Is it all coming up roses for you on Valentine's Day?

Posted by Dr Claire Hill on 6th February 2024

If you're looking for love, the prospect of spending Valentine's Day single may motivate you to dust off your dating boots and join an online dating website. And you wouldn't be alone. In fact, the run up to Valentine's can be one of the busiest times for dating sites. For example Free Dating gets about 20% more sign ups at that time of year and one study found that 25% of people admitted to starting a relationship that wasn't right for them just to avoid being alone of Valentine's Day1. So what does the science tell us about dating at Valentine's Day?

Dating and eating

Photo by Rae Wallis on Unsplash

First of all, forget Valentine's Day at your peril! Over half of men and over a third of women think that forgetting Valentine's Day is an "almost unforgivable offence"1. Another study found that 90% of respondents said the worst gift they ever received at Valentine's Day was nothing at all, even though the vast majority of them also believed Valentine's Day to be superficial and materialistic2.

So with Valentine's Day firmly in your mind, how should you best celebrate it? Roses and chocolate may be the stereotypical gift at Valentine's but does science back this up as the gift to give? Well, we certainly seem to be buying into this concept as research has found that there are significantly more web searches for "roses" and "chocolate" as Valentine's Day approaches which peaks on Valentine's Day and then reduces afterwards3. Furthermore, this study also found that roses and chocolate were rated more positively by both men and women in the two weeks before Valentine's Day compared to a few weeks later.

Armed with flowers, chocolate and a restaurant booking may feel like you are winning at Valentine's but sticking to a stereotypical date may be disappointing if it doesn't align with your partners expectations. One study found that women in particular think their partner should know them well enough to know what they would really like for Valentine's Day2. However research using the Relationship Belief Inventory (a questionnaire designed to assess unrealistic or dysfunctional expectations in intimate relationships) perhaps unsurprisingly found that believing your partner should be able to read your mind led to disappointment4. This has led others to argue that even though we might come to understand our partners fairly accurately, we will never be mind readers and relationships would be better if we were upfront and communicated our wants and needs for occasions such as Valentine's Day5.

And what about if you're already coupled up? Well, paradoxically Valentine's Day may prove to be the final Cupid's dart in the relationship coffin. Research has shown there is a higher rate of breakups during the Valentine's Day period than at any other time of the year6. Interestingly this was only the case for relationships that were already heading towards that fate. It has been argued that for those who are already questioning their relationship, the financial and psychological costs required to "pull off" a successful Valentine's Day may simply not be worth the effort, making breaking up a more attractive option. The quest to find love seemingly takes renewed energy after Valentine's Day as one study found that the frequency of searching for "online dating" peaked the day after Valentine's3. This is also the case for Free Dating, which sees about a fifth more sign-ups immediately following Valentine's Day. So even if you find yourself reluctantly single this Valentine's, at least there are without doubt many more fish in the sea at this time of year.


  1. Soukup, E. (2004). Hear it for the boys. Newsweek, 143(7), 10.
  2. Shelley, D. (2007). The agony or the ecstasy? Perceptions of Valentine’s Day. Critical Thinking about Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media: Media Literacy Applications, 317.
  3. Zayas, V., Pandey, G., & Tabak, J. (2017). Red roses and gift chocolates are judged more positively in the US near Valentine’s Day: Evidence of naturally occurring cultural priming. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 355.
  4. Eidelson, R.J., & Epstein, N. (1982). Cognition and relationship maladjustment: Development of a measure of dysfunctional relationship beliefs. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 50, 715–720.
  5. Lazarus, A.A. (1985). Marital myths: Two dozen mistaken beliefs that can ruin a marriage or make a bad one worse. San Luis Obispo, CA: Impact.
  6. Morse, K. A., & Neuberg, S. L. (2004). How do holidays influence relationship processes and outcomes? Examining the instigating and catalytic effects of Valentine's Day. Personal Relationships, 11(4), 509-527.