Who's asking: Chandra Leister, somewhere in Maine
Most of my own romantic history could be filed somewhere between "ambiguous" and "imaginary," but if priests can be marriage counselors, I'm happy to tackle this question.
Valentine's Day represents the unified field theory of modern romance. If you've figured it out, I invite you to post your own solutions below.
Easy part of the question first: yes, we're sucked into commercialism. The fact that jewelry stores offer payment plans for Valentine's gifts is horrifying. Do women expect men to go into debt in order to prove their devotion? Obviously, some do. If you're one of those women, shame on you.
The "girl hope" part of this is more difficult. All any of us really wants, I think, is for someone we find amazing to find us amazing. This is "in love." It tends not to last very long, because familiarity does breed contempt. As we get to know the object of our affection better, the things that amazed us become ordinary or even annoying. It takes energy and desire to keep looking for amazement in one person, and to keep trying to be amazing for the person we love. The truth is that we can never know everything about any other person. If we remind ourselves that any long-term relationship is a never-ending process of getting to know each other (and ourselves), we will always find new things to amaze us.
Hope of any kind suggests a position of weakness. Men justifiably complain that women don't tell them what we want, then yell at them for not being able to figure it out on their own. If Valentine's Day is important to you, you need to let your husband or boyfriend know that well in advance. I don't believe in picking out one's own presents -- in fact, I think that's kind of tragic -- but you can certainly drop a few hints about the kind of things you'd like. (Some people are good at presents, and some aren't. Being a person who's good at presents, I'd like to consider the lack of this ability a character flaw, but it isn't.)
The other thing to remember is that Valentine's is one arbitrary day. What matters is every other day. If you're in a relationship, remind yourself every day to look, really look at your partner, and ask the only question that really matters:
How are things with you?
Oh, and before I forget: best birthday wishes to Adrienne Lakadat, my oldest friend (oldest in duration, not in age), and to Sarah Weinman, the Idiosyncratic Mind.