaced by beta-endorphins, that ensure a long-term commitment by creating an addictive (endorphin etymology being “within morphine”) bond with the person. 

Hence, if things are to go south, the break-up is felt on both an instinctive loss of lust level as well as conscious loss of an addictive contact, like going sober. Hence, relapse and “on-and-off” is easy due to withdrawal like symptoms. 

Don’t look a gifted horse in the mouth

With the biological part over, Valentine’s Day continues its games with psyche. It can be so strongly pushed upon us that we want to resist it. Resistance to commercialized Valentine’s Day and themed consumerism meshes with movements of individualism and actively or passively seeking alternative and more personal ways, giving rise to anti-materialism. It has also unnecessarily associated itself with symbolic items like hearts, chocolate, flowers that bear no meaning to the idea of affection (however, a bit of dark chocolate, red wine and feeling loved any day are all good for your heart’s health!). Yet, gift giving on Valentine’s Day may be overly judged, as gifting can solidify an existing contact or serve as a confidence push to admit feelings. On the other hand, for those who are not ready, gifting on this day may be too much of a sign of commitment and anything given may be misinterpreted. So, the best but overused suggestion would be “go with your gut”. 

Love during pandemic

There are humorous ways on how to turn this day in a pandemic into something useful and positive. For example, a parody take on our beloved Pfizer vaccines recommends “Don’t just be her somebody – be her antibody” as a vaccination encouragement, and, hey, vaccinating together would for sure hit anyone’s top 10 most memorable dates. The 14th of February is also known as the National Impotence Day, 20 years ago serving as a commercial platform for Pfizer to commercialize their Viagra pills in the UK. Whatever the date plans, the topic of vaccination would nievitably come up, and in this case, it is possible to utilize the term coined by our good friend Charles ‘Dar-win-ing’ or picking a mate based on their belief in vaccine science. The pandemic has given us new criteria by which to shuffle potential love interests.

Though often scrutinized, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to take its superficial form. In Finland, 14th of February is known as Ystävänpäivä, or Friend’s Day, with absolutely no pressure on lovey-dovey stuff. TV has introduced alternatives like,  Galentine’s day and the 21st century has emphasized the importance of self-love and self-care. So, whatever your love status or opinion on the celebration, it truly is just a day on the calendar.  


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