She Really Does Want Flowers

There’s a phenomenon that you may have noticed around Valentine’s Day. Here’s how it goes. A man and a woman are dating and the woman says “I really don’t want flowers for Valentine’s Day this year”. The man nods and later mentions it to someone, who then tells him (in a tone of extreme importance) that she really DOES want flowers, but she just couldn’t tell him because she’s one of the crazy womenz. You know how they are. A Mystery. An Enigma. But one of the rules of lady brains is that when they tell you they don’t want something they really do and you better make sure you get it for them or they’ll have Emotions.

The man goes out and buys the flowers, the woman gets them and smiles and says thank you, you knew what I really wanted! and the world goes on thinking that all women want flowers on Valentine’s Day no matter what they actually say because that’s What You Do. But contrary to what this phenomenon might lead you to believe, there are in fact some people out there of the female persuasion who don’t want flowers when they tell you they don’t want flowers.So why on earth are so many people convinced that women are lying about what they want, and why do a fair number of women feel that they actually do need to lie about what they want?

I’m gonna bet the answer has something to do with sexism.

Let’s break it down. The first issue with this trope is that it assumes all women want the same thing and that we just have to figure out the super secret magic formula and then we’ll crack the woman and sex will come out (ew). Not all ladies want the same thing. I would be really disturbed if we did. Acting as if you can divine what we want by figuring out some amazing woman code is a bit dehumanizing. Acting as if we’re interchangeable robots with all the same feelings is a bit dehumanizing. Really, if you’re in a relationship with someone I would hope that you know them well enough to know whether they buy into certain cultural norms or not. I would hope you can be honest with your partner. But somewhere at the root of it the assumption is that Valentine’s Day is not about actually expressing some sort of love or emotion, but it’s about placating the romance monster that lives deep inside your woman by buying her things. Because if advertising wants us to know anything it’s that women can be bought and they’ll tell us how to do it.

But in addition to the mysterious secrets of the enigmatic lady, this trope relies on another assumption, which is that men (and advertisers) actually know what women want better than women do. Oh silly feminist, you may THINK you don’t want to be treated in a chauvinistic, misogynistic way, but at heart you really want to be dominated and then showered with girly pink things, amirite? Valentine’s Day, and these advertisements and stories about how women really want flowers remind us that there is a script. This script is for the best of all of us. If we all act in accordance with the script then everyone will be happy, and whenever we deviate from the script the women will go crazy and the men will be miserable. The script is more important than anything a woman says she wants because her lady brain is too simple to actually know what she wants.

However this brings us to point number two which is that sometimes women do lie about what they want. This may be part of the “I’m fine” phenomenon (in which women pretend they’re ok but they’re really not). Women, believe it or not, are under a lot of pressure not to seem crazy, demanding, or over the top in their requests of their male significant others. Believe it or not, women are often perceived as nagging, as princesses, as over the top pay attention to me all the time Valentine’s day is all for women and brides only care about themselves because romance is for women. So sometimes women pretend that they don’t want things. Sometimes women are conditioned to put others before themselves and not ask for things they want. Sometimes women are ashamed that the things they want cost lots of money. Roses are frivolous ya know? They’re coded as “lady things” which means they’re not really worth it. And so they say they don’t want anything even if they do because they know it’s what they’re supposed to do.

At its root, these kinds of tropes are really about getting men to buy more and more expensive things regardless of whether those things are wanted or not. Some women like flowers and find that they brighten up a space, or that they smell lovely. Some women don’t like to clean up dead things and would rather have something useful or personalized. Some people hate Valentine’s Day. Some people love an excuse to spoil their significant other. What seems really important here is that, like men, women are individual human beings with unique preferences and thought processes, and that if you’re in a relationship with someone it might behoove you to actually discuss what you want and like, and trust the other person when they tell you something. It might be a good idea to talk with your significant other about any pressures that you feel. This can be really hard, but if we want our relationships to be better we have to do some hard work. We have to be willing to actually open our mouths and be honest and enforce our honesty: if your honey buys you flowers when you told him not to, gently remind him that you actually said you didn’t want any.

