Valentine’s Day is coming up. I can smell it. I can smell the fake flowers bought hurriedly by nervous boyfriends from Tesco Express; I can smell the desperation as singletons try and find someone – anyone – with whom to spend the evening; I can smell the fear. It is, in all honesty, a terrible day for everybody. Nobody wins, except perhaps Hallmark. People who aren’t in a relationship get an entire 24 hours devoted to rubbing their noses in this tragic fact, and the people who are get to receive flowers they have no room for, chocolates they don’t even like, and teddy bears they haven’t appreciated since they were about 14 (none of which were what they hoped for, because, believe me boys, when a girl says ‘no, let’s not do presents this year’ she really, REALLY doesn’t mean it).
Unfortunately the presents, bought to spell out ‘I love you’, very rarely manage to convey such a complex emotion – in fact, they generally mean something else entirely. Flowers translate as ‘I completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day so I stole these out of an old lady’s garden when I was on the way to meet you’; chocolates translate as ‘I literally had no idea what to get you, so I bought you these’ and teddy bears translate as ‘I’m totally skint so here’s an ‘I love you’ teddy my ex gave me’. Now, should I receive any gifts this Valentine’s Day – hoards of admirers take note – I should want something personal, something that says ‘I do actually know who you are and what you like’. A block of cheese would be nice, for example. I do like my cheese.
But this is exactly Valentine’s Day’s problem, if it were attending a self-help group along with a bunch of other seriously disturbed public holidays (May Day, for example – I mean, what on earth is that celebrating? What’s so good about May?) In such circumstances, Valentine’s Day would be forced to own up to the fact that it no longer has much to do with love, and that it was invented by the greetings card companies who saw a whole four months between New Year and Easter during which they had no way of squeezing money out of the innocent British public in exchange for pieces of shiny cardboard.
Okay, I lie. That isn’t exactly how Valentine’s Day originated – it has a much nicer story than that. But the day has certainly been corrupted. These days it’s about proving yourself and your relationship to everybody else; it’s about not being the only one in your group of friends that has to spend the day alone; it’s about buying the biggest and most useless gift for your loved one, when really it should be about appreciating and celebrating your relationship. Although this in itself sounds a bit odd – why should we need Clinton Cards to tell our partners we love them? Surely we should be doing it every day already?
But I guess the point is that we aren’t. Much as I would love everybody to live in my world, in which cheese and chocolate are good for you and people say ‘I love you’ all the time, reality just isn’t like that. Valentine’s Day has been turned into a business, losing much of its charm in the process, but in essence, I suppose, it might still be necessary. (Though for the record it is never necessary to buy a card so big it doesn’t fit through the letterbox – this does not prove your love, only that you don’t think ahead and like to embarrass your love by making him or her go down to the post office to collect it.)
The reason Valentine’s Day is such a failure, then, is because we forget its simple message, hype it up and inevitably get disappointed. Single people expect to be whisked off their feet (unlikely), people in relationships expect to be whisked off their feet (even more unlikely), and everybody forgets what it really means: constant, steady, reliable, lovely love. Not just romantic love, but every single silly type of love this world plays host too. The love we have for our parents, our siblings, our friends, our pets – all are equally important and equally undervalued in our busy, stressful lives.
I started off this article wanting to expose Valentine’s Day, but I don’t think it needs exposing – I think we all know how silly it is. The real point is that even though we know this, we still partake in it. None of us, me included, are willing to get rid of it because we all hope that one day we will be whisked away to New York in a heart shaped plane to be wined and dined and taken shopping.
This is a nice dream, but save it for when you’re sleeping. Meanwhile, as Valentine’s Day approaches, try and get through it without consulting the Clinton Card checklist of ways to show your love. Forget about useless and meaningless presents, forget about whether or not you’re in a relationship, and ask yourself: who do you love? And then tell them. Tell every last one of them because I can guarantee you do not tell them enough, and nothing says ‘I love you’ better than that. Except perhaps heart shaped planes, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. I doubt they’re the right shape for air travel.