What are you doing for Valentine’s Day next week? I’m making some vegetable soup for the freezer. I know this because I’ve just done my online grocery shop and chucked a load of leeks and parsnips into my virtual trolley. On the international day of romance, I’ll also have an eye test, a column to write, two meetings to attend and a certain hangover to nurse following a hot date with the girls the night before. Last year, I fell asleep, watching telly alone, so this is something of an upgrade.
I’m not some cynical, grumpy Valentine’s refusenik. Nor am I single, but having had my fair share of dry spells, I’m certainly aware of how exclusive and lonely February 14th can feel to the uncoupled. When single, I’ve been even more likely to avoid the outside world, not wanting to feel like the only one not gazing into my loved one’s eyes, ordering a dessert and two spoons. But, no, my reluctance to mark the occasion stems not from bitterness, nor lack of opportunity (part of me misses the days when no one expected me to take part), but from a lifetime of finding Valentine’s Day just too much like hard work.
During my life in relationships, I’ve had the grown man who sent both me and his mother a Valentine’s card, as well as the “What a load of commercial nonsense!” guy, who made it abundantly clear that, in making sure we were never under the same roof on February 14th, he actually cared more about it than was strictly healthy. I’ve had the creepy man who turned up at the shop where I worked with a sateen padded card and aggressively large bunch of flowers; the man for whom I bought a card he’d already lost by the time we left the pub; the boyfriend who didn’t lose the card, but ripped off the corner to make a roach for a joint; the bloke who spent £60 on roses when I’d quite like him to have paid for a round of drinks once in a blue moon; and last, but by no means least, the bloke who seemingly “got” me until the moment he decided I was a cuddly-toy type of girl and, consequently, had to go. I’ve had all the boyfriends, done every conceivable type of Valentine’s Day and bear the mental scars.
I’m decidedly unkeen on the notion of scheduled, self-conscious romance. I hate any day where tradition requires me to demonstrate my love with a set meal I’d never choose and roses costing six times their market value
The whole angst business convinced me for two decades that I hated Valentine’s Day and that only schmaltzy, gullible idiots observed an occasion invented by greetings-card companies and restaurants trying to offload 30 dozen cut-price oysters. My other problem, I suspect, is the forced nature of February 14th. Just as I hate being told to drink a shot by someone insistent that I be more jolly, and instinctively loathe any organised activity pushily promising enhanced fun – karaoke, skiing, corporate team-building courses at outward-bound centres (I would honestly rather be fired) – I’m decidedly unkeen on the notion of scheduled, self-conscious romance. I hate any day where tradition requires me to demonstrate my love with a set meal I’d never choose and roses costing six times their market value. The thought of mass public coupling, like a Moonie wedding in the local Zizzi, makes me feel embarrassed and inferior. Are other beaus proposing, bonding on a deeper level, planning wild sex post-dessert or better managing to avoid the subject of roof guttering? The whole Valentine’s ritual feels less like romance, more like not being chosen for the A-team hockey.
But, around 2012, something happened. I fell in love with a man who has still yet to buy me a Valentine’s card, but whose idea of romance is buying me an ancient Radio Times in a junk shop for no other reason than it was a Tuesday afternoon and Alexis Carrington Colby was on the cover. Whose dedicated observation of refuse-collection days and school consent-slip deadlines is so romantic, at least to me, that it makes me more tearful than an Interflora delivery ever could. A man who knows I want no more than a teaspoon of milk in my tea, who uncritically accepts that my family is insane when his own template is nuclear perfection, who helps patiently with the maths homework I stopped understanding three years ago, and who understands why I can’t throw away a dead pen without a lid to keep it company in the bin. He knows I’d rather die than be bought “a rose for the lady”, but will burst into tears when he presents me with a lightning-bolt earring to mark the death of David Bowie.
He also knows I won’t bat a lash when he forgets Valentine’s Day and our anniversary almost without fail, partly because I’ll often have forgotten, too. He remembers me, and my children, every day. The rest doesn't matter. And so, gradually, he’s made me realise that the problem was never Valentine’s Day at all. Only a cynical grouch would begrudge other couples’ exchange of cards, gifts and messages of love and gratitude. What’s wrong with engaging with commercialism if the outcome is to make someone feel special, appreciated, loved? All along, I just needed to meet a man who felt exactly the same way as I do about February 14th: nothing. On Tuesday, he’ll still forget and I’ll still make soup. Only, there’ll be two bowls, a Sky+ box bursting with crap, two noisy boys, a dog, no grand gestures and zero talk of cupids. Happy Valentine’s Day to me. I finally feel the love.