Have your overpriced roses and cheap bubbly at the ready everyone, for once again the Saint Valentine's Day onslaught is upon us; when couples across the world are called upon to demonstrate their affections by spending cash they don't on have on gifts that 24 hours later are as meaningful as the tat found in the middle of Christmas crackers. The pressure heaped upon lovers - especially men - to go all out materially speaking is about as romantic as old socks, completely missing the point that love, like the best things in life, is supposed to be free.
'Romance' according to the Oxford English dictionary is "a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love." Some would go so far as to say that romance and love are so magical that it is pointless trying to put them into words, so quite how the likes of a stuffed toy that squeaks 'kiss me big boy!', edible knickers or petrol shop flowers purchased in a fog of panic have come to symbolise something as unspeakably lovely as romance is mind-boggling.
I once worked with a girl who, when a stunning Valentine's bouquet was delivered for her, remained unmoved. I asked why, only to be told she'd let her suitor know exactly what she wanted, most importantly that the flowers be delivered so the entire office got a good look at them. It's hard to make something as beautiful rose look ugly but her motivation certainly did. She might as well have kicked romance up the arse.
According a 2010 report, the average couple spend a whopping £550 on Valentine's Day and as a nation, the grand spend is in the region of £4.9 billion - that's a lot of ill-fitting lingerie and expensive candlelit dinners. It is a far cry from the 19th century, when celebrating Valentine's Day meant sending the object of your affection a hand-written love note, which seems positively classy by today's standards.
Surely one of the most damning indictments of contemporary human kind is that we allow entire forests to be destroyed in order to produce cards like these abominations:
"Luv You Snugglechops!!!" , "To My Sexy Man Beast On Valentine's" or "Roses are red, violets are you, I love you bunny, do you love me too?" Thank God Saint Valentine isn't around to witness the mass production of such twaddle in his name. It's enough to make you itch for a bonfire.
The notion of love perpetuated by the Valentine's machine is plain boring, bearing all the hallmarks of a bad romcom: stereotypical roles, clichéd sentiments and scenarios, the beginning conveniently tacked on at the end before the couple actually embark on a relationship proper and their love is truly tested. Why dwell on the complexities of love when you can slap a pink bow on and charge a fiver for it? Valentine's in its present incarnation also negates the idea that being single is a perfectly valid way to live one's life and ignores all other types of love apart from starry-eyed heterosexuality.
Nowadays 14 February is almost entirely about the gloss, the superficial, our spending power, not the richness and depth of love and the ways it transforms lives for the better, without a price tag. An elderly couple walking hand in hand down a busy high street, laughter in the dark, kisses in the rain, the security in knowing that despite all the nastiness in the world someone has always got your back: you can't buy and sell these things but a life without them would be no life at all.
There is something depressing about the idea that couples feel by not jumping on the Valentine's carousel, their love somehow isn't good enough, as if dropping a fortune on fluffy red knick-knacks is the ultimate testament of one's devotion. Can we forget about spending cash for a minute and remember that spending time far more important?
When speaking to someone who has lost their partner the realisation that we can never have enough time with the person we love resounds, heartbreakingly so. If you want something that says "I think you are the best thing in my life", why not try saying it yourself, really saying it over a nice cup of tea and a chat? Memories like that last a lifetime but trinkets and fripperies rarely do.
This Valentine's, before we rush off to the shops like the good consumer drones that we are, let's take a moment to appreciate romance without the embellishments, remembering the hundreds of little ways love makes our lives better and in turn, makes us better people. In the words of a famous song: the greatest gift you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
See folks? No credit card required.