So, how was it for you? The annual schmaltz-fest is over and we can all go back to normal. Valentine’s Day is an event which either makes you feel utterly adored, or deeply unlovable. Were you showered with gifts, wined and dined by your beloved? Or did you stay home alone, drowning your sorrows, eating your sad meal-for-one?
Despite the widespread cynicism around this pre-packaged Festival of Lurve, it seems to get bigger every year. In the past week the newspapers have been stuffed withsuggestions for the perfect celebration, romantic restaurant reviews, ads for silk underwear, scented candles and weekends in Paris. Seems that money can buy you love—imagine your delight at receiving an engraved key ring, declaring ‘I love you to the moon and back’. Or cashmere gloves with hidden hearts sewn onto the palms. Or silver ‘Forget Me Knot’ earrings. Or ‘My Side; Your Side’ pillowcases … What could make you feel more worthy as a human being?
A quick straw poll among my friend reveals that four out of five of them deplore the romantic propaganda around V Day—‘commercialised nonsense’ and ’mushy bullsh*t’. The general public appear to agree; an amusing survey in the Daily Mail reported that around 70 percent of women would be horrified if their partner proposed on February 14th. This is definitely not the day for grand gestures: what could be more cheesy than getting engaged on the most gimmicky, Hallmark-sanctioned day of the year?Instead, the survey revealed that most women would prefer to a proposal to come with the element of surprise, out of the blue.
Despite all this, most couples still observe V Day. My happily-married big sister says: “It’s strange because we don’t celebrate Easter —I’d never expect a chocolate egg —but he’d be in big trouble if he forgot Valentine’s. I expect a decent bunch of flowers, at least.” The sight of panic-stricken husbands grabbing cards and drooping bunches of carnations off supermarket shelves is a reminder of how much ‘trouble’ this day can cause.
For all my scepticism, I had an unexpectedly romantic evening. We avoid the specially-arranged Valentine’s dinners and meet in Soho, the heart of London’s media, music, fashion and fun industry—also known as ‘the world’s naughtiest square mile’. The French House is an iconic Soho watering hole, scene of many an artistic, theatrical or literary debauch. Regular barflies have included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and the poet Dylan Thomas (who once left the manuscript of Under Milk Wood under his chair). After the fall of France in World War II, when General Charles de Gaulle escaped to London, he and his fellow émigrés used The French House as a base. His speech rallying the French people— ‘À tous les Français’—is said to have been written in the pub; a framed print on the wall displays de Gaulle’s famous declaration: “France has lost the battle. But France has not lost the war.”
We sit in the snug upstairs, drinking red wine and avoiding the storms raging outside. Blissfully, the pub has a ‘no music, no machines, no television and no mobile phones’ rule. Even better, there’s not a heart-shaped balloon in sight—although I do find yellow roses waiting for me at home.
Late that night I receive two emails: one sad, one happy. The sad one is from my Canadian friend: “I’ve just broken up with my boyfriend. Apparently I’m ‘too stuck’ in myself and he needs his freedom. I don’t understand; last week he was talking about our future. I’m devastated, but my family and friends are getting me through.”
The happy email is from a South African woman, Lou, whom I met in Cape Town last year. She’s a generous, altruistic soul who dedicates her life to others (although not in a pious way). She writes that she’s been visiting mentally-ill patients in care, and old folk in nursing homes, and the worst thing they struggle with is loneliness. She’s on a mission to make everyone feel beloved, flowers or no flowers.
“This Valentine’s Day challenge is applicable to everyone: single, married, separated, divorced, committed, partnered, or widowed.
The challenge is to be your own Valentine. Begin your day with a kiss to yourself. At noon, order flowers to be sent to yourself at work or home, along with a loving card. Take yourself out to dinner; schedule a massage or go for a walk. Fall asleep listening to a favourite love song as if you were singing it to yourself.
Most importantly, tell yourself repeatedly throughout the day: I am the one I have been waiting for.”
Lou is distributing home-made cards to friends and patients, snippets of love poetry, cakes and cookies she has baked, to remind them that each of them matters. Her email ends with this line from Philip Larkin:
“What will survive of us is love.”