If we don’t do these things, we’re going to risk perpetuating the idea that women run a script and they’re too stupid to figure it out for themselves. We’re going to continue to create an image of romance that doesn’t allow people without money (like those in lower socioeconomic classes or those who are younger) to live up to it. We’re going to continue to base our concept of deep relationships around buying rather than around doing or communicating or creating. That kind of sucks.

So instead of buying your lady-friend flowers this V-day, here are some other things that we at Skepchick offer as stuff we like more than overpriced roses we told you not to buy:

1.Running shoes
2.This fabulous poster
3.A dildo
4.Lots and lots of Shirley Temples
5.Some lovely poetry (might I suggest Catullus?)
6.A large hammer with which to smash the patriarchy
7.The secret to beating Flappy Bird
8. A video of Benedict Cumberbatch reading 50 Shades of Gray
9.Some time without the kids
10.Reproductive healthcare

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!



Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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  1. Hmm. She doesn’t like 50 Shades, or drink, Flappy Bird is down, she takes kick-boxing and doesn’t need a hammer, her daughter is grown up and earning six figures, reproductive healthcare is sorted. Seem’s a bit late to order the poster.

    Oh and I bought her a toy last year.

    Guess who’s getting Catullus on Friday?

  2. I had a boyfriend once who kept sending me flowers even though I said several times, “Eh. Not a fan of flowers.” And then they were ROSES. If you’re going to give me flowers, get me tulips, those I’d probably like. But roses? Sigh. My cats would just eat them!

    Obviously, it did not last. I mean if you know me, you know I don’t mince words. If I say “I am not a fan of flowers” I AIN’T LYING So I had to pretend I liked them when really I was thinking, “Great. They are going to sit there and my cat will try to eat them then they will die and I will be too lazy to throw them away so then like, in four months I’ll still be picking up dead flower. Great.”

    I just started seeing someone (very new, not serious yet, and when I say very new I mean like really new), and I made a point to say: “Ignore Valentines day. It does not exist in our world. Thanks.”

    I constantly forget Valentines day is coming up until someone posts something on Facebook. I don’t even care. At all. If he sent me something for Valentines day, even a facebook message, I’d be so confused.

    And no, I ain’t lying. I am not really totally into Valentine’s day. It’s just a weird fucking “holiday”. It’s awkward .And the candy is almost always gross.

    But if you wanna buy me a snickers, I’d be alright with that!

    1. And btw, I even told the ex, “Hey, I am not really into flowers. I suppose you could buy me tulips, those are pretty, but still, flowers are annoying more than anything.”

      Still sent me flowers.

      He was WAY more into the IDEA of romance (he laid it on thiiick) than actually, you know, listening to me. It was so awkward. I’m not really a romance kinda gal. It was just weird and clearly not meant to be haha.

  3. Being of the not-so-smart class, my wife had to tell me several times over the years not to get flowers. The clincher was when she said she didn’t want “dead things.” If I wanted to get her flowers, go to the nursery and buy something in the dirt and living so she can plant it. That’s tougher, though, because she’s a plant person, she knows them by their Latin names, and has very specific likes. So, we go together. It’s almost like a date.

    1. Yes, that’s me too. I’d much rather have a blooming plant in a pot than some dying cut flowers. My spouse still buys me the cut kind occasionally, though.

      Although sometimes, when we’re someplace that has cut flowers, I’ll point at a bouquet, and say “If I were going to buy you flowers, I’d buy you those.” He’ll point at a different bouquet and say “And I’d buy you those.” Then we both enjoy how pretty they are, and move on and buy something useful instead.

    2. I’ve heard women say things similar to that — “if he WANTS to get me something…. get me X” —

      To me, there is so much wrong with that sort of sentiment. First of all, guys don’t “want” to get a woman flowers, per se. We do like to get women things, but not because we have some fetish about going out buying stuff and giving it away. It’s because we want to make the women in our lives happy. We want to transmit tokens of our affection. We want them to receive the gift happily and to return praise and affection.

      So, when trying to make women happy and show our affection we do prefer to give things that the woman wants. Just the same as when one is buying Christmas presents, we prefer to get what the recipient would like to receive.

