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How I became a Valentine’s Day convert

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Caroline O’Donoghue always rejected February 14 as a capitalist swindle – this year, she’s making plans

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

There’s a conversation that I am failing to have with my partner and it is about Valentine’s Day. I am trying to make a “plan”, but I do not want to admit to it because only morons (I have been very clear on this in past years) care about Valentine’s Day. He has not received the memo that, despite four years of not wanting to do anything special on February 14, I am now suddenly squirrely about it. I am mortified to be bringing it up, embarrassed to be interested in it and feeling exposed by this flaccid attempt at making a plan without actually making it.

Before you tut and roll your eyes at either a) my interest in having a plan or b) my boyfriend’s failure to recognise that interest, let me mount my defence of both of us.

I was 24 when we got together; I am going on 28 now. Written down, those numbers don’t feel so different from one another but, to me, they represent decades. Centuries, even. At 24, I was writing tweets for supermarket brands at a big advertising agency where my partner worked also. We hung out constantly, got wine after work twice a week and went to the pub at lunchtime to play darts and grope each other over pints of Taddy. There were regular sleepovers, movie nights and Iceland tortellini eaten hungrily out of cereal bowls at 2am. We were exposed to two things: each other and big-budget capitalism. When our first Valentine’s Day showed up, we looked at it cock-eyed. The usual “This is a huge corporate swindle that only children, old people and idiots buy into” statements followed. February 14 passed without incident. We remained happy.

You could argue that Valentine’s Day puts undue pressure on couples to buy useless tat. But even more important than the tat is the simple act of spending time together

Now that our fourth February 14 has rolled around, however, I want to call for a revisionist stance. Valentine’s Day has remained exactly the same – the same chocolate lollies, the same red lingerie in the windows of Bravissimo, the same M&S meal deal – but we have, undoubtedly, changed. Our “Yeah, I guess work is a thing?” stance of four years ago has transformed into one of hyper-awareness that work matters. We both work in creative professions; we’re both highly ambitious; we’re both perfectly aware that there are plenty of people who can do exactly what we do, for less money. And so we have an unspoken agreement that we are in accelerated phases of our mutual careers and that we’re putting romance second, for now. We talk in the moments before and after sleep. When we do things we used to consider normal – cook dinner, read books in bed, watch Dragons’ Den – we’re filled with grateful joy. “This is nice!” we remind ourselves. “We haven’t done this in… a bit?”

Which brings me to Valentine’s Day. It’s easy to hate Valentine’s Day. It’s easy to hate nit combs, oven chips or having to take your shoes off at the airport. But all of these things exist, despite the feelings of “Oh, for fuck’s sake” they bring up, because we need them. Kids get nits, people blow up planes, chip pans burn down houses. People who love each other sometimes have to put aside romance in order to make their lives better. You could argue that Valentine’s Day puts undue pressure on couples to buy useless tat. But even more important than the tat is the simple act of spending time together – something that, every now and then, you need to feel a little pressure to do. When you love someone and you’re confident in the fact that they love you, it’s really easy to rely on that love as an ever-replenishing source, something you can just keep digging from without having to nourish.

If Valentine’s Day was, solely, a hokey card holiday invented by a conflation of Hallmark, Cadbury’s and Hollywood, we would have rejected it. We would have rejected it the same way we rejected Secretaries’ Day (a little too specific, not to mention sexist, to ever have mainstream appeal) and Grandparents’ Day (which, to be fair, deserves to be on the map more than it is). But, ultimately, the people who snidely reject things – the way I used to – are the ones who don’t need them. That changes. Relationships change. Maybe some people go through 40-year relationships without ever needing a prompt from society to have dinner together. Maybe my relationship isn’t one of them.

We still haven’t decided what we’re doing this evening. But it’s nice to know that, whatever it is, we’ll be doing it together.


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