Will You Be My (Financially Responsible) Valentine?

Valentine's Day is bound to fill plenty of people with dread this year as the economy makes gift-giving more challenging.
Valentine's Day is bound to fill plenty of people with dread this year as the economy makes gift-giving more challenging.

Valentines Day approaches, a holiday that fills many with anticipation, others with dread -- and some of us with both because when Cupid slings his arrow, it can hit you right in the wallet.

Recessions are always hard on love, and this one has been especially difficult. Young couples are postponing marriage until their finances are more stable, while -- in states where housing prices have plummeted -- unhappily married couples can't afford to split up.

The economy also has made the process of finding love more challenging for many. Back in 1967, The Beatles proclaimed All You Need Is Love, but in 2011, if you're looking for love, it really helps to have a job. Listing yourself as unemployed on your online dating profile seems tantamount to admitting that you've recently contracted bubonic plague.

Become a "Freelance Sleep Companion"

What's the economically challenged lovebird to do? Well, luckily, a sense of humor is still free. Andy Stern, a senior research fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and former president of the Service Employees International Union, recommends informing potential dates that, as you are temporarily "in transition," you have plenty of time to devote to starting a relationship. Or that not being "job locked" means you're available as a "freelance sleep companion."

If you're fortunate enough to procure a date, the question remains: Is it really necessary to participate in the annual money-letting associated with Cupid? Last Feb. 14, Americans spent approximately $14 billion. One could argue that with an estimated 5.5 million Americans gaining weight attributed to economic stress, we simply can't afford confectionary affection this year.

But this argument might not appeal to your paramour. Can parsimony be considered a positive quality as a lover? A recent study conducted at Queens College indicates that psychological insecurity can make one a more effective dater, but IT didn't address financial insecurity.

If All Else Fails, Clean

Results of another -- much less scientific -- study, i.e. querying my Facebook friends, yielded unexpected results. Most of my respondents affirmed that generosity of spirit was sufficient in the current economy.

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My friends say they're willing to forgo gifts for services, such as shoulder and foot massages. Lifelong frugalista Annie Korzen, author of Bargain Junkie: Living the Good Life on the Cheap, reports being very pleased -- if not exactly aroused -- that on last Valentine's Day, her husband cleared out the garage.

My friends also agreed that cooking dinner was an acceptable way to avoid those pricey prix fixe meals that eclipse restaurant menus on Valentine's Day. (Personally, I try to avoid them because I've never felt entirely confident of my pronunciation of prix fixe.) One respondent's bargain-friendly menu featured a meatloaf in the shape of a heart, which -- while inventive -- conjures a visual image that makes me want to go vegan.

But what if you want to get out of the gift giving tradition entirely? Well, here's one thing not to do: Use the environmental impact of gift giving as an excuse. That idea was quickly shot down in one phone call to eco go-to guy Ed Begley. He proudly asserted that he has planted corn in his wife's honor, a gesture that was, he admitted, deemed "tedious" by his spouse.

He's had better luck with organic flowers. He rationalizes the added cost this way: "If you're tempted to cover your beloved in rose petals and one is accidentally ingested, you're in luck, because roses are high in vitamin c and good source of plant-based fiber."

No Wonder He's Still Single

However, taking a philosophical stand against the holiday is a tactic that can can cut costs. Jonathan Ames, author and creator of the HBO series Bored to Death, claims to have adopted a "Swiss-like neutral stance" on all of what he characterizes as "Hallmark holidays." Foregoing both the sentimentality of Valentine's Day and the purchase of chocolates or other such love tokens has proven to be reliably economical. But it also -- perhaps not coincidentally -- has kept him single.

A truly devoted, but fiscally responsible, lover might consider a full array of cheap -- albeit heartfelt -- expressions of affection: like planting vegetables, cleaning, cooking and composing a sonnet or two to recite while massaging away the tensions that his or her beloved has incurred while struggling to make sense of the reduced health care benefits the recession has brought.

OK, full disclosure, that was my wish list for this year. When I ran this by my husband of 14 years, he sighed, replying, "I'm too tired for this recession. Let's hope next year we can afford to just go on a date."

Annabelle Gurwitch
Annabelle Gurwitch

Actress Annabelle Gurwitch lives and writes in Los Angeles.

People magazine calls her comedic memoir, You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, co-written with her husband, "laugh out loud, the perfect chaser to Valentines Day." Read Annabelle's blog on Red Room.