Valentine’s Day is upon us – the day of love. The Beatles famously told us that money can’t buy us love and there are countless other sayings, poems and stories out there that echo this sentiment, but looking at the figures I’m not so sure…

We collectively spent £650m on Valentine gifts in 2018. In 2019, we broke through the £1 billion barrier. This year, our splashing out is expected to increase again to more than £1.45 billion. That’s a lot of Love Hearts.

Breaking the figures down some more gives us further insight. On average, each of us will spend £35 on our loved one this Valentine’s Day, but there’s variation at either end of the spectrum. Six percent will spend over £100, but more than 20% won’t spend a single penny.

Gender imbalance

There’s also a gender split, with men tending to dig deeper and spend larger amounts. Their average spend this year is expected to be £44, compared with £26 for women. Nine percent of men are likely to spend more than £100, while only 4% of women are predicted to splash out as extravagantly. And 20% of women expect to spend nothing at all, versus 16% of men.

The difference in men’s and women’s spending habits has historical precedent. History is peppered with stories, ancient and modern, of men spending outlandish amounts in demonstrations of affection for their wives or mistresses.

The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, at a cost in today’s money of more than $800 million. In modern times, Richard Burton paid over $1 million for a single 69 carat diamond in a lavish display of devotion to his wife Elizabeth Taylor – theirs being one of the most famous, or infamous, love affairs of the 20th century.

Real reasons

All this has got me wondering – what are the real reasons we spend money in this way and spoil our other halves with gifts and shows of our affection?

When Richard Burton spent such a huge sum on the ring for Elizabeth Taylor, what was going through his mind? Was he buying it to impress her? In which case he was making a point about himself and his powerful financial status. Or was he thinking about her; did he want to make her feel exceptionally special by giving her the world’s biggest diamond, showing her he loved her more than any man had ever loved any woman in the whole of history?

Not many of us are in the league of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor when it comes to Valentine gifting, but the principles of why we do it are probably the same. There are a variety of reasons and it can be down to one or a combination of different impulses. Sometimes it’s to feed an ego (of the giver and the receiver); sometimes it’s to win love by declaring your true feelings; sometimes it’s to show, after many years, that the love is still there.

Bringing balance

Whatever the individual reason for giving Valentine gifts, it seems to me that the real story plays out over a longer timescale, and it all comes down to balance in the broader context of the relationship. If there isn’t a good balance between give and take, over the longer term the relationship is unlikely to be healthy or long lasting.

Look again at the example of the Shah Jahan. In an era where polygamy and political allegiances through marriage were common, his wife Mumtaz Mahal was truly devoted to him. They had fourteen children together and despite her frequent pregnancies, Mumtaz insisted on travelling with his entourage throughout his military campaigns. The intimacy, deep affection and attention she showered on him far exceeded the relationships of marital duty he maintained with his other wives. She was his constant companion and trusted confidant. This was a relationship where both parties were clearly so happy with the balance they had found. Who could put a price on that?

So, whilst the Beatles were right to say that money can’t buy us love, it is also perhaps true that a real, meaningful love relationship is worth more than all the money in the world! It can be a lot of fun trying to impress our other halves on Valentine’s Day and it reminds us of how loving others and being loved is the most precious gift of all.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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