      The reason flowers are the biggest thing to give on Valentines Day, however, is not because men “want” to give out flowers. It’s because so many women want to receive them. And, so many of them want to receive them that we logically start from the proposition/assumption that a given woman wants flowers until the opposite is proven — and not just because she says so — there must be clear and convincing evidence. That’s why your wife had to tell you several times over the years. You weren’t willing to give up your assumption that women want flowers, and probably you logically figured that if you didn’t get flowers you could be called a cheapskate, but if you did give flowers you can’t really be faulted for giving a gift that most women do want.

      This debate reminds me of a couple of scenes from a great movie — The Break-Up.



  4. I’ve always had it so ingrained in me that Valentine’s Day is for women and that we’re all suppose to love it and yada yada yada that I thought I was doing my husband a favor by just ignoring it or hating on it. Turns out, HE loves Valentine’s Day and all the tropes I was responding to also ignore that men have different scripts than they are supposed to as well. I still really dislike the whole concept but celebrate it with him on our own terms. No flowers allowed. (I also hate watching them die, cleaning them up, the cliche, etc.) I use it as an excuse to go through old photos and put together some kind of collage or similar. So that makes it fun for both of us.

    1. I’ve noticed men seem to really like valentines day! It can be sorta cute if they do it right (instead of blatantly ignoring my “NO FLOWERS!!” pleas lol). Especially if it’s on your own terms.

      The candy is still largely terrible, though. Why is that? So much bad chocolate.

      1. “The candy is still largely terrible, though. Why is that? So much bad chocolate.”

        Maybe because it has the metallic taste of African children’s blood? (Seriously there’s all kinds of human rights abuses in the cocoa industry. Google it for more details.)

          1. It’s actually two separate issues. The cocoa, which involves slavery and fighting over farmland; and the palm oil, which is involved in deforestation and displacement of indigenous peoples in the jungles of Indonesia. Kos had a good list of all the euphemisms for palm oil a few months back.

      2. Key word: “seem.” Valentines Day is mostly a day of dread for men, because there are far more opportunities to screw up than there are to shine like a superstar. If a guy fails to get flowers, chocolate, buy a nice dinner, or do something else “romantic” then he’s a goat. If a guy does those things, he’s only done what he is socially/culturally expected to do — what’s he want? A medal? If he does those things, he gets little credit, and is out $100 to $200. Flowers on V-Day alone cost about $75 (unless you pick up the bulk bouquet at Costco or Sam’s Club), and then dinner is $100 at over priced, shoddy service because their overcrowded restaurants. And, that’s just to do the “minimum” that many women want to say they don’t really like anyway…… the candy is terrible, I agree with that. Awful. And, buying it gets a guy zero Valentines Day points anyway, because most of it is just crap bought from the local drug store anyway….

    2. Every year with every partner I’ve been with for longer than a year:
      Him: “Happy anniversary!”
      Me: “Shit, is it really?!”
      In SOME fairness, the beginning of my current relationship was so nebulous that my beloved actually sat down and worked out a plausible date for it just so he could say when we’d reached the year-mark. Because that made him happy. And I promptly forgot what it was, because I have a heart of coal apparently. Oh well, all he ever wants for our anniversary is to play with my boobs anyway.

  5. Another suggestion for an apt Valentine’s Day prezzie might be the digitally remastered DVD set of Faulty Towers with commentary by John Cleese. Subtitle “How Not To Do It”.
    My dear wife gave me that for Xmas. It still cracks me up, even after seeing it a hundred times. They tapped a rich vein there.

  6. I don’t care for flowers in general–I think this is a result of too many trips to botanical gardens as a wee bairn. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

    The first V-day my (now) husband and I were ‘together’ (actually, 2000 miles apart at the time) he got me a Slavoj Zizek DVD. That’s when I knew it was love.

  7. My stance on V-Day: Please do not expect me to perform sweeping gestures of romance for you on the one and only birthday I get per year. It is also very hard to get people to come to a party in your honor or go to dinner with you on your actual birthday day when your birthday is the biggest fancy dinner reservation night of the year, so all the restaurants have specially priced menus and are filled up weeks in advance and nobody wants to babysit on Obligatory Romance Day. I can’t remember the last time I celebrated the day of my birth on the day of my birth, holiday birthdays suck so much, can I get a hell yeah from all the xmess people? Bah Humbug, fuck hearts and flowers, I will be in my sulking dome with this here chocolate and wine.

