Post- Magazine

flowers on v-day... [feature]

unpacking the traditions behind giving flowers on valentine’s day

“Hey, I got you something!” 

Is seemingly what we all want to hear on Valentine's Day. The delicate crinkling of brown paper wrapping, the unmistakable, intoxicatingly sweet scent—fresh and delectable—of a bouquet of red flowers, from that special person, just for you. For me, receiving flowers is something I will never forget or grow tired of. It’s strange how flowers—natural objects, so simple and so abundant—can instill feelings of appreciation and warmth. Although the flowers themselves will eventually die, they symbolize something that can’t ever wither: love and care. To this day, I press and dry every flower I’ve received in between pages of a book so that they retain their original shape and color. In the future, I plan to frame these dried flowers and hang them on my wall or add them to a glass jar of memories. This way, I make sure that I’ll never forget how I felt at the very moment of receiving them, no matter how many years may have passed.

 

Although the flowers I’ve received in the past have rarely been roses, I understand that there appears to be something particularly meaningful about roses—especially within the context of Valentine’s Day. 

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You hear the knock on your door, and you fling it open, heart pounding with anticipation. And there they are. Your lover, with a bouquet full of deep red roses, just for you. 

 

Roses are timeless. Symbolizing love, beauty, and passion, they’ve been cherished for centuries across civilizations and cultures. Roses are important objects in many religions and ideologies. For example, in Islam, roses are called the “Flower of Heaven,” symbolizing the Prophet Muhammed. In Islamic mysticism and mythology, the rose represents “divine beauty.” In Christianity, the rose is frequently associated with the Virgin Mary, representing her beauty and grace. Mary is sometimes referred to as the “Mystical Rose,” as in the Litany of Loreto. 

 

In Greek mythology, the creation of red roses was attributed to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The story goes that Aphrodite had a mortal lover called Adonis (who was also the lover of Persephone…). Adonis was attacked and wounded by a wild boar on a hunting trip and bled to death in Aphrodite’s arms. When Aphrodite’s tears mixed with Adonis’ blood, the concoction produced a beautiful red rose bush upon hitting the ground. As such, roses are symbolic of Aphrodite’s power as the goddess of love and of her tragic romance with her mortal lover. 

 

Today, roses have continued to maintain their command, notoriety, and popularity—especially whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around. Give Me Flowers: Measuring Social Media Advertising Strategies for Floral Products, a study by Benjamin Campbell, Julie Campbell, and Jessica Holt,  tested different marketing schemes on participants, examining which kinds of advertised flowers were remembered more frequently. One of the study’s main conclusions after data analysis was that roses were the most memorable kind of flower, with Holt commenting, “I was surprised that the advertisement featuring animated roses did better than one featuring tulips or a generic bunch of flowers.” While the act of flower-giving is often tied to romantic gestures, as they typically are on Valentine’s Day, we give flowers in almost any significant, formative events and experiences. Take weddings and birthdays, for example. Or, on the flip side, funerals. We gift people flowers for everyday experiences, too—take school recitals or random surprises for a romantic partner after a long day at work. Flowers are generally understood as a gesture of appreciation. While for some, receiving flowers indicates a generic token of gratitude, for others, it is deeply intimate and personal. This explains their popularity and relevance on Valentine’s Day, which is a celebration of love. It seems that overnight, all the flowers in the Trader Joe’s welcome area have magically been dyed red and the aisles of CVS have transformed into shelves of symbols and images of bears holding hearts and bouquets of roses. The popularity of this age-old category of gift giving seems to have skyrocketed, perhaps perpetuated by the rise of social media and the spread of photos and videos of individuals displaying their partner’s grand, or small, romantic gestures. 

