When I was 13 I had a huge crush on a 15 year old at school. Clearly telling him how heavenly his spiky quiff was whilst I was still wearing braces and a squint was tantamount to social suicide, so I suffered in that delicious state of unresolved longing for 6 months. Then as February began, I saw my chance. By sending him a Valentine's Day card I could coyly hint at how I felt without having to brave it in person. I chose the card carefully, and signed it with a suitably enigmatic question mark. Whilst he was playing football, I snuck into the boys' changing rooms and forced it into his jacket pocket. I spent the next week in a state of constant panic and excitement, before realising he had absolutely no way of knowing who it was from. I had left no clue whatsoever of my identity other than the traditional moniker of secret admirers. All that stress and I'd still have to do a face-to-face admission if I wanted anything to come of the card. I concluded Valentine's Day was a total waste of time and I wouldn't bother again.
The Victoria's Secret girls celebrate Valentine's Day. Photo: Getty Images
15 years later, and I'm moving into the seventh year of my relationship - with a different quiff-wearer, mind - as Valentine's Day approaches. I mentioned it to my husband and he groaned, "Do I have to get a card?" because frankly, although we're not entirely bereft of newlywed tingles, I wash his pants and he pulls clumps of my hair out of the plughole. Also, we have an anniversary, a birthday each, Christmas and the life of a childless couple who can go out for dinner, escape on a mini break or splash out on presents whenever we fancy. So for us, Valentine's Day isn't the thrill-a-minute, sexy roller coaster of romance it's cracked up to be. But if not for the loved-up couple to celebrate their relationship, or the timid admirer to air their feelings, who is Valentine's Day for?!
The cynic will tell you the true beneficiaries are the florists, chocolatiers and greeting card companies. It's the day for splashing the cash to show how you feel. We're conditioned to equate love and affection with red hearts, red roses and most bizarrely perhaps, stuffed animals. Even I can admit that although I think it's a total waste of money in principle, I will bristle a bit if there isn't even a card to open on 14th.
So does anyone else see it as something more than an obligation? It's different perhaps, if you're in a new relationship - it can be an opportunity to test the waters with someone, claiming it's under the guise of a nationally enforced festival. You might gauge the romantic potential of an as yet undefined partnership by the show of sentiments... Or lack thereof. Of course it's ultimately a ridiculous idea - why would this one day miraculously make the uncommunicative commitment-phobe a font of love poems and affirmations? Or make rejection any more palatable?
I also find it very difficult to appreciate the feel-good factor of a day that can put people's loneliness or unhappy relationships into high relief. When your best friend is showered with cards, flowers and compliments, and you can't even get a seat on the bus...that's not a good day. Then there's that unspoken sense of competition - whether you're in the playground comparing scrawled notes and penny sweets, or at work, smugly hogging the office's collection of vases with your array of roses, there's always going to be a sense of winning or losing.
It seems as though for many, the most fun is to be had in turning the whole concept of Valentine's Day on its head: hold an anti-Valentine's party - simply get drunk and slag off ex-lovers. Or make like the Finnish do and remember friends as well as loved ones, not necessarily by sending a card or buying chocolates, but just by calling them up and having a chat. Also, look on the bright side - everywhere you turn, pink champagne and chocolates are on special offer - it's a good time to stock up.
By: Grace Timothy