John-Paul Holden: Love business kissing goodbye to romance

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Valentine’s Day is upon us again and we’re spending more on that special someone. John-Paul Holden asks if money is getting in the way of true love

IT is meant to be a day to celebrate romance and show that special someone how much you care. But despite the ongoing financial crisis, it seems Valentine’s Day is becoming less and less about love and more and more about money.

A new poll shows people in Britain are predicted to splurge nearly £900 million on goodies to express affection for their better halves, with men accounting for around 70 per cent – or £611m – of the total spend. Women will fork out a relatively feeble £269m.

The poll, for hotel chain Travelodge, also found gift buying intentions are more diverse than ever – flowers come in at number one among men, chocolates are top for women – but a whole range of indulgences feature on the respective top ten lists, from candlelit dinners and cuddly toys to lingerie and jewellery.

Businesses in Edinburgh, like their counterparts nationwide, will cash in on the spending bonanza but is it all becoming too materialistic?

Professor Ewan Gillon, whose First Psychology Scotland network of relationship counselling and psychotherapy centres began as an independent practice in Edinburgh, has doubts.

“I think we’ve set ourselves up with a problem,” he says. “There’s this enormous pressure to spend huge sums of money – to keep up with an expectation that you have to buy lots of ‘things’ to express love.

“But if you are someone who doesn’t want to spend the money, or doesn’t have the money to spend, the implication is that you somehow don’t love your partner as much. There’s the risk that a doubt is created in someone’s mind – ‘perhaps my partner doesn’t love me’ – and that uncertainty in a relationship can really be quite stressful,”

The burgeoning Valentine’s Day splurge, argues the professor, can also get in the way of a more spontaneous expression of true love. “The kind of commercialisation we’re seeing has moved people away from a simple, honest expression, on a day-to-day basis, of just how much people in a relationship care for each other.”

But, as Scotland and the UK flirt with a double-dip recession, the boost provided to the Capital’s hard-pressed small and medium-sized businesses by lovers willing to spend more and more has never been more crucial to survival.

“It’s very important – the third busiest day of the year for us after Christmas and Easter,” says Kristina Currie, general manager at Coco Chocolate, the luxury and specialist chocolatier with branches in Bruntsfield and Broughton Street.

“In a day, and over the three days leading up to and including Valentine’s Day itself, we’d expect to see four to five times the regular sales intake we’d see on any other day.

“It’s not that we want to commercialise love,” she adds, “but it is a consumer driven society we’re living in and people do need to be prompted to spend. It doesn’t hurt to remind people to buy a small gift for their loved one to support local business. We’re a small company, after all, and people need to be reminded that you are there.”

Margot Medhurst, founder of Edinburgh-based personal introduction agency Yours Sincerely, also thinks fears about the over-commercialisation of Valentine’s Day are overdone.

“It’s just a bit of fun,” she says. “In the same way as you have mother’s day and birthdays, woe betide you if you miss Valentine’s Day. I don’t think normal people feel a pressure to spend a fortune. I reckon if people are spending more, it’s not because they feel more pressure to spend,” she adds. “It’s because more people are getting together. It’s because there are more couples out there.”

At Portobello’s new The Wild Flower Shop, Berlin-born Esther Kuck says Valentine’s Day gift buying is essential for her business but need not get in the way of spontaneous acts of generosity that express true love.

“In Germany, you’d buy something smaller than you tend to see in the UK,” she says. “Perhaps a single rose or something like that. I think gift buying is something we should do more often and not just because the commercials tell us.

“The main thing should be the surprise.”

Heart strings and purse strings

• Men polled expect to spend an average of £39.99 on presents this year – an increase of £4.41 on 2011, despite the recession – and almost double the predicted £20.25 spent by women (£1.96 less than in 2011).

• Men have been encouraged to buy more in recent years, with 42 per cent of survey respondents saying a gift meant an opportunity to prove their love for their partner.

• Men were also top in the romance stakes on Valentine’s Day itself – 36 per cent see the day as romantic with only 24 per cent of women feeling the same way.

• Most men chose to buy flowers as a gift; most women chose chocolates.

• Romance doesn’t have to be expensive, of course – ten per cent of women said they would like to receive a love letter, while 12 per cent said they just wanted their better halves to cook a meal from scratch and clean up afterwards.

• Finally, a warning to budding Casanovas – 36 per cent of men said it was important to buy flowers for their partners, but 48 per cent of women polled said they were bored by the gifts usually bought for them, with four in ten women saying they would prefer to be whisked away on a romantic break.