    1. Most of the romance industry has forced memes on us. That’s why you’re supposed to be buried with your jewelry, for instance. Or why a white wedding dress; perhaps it was just the Queen’s favorite color?

      And of course it all feeds into the stereotype of women as golddiggers. Interestingly enough, “Golddigger” was originally written from a first-person perspective, but Kanye couldn’t find a woman to sing about how all she cares about is money. I wonder why…

  8. Words cannot explain how much this whole “she says she doesn’t want flowers” bullshit pisses me off.
    I am a woman who doesn’t give a hoot about Valentine’s day. My husband and I have never celebrated it, never give each other gifts, none of that crap. At most we use it as an excuse to fuck the shit out each other (not that we need an excuse, but you know).
    But whenever I tell people that, I get the “oh, you SAY you don’t want flowers, but I bet your husband gets an earful if he doesn’t bring home a bunch of roses!”

  9. At our first Valentine’s day together, the now husband then very fresh boyfriend and I agree NOT to do Valentine’s day. Still he showed up with a very ugly flower bouquet and a bottle of rum so we could make cocktails. The cocktails were nice, but I then told him again not to do the flowers thing. REALLY. He doesn’t have any taste in them anyway and just performs a societal expectation where the only one who profits is the florist.
    Then we agreed AGAIN not to do Valentine’s and it works perfectly well.
    Seriously, I don’t want any tokens at a set date. I much prefer if he buys me my favourite chocolates every once in a while just because he wanted to do something nice for me. I hate Valentine’s day almost as much as mother’s day: fig leaves to make up for ignoring you all year round, more or less, celebrating some of the worst aspects of patriarchal culture as sweet and loving and romantic.

  10. Flowers are the worst gift for me. Getting me flowers is the same as getting me cat vomit for Valentine’s because my cat will eat them and he will technicolor spew them on my couch.

  11. Men don’t buy flowers for women who say they don’t want them because they don’t think they know what they want. They buy them because they don’t believe the women actually mean what they say.

    And more often than not they are right. People with low expectations often evade them by stating the opposite as their preference.

    If you say, ‘I prefer chocky to the flowers’ most men will comply or buy both. Giving a practical reason like the cat eating them is probably your best bet.

    1. “And more often than not they are right. People with low expectations often evade them by stating the opposite as their preference.”

      Also, how did you come to this conclusion? Making assumptions based on stereotypes? Or do you have some data to back this claim up?

      You know what would be SWELL? If you’re unsure of what your partner might want? ASK HER. Directly. Don’t just fucking guess. And don’t assume she’s a liar.

          1. There is a risk/benefit tradeoff with different penalties.

            The penalty for getting flowers when you should not is the cost of the flowers and some mild irritation.

            The penalty for not getting flowers when you were meant to know that she really wanted them but was telling you not to because she didn’t expect you to remember and didn’t want to be disappointed is pretty serious.

            Meanwhile the men spend their time ‘investing’ in BitCoin because it is always going to go up and doesn’t look at all like a Ponzi scheme. Nooo siree.

          2. Actually, PHB, I totally agree. If you work out a risk analysis, get flowers. I personally don’t do it, but I’m not totally rational. I am just disappointed because I was referred to this site for science, skepticism and feminism, & it turns out the headline article is about f- valentines day flowers.

          3. Every time a guy has done that I have been pissed and we’ve ended up breaking up because obviously he doesn’t listen to me and thinks I’m a liar.


            Oh, you got me flowers, anyway?

            This’ll totally last. Totally.

          4. Marilove, maybe they’re just hoping you really didn’t want the flowers so they get to keep them for themselves?

          5. If you like flowers and want me to buy them for you on special occasions then just ask! I’ll totally buy you your favorite flower if you want me to.

    1. Thank you because oh dear, we talk about things sometimes that you may not want to read. You have a scroll button. Use it.

