I don’t really like Valentine’s Day very much. I never have. Part of it is the rampant commercialism, but also the other part of it is the gushing nonsense it has made of love. As far as I can tell it is a day in which perfectly loveable and already very loved people are at risk of feeling unloved because they are not one of a perceived pair, and people who are also very loveable and loved, and are currently one of a pair, feel obligated to the other half of their pair. And there’s nothing less romantic than feeling obliged to be romantic.
On the rampant commercialism point, I was doing my online shop on Saturday night (yes, I know how to have a good time) and the supermarket website was inviting me to consider making a number of purchases along the “feeling obligated” line. What, pray tell, where they suggesting? Well, flowers, chocolates and champagne obviously. One suggestion was oysters. Traditional. Also risky if you ask me as you really have to like seafood to like oysters. Another was condoms. Hardly a gift that is likely to be enthusiastically received as unconditional, but nevertheless practical and safety conscious, which is to be commended. Also hints at a rather large amounts of time, confidence and stamina in the purchaser given the size of the box suggested to me. But not quite as much confidence as the person who buys the dairy squirty cream that popped up as a suggestion. And Squirty Cream Buyer is not as much as a clean freak as the person who plumps for the extra sensitive baby wipes that were also touted to me as being the perfect way of expressing my undying devotion.
I declined all tempting offers as they flashed across the screen. Just in case I wasn’t sure, as I went to checkout “Have you tried?”, “Have you forgotten something?” appeared with more tempting ideas. I decided that if three (reasonably clean) children, an ironed shirt and clean underpants are not sufficient as signs of devotion to the Man of the House, then he needed to be looking elsewhere for a different woman. A woman, who no doubt would get everything done, the children into bed and would be more than happy to wear just a smile for when he gets home from work. For those of you who were wondering, this woman lives in another universe entirely. And she’s a cyborg.
Feeling annoyed by the whole thing, I started to investigate Valentine’s Day and its origins to try and understand why and how we all got dragged into this. We all know that Valentine’s Day has something to do with St Valentine, but probably not much more than that. There are a few martyrs by the name of Valentine. There is very little reliable evidence about Saint Valentine himself other than that he was martyred and buried in a cemetery near the Via Flaminia in Rome. It has been suggested that Saint Valentine performed clandestine marriages for soldiers who were not permitted to marry. He was gaoled and executed for this and one story suggests that he fell in love with his gaoler’s daughter. Before he was carted off to his doom he left her a letter signed “From Your Valentine.” The truth was, and will remain, forever a mystery.
Then we fast forward a millenia and a bit to the fourteenth century when Geoffrey Chaucer was writing about courtly love. Knights, jousting, ladies waving hankies – that sort of thing. There was probably a bit of swooning. At this time, so the experts say, Valentine’s Day became associated with romantic love. In the eighteenth century in England, flowers, chocolates and greetings cards were then offered as tokens of affection. Think Mr Darcy (disappointing news about his appearance last week), bodices, more swooning, children being shoved up chimneys……And we have been stuck with it ever since. Cards and chocolates that is. It is considered poor form to shove children up chimneys these days.
Folklore suggests that Valentine’s Day is the day that we can all celebrate the start of Spring. Plants and flowers start to grow. Birds were said to propose to each other and marry on this day. Unlike Twelfth Night, there doesn’t seem to be any requirement to start singing in your orchard or to the neighbours, if indeed, they are still speaking to you after the last incident. But there is something to be said for hope in watching the daffodils start to sprout and the Dawn Chorus as (hopefully) the cold and dark days of Winter slowly melt away. I prefer that one. I’ll go with that one.
Maybe it makes me a grump that I am not won over by a man appearing in front of me with a bunch of flowers and offering to pay for my dinner once a year on a specific day. That is not to say you can’t buy me flowers and offer to pay for my dinner, I am just saying that it might not have the level of success you were hoping for, if indeed, that is what you were hoping for. And you may say that makes me a tough nut to crack. Perhaps. But I see love as a more long term and day to day thing than that. A partner who brings me a cup of tea in bed when they know I haven’t slept, a friend who drives two hours to see me on my birthday even though there were lots of people and we didn’t really get to spend any proper time together (and hardly ever do), a sister who helps me bath the children, a friend who helps with the washing up at birthday parties, a husband who says “You know I’ve been thinking, you really don’t have enough shoes.” That is true love to me. Little things. Tiny little things. “I love you every day of your life for whatever time we have together” kind of tiny little things. And I haven’t even got to the people who are not part of my day to day life anymore, either because circumstance or time has parted us. That feels like when my daughter asked me the other day: “Mummy, can you still love someone even if they’ve gone away?” “Yes darling, you can. Always.” Clintons just don’t seem to have a card for that.