 

On the topic of buying flowers for other people, new research has shown that younger people (Gen Z, Gen X, and millennials) are more likely to buy flower bouquets than older people. The study by Campbell et al. also found that not only were younger people more likely to buy flower bouquets, but that they were also more likely to buy additional non-flower items to go along with their bouquets. We see this all the time. On Valentine’s Day, for example, it is common that someone will surprise their date with not only a bouquet of beautiful roses, but also a box of heart-shaped chocolates, a card, or perhaps a piece of jewelry. Moreover, the study found that older people were less likely to have received a bouquet of flowers in the past year, giving further evidence for the argument that the act of flower-giving, in general, is more common among younger populations than it is older. But why should this act of love—romantic, platonic, familial, and everything in-between—dwindle with age? The study even found that despite older people being less likely to have received a bouquet of flowers in the past year, they still acknowledged that a bouquet is a “wonderful mood booster.” 

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So, why do these demonstrations of romantic love and attraction decrease with age? 

 

Well, on Valentine’s Day in 2023, the Institute of Population Ageing held a discussion over whether falling in love and experiencing romance was predominantly experienced by younger populations. Two scientists—Haoyu Suo and Pianpian Zhao—responded affirmatively, arguing that romance was predominantly experienced by younger populations. Dr. Yanyan Zhang argued the contrary, explaining that experiencing romance and falling in love is timeless, but that its occurrences are influenced by external pressures and factors. 

 

After opening the debate, Zhao listed several examples that outline why and how society typically views romance and love as characteristic of younger generations. These examples included popular culture, for example—media, literature, movies, TV shows, music, etc. Much of modern literature and TV shows feature youthful protagonists falling in love. Take popular dystopian novels and other young adult books—for example, Katniss’ love-triangle with Peeta and Gale, and the many romantic storylines in franchises such as Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series. This trope is one as old as time. Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The romance in these franchises and works is almost always restricted to young characters, other than the fleeting mention of a main character’s married parents. This leaves older people, and their romantic interests and pursuits, neglected and underrepresented. Zhao also points to the marketing strategies of large companies and chains. Marketing feats for romantic products often target younger populations. This spans from the marketing of dating apps to the marketing in Target aisles. It is true that most dating apps are created with younger populations in mind. Although on these apps you can choose the demographic (including age) of potential romances you match with, the vast majority of those using these apps in the first place are still younger than 50. 

 

Following Zhao’s initial list, Suo continued, describing other reasons why romance and falling in love is generally thought of as youthful. Suo argued that the stereotyping of adults plays a part in this perception, explaining that “society often holds negative views about aging.” Older people are perceived as less attractive, less desirable, and less likely to initiate romantic relationships than younger people. Although this is a form of ageism, usually held by young people and administered towards older people, it can also influence how older people perceive themselves and each other. This is a form of social conditioning that acts cyclically, making older people not only feel less confident and comfortable pursuing romantic relationships, but moreover think it is “past their time” to fall in love. They instead associate falling in love with something only younger people are capable of—which, of course, is not true in the slightest. 

 

In fact, this is the lens through which Zhang rebutted both Zhao and Suo’s arguments. Zhang put forth that the psychological elements of falling in love and experiencing romance are not bound by age, or by other demographics, such as race or gender. Instead, falling in love is influenced—for all ages—by the same four factors: similarity, propinquity (closeness), desirable characteristics, and reciprocal liking. These four factors are equally understood and important for people of all ages, and the mental and psychological pathways of falling in love are constant throughout time. Further evidence by Charles and Carstensen, who co-wrote the paper “Social and Emotional Aging,” offers that mental, emotional, and social abilities are not bound by age and, therefore, the capacity to fall in love is not weakened by aging. The research findings indicated that older individuals, like their younger counterparts, possess a fundamental desire and necessity for love from others, along with the chance to express romantic affection.

 

So I declare that you, yes you, reading this article, should buy a bunch of beautiful red roses for your significant other, or crush, or friend, this upcoming Valentine’s Day. No, it’s not too late. (There are flowers in the CVS on Thayer Street, so you really have no excuse). Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter why you give someone flowers, it’s the act itself—of giving someone you appreciate flowers—that matters indefinitely. It might make someone’s life just a little bit more colorful, just a little bit more enjoyable, and, of course, just a little bit sweeter.

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