      But seriously, really? One post is about flowers ON VALENTINE’S DAY, and you get all freaked out?

      That was going to be my response.

      tsk tsk. And thank you for your apology. We are more than just this one single post. :)

  12. One cisgender, heterosexual perspective goes something like this — Valentine’s Day can be a very difficult minefield. It is full of ways the guy can “screw up.” Yes, indeed, it is not universally the case, and probably not even the majority of time the case, that women “say” they don’t like flowers and really, secretly want them. However, it occurs enough times that men need to seriously consider if the woman that is telling them not to give flowers (or sometimes, the even worse statement, “don’t buy me ANYTHING” for V-Day), is serious about that. I don’t think it’s because the cisgender, hetero male thinks so lowly of women that we believe they don’t know what they want or the like — it’s really that we want to do the right thing, we wan to show them how much we care, and we don’t want to mess it up. So, what does a guy do when confronted with this situation? Logically, the choices are (a) honor the request not to buy flowers and get something else, or (b) disregard the statement and “surprise” her with flowers anyway, or (c) get flowers AND get something else. Most guys aren’t made of money, so (c) is often not a great option, because V-Day flowers are expensive. But, often men will think that getting the woman flowers anyway can’t hurt, because it’s a gift and it’s traditional on V-Day, and because there is at least some chance that the woman is among the demographic that really does want flowers. It’s also much more difficult to find something romantic that isn’t flowers. Not “all” women want dildos or posters either. Many women view V-Day as holiday where they are romanced. Dinner, flowers, chocolate, etc., are the tradition because they are romantic.

    Often, too, the effort of buying flowers is discounted — I’ve heard women criticize the giving of flowers not because the flowers shouldn’t be given, but because it is the bare minimum. It doesn’t have sufficient thought and heart in the giving, because it’s mere tradition – what the guy is “supposed to do.” This occurs enough to put men in a quandary about the whole day. They spend $75 on a dozen roses to be delivered, and the roses are scoffed at and scorned as “just roses, and I don’t like roses anyway.” However, many men know the feeling of having not purchased flowers, or purchased non-rose flowers, and seen the disappointment in their significant others. Non-rose flowers are cheaper, so the guy is often seen as a penny-pincher by buying the tulips or the carnations. And, not buying flowers at all is often seen as not living up to the bare minimum. “Sure, the dinner was nice, but he didn’t EVEN get me flowers…”

    I am not sure women can really identify with the male angst about Valentines Day. The reality of the day is that it is, statistically speaking, a day for men to buy women expensive, romantic tokens and take women out to dinner. It is not a day to go “Dutch,” and there is no equivalency between what men get for Valentines Day and what women get for Valentines Day. Statistically, about 2/3 of men and about 1/3 of women think they should give a gift on Valentines Day. Men generally expect to receive gifts totaling $5 while women expect $50. Men say they spend about $100 on gifts for Valentines Day, and women don’t even spend half of that, on average. There are several sources on the googles for those stats. The import of the stats on V-Day is that men are socially/culturally “expected” to spend a lot of money on V-Day, and women are not. Men don’t generally expect to get anything, and women generally do. So, a woman is more apt to feel comparatively slighted by not getting something (because most of her friends do get something), and men generally don’t care because a man’s peer group isn’t comparing. For men, it’s unfortunately a holiday to “get through” and not to enjoy. If you get through it with your significant other happy, then you’ve lived to fight another day. The worst for a guy is to be the one who DIDN’T send flowers to the office. So, even if a woman says she really doesn’t want them, their is a sinking feeling in our guts that if we don’t, we’re going to be “that guy” who cheaped-out.

    From this cisgender, hetero guy’s perspective, I would just ask women to give us a little bit of leeway, a little bit of room to move — and thankfully many women are very easygoing about Valentines Day. Men need to understand that there are a significant proportion of women that ARE easygoing, and we have to give women a chance to be that. By the same token, those women who do “expect” things and those that do get upset if the “traditional” bells and whistles are not sounded, I think men would simply ask that you understand the social pressures involved and cut us some slack. Most of us want to be good to the loves of our lives.

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