So, it seems that love locks have come undone...
They say that if you love someone, you should set them free. But around the world - Paris, Rome, Amsterdam and even rather unromantic Belfast, padlocks are fastened to bridges and fences and the like, bearing the initials of lovers, their keys cast into convenient, nearby water to indicate the everlasting nature of the sentiments involved.
But things are changing. The Pont des Arts, the centre of this trend in Paris, was beginning to collapse beneath the weight of the thousands of public declarations of affection. Municipal Paris workers have descended with bolt-cutters to peel away the padlocks. Glass panels, seemingly, are to be erected to ensure that the craze can't simply start all over again, although indignant lovers are erecting protest padlocks on almost every convenient metal structure - the Eiffel Tower being one example. In Rome, one can be fined for placing a love lock on the Ponte Milvio, while locks have likewise been removed from the famous Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin. If truth is stranger than fiction, then soap operas are odder still: the bridge across the lake on Australian soap Neighbours was even adorned with numerous love locks in episodes around Valentine's Day 2014.
So is romance dead, then, with the pragmatic as the culprit? If, as the song tells us, Love Can Build a Bridge, why do love locks break them down, threatening with their statement of intent to cast all those crossing into the waters below? Just what is it about public displays of affection which make even the most devoted among us feel just a tiny bit queasy?
There's nothing wrong with love. Love is great. I mean, try to wrestle it into a poem and you'll find it doesn't rhyme with much; try to live with it, though, and it can be a joy. But seriously. You don't need to threaten the stability of a bridge to prove you love someone, and anyway: a padlock? Really? When I see a padlock I think of my old school locker: hiding place of a hundred dusty books and receptacle for a dozen or so abusive notes, filtered through the little grille near the top by that girl in another class who really didn't like me. My padlock used to lie on my dressing table throughout the summer holidays as I awaited the almost ceremonial allocation of a new locker each September. It certainly didn't feel romantic then, and not even a heavy dose of nostalgia makes it seem romantic now.
There's something about the PDA. Before smartphones were everywhere, I used to joke that the only PDA I tolerated was the Personal Digital Assistant. Honestly, though: I'm very happily married, but the eulogies of devotion on Steve Wright's Sunday Love Songs make me feel quite nauseous. Maybe it just serves me right for listening to Radio 2. It's the same with the traditional tokens of affection. A dozen red roses? Hmm. They'll wither. Does that mean that his love will perish too? Chocolates? Does he want me to get fat? You get the gist. It's not quite cynicism: love's great. The typical manifestations of love: not so much.
But these days - oh how I old I feel just writing it - these days love seems to me to be 'merely a madness' even more than when Shakespeare wrote that line. The flirtation techniques, the chat-up lines, the left and right swiping of dating apps and the complex maze of online dating, to say nothing of the websites which are just for casual hook-ups, or threesomes, or mostly for extra-marital affairs - it's exhausting. I feel like collapsing just hearing about it all, a bit like a bridge might lose stability under the weight of several thousand earnestly attached, Sharpie-initialled padlocks.
The padlock, though. I know there's something secure about it: the locked cupboard or case which can't be opened, the secure website where you can shop online with much reduced fear of fraud. There's something a little threatening about it too, though: like those angry statements about locking a criminal up and throwing away the key. I don't want my husband to be chained to me with no hope of escape. I don't want to be the ball and chain. The her indoors, the butt of tactless jokes but hopeless, real despair. What ever happened to staying together because you actually wanted to - because you like each other rather than because you've been symbolically padlocked together, high above the icy depths of your fears of isolation in some kind of ostentatious romantic high wire act?
So I'm with the authorities who are bolt-cutting the love locks off the bridges. Keep the structural stability: lose the preposterous PDAs. Keep the love: lose the locks.
Love can break a bridge. Don't you think it's time?