It's that time of the year when everything turns pink. Shop windows are festooned with flowers and love hearts become ubiquitous. Railing against Valentine's Day has become as much of a cliché as queuing up to buy a bunch of half-dead flowers and booking a table in a crowded restaurant, but I'm no ordinary "bah humbug" Valentine refusenik. I don't care about the commercialisation of love, the tackiness of the helium-filled balloons or dog-eared cards that tunelessly play the theme music from Love Story when opened. I don't care that just about every pub with a microwave oven suddenly turns into a venue for potential romance, offering a special Valentine menu and badly mixed cocktails with bawdy names. No.
What bothers me about Valentine's Day the universally accepted pretension it's a day for lovers to show their appreciation for each other, for couples - though usually one half of the couple is the subject of the romancing, while the other gamely woos - to celebrate their relationship. I say bollocks it is. It's an opportunity to show off, to demonstrate to everybody else just how happy and in love and downright amazing your togetherness is. If nobody else were watching, you'd just be on the sofa scratching your arse and arguing over the remote control just like any other normal day.
Take that mainstay of the Valentine experience - the romantic meal for two. Getting a table for two on 14 February is a bit like trying to get Madonna to keep her clothes on. It's just not happening. Once you do finally manage to find somewhere willing to feed you, you arrive at the restaurant to discover - surprise surprise - the rest of the universe crammed in there enjoying dinner à deux. And those not eating are queuing for tables, in every available space, standing awkwardly between the cooing couples who are trying their best to hear each other over the deafening din of everyone else's sweet nothings, mindful of the fact they only have an allocation of one hour and fifteen minutes in which to eat three courses and sufficiently butter each other up with a view to having sex when they get home. Why are you all out at the same time? Why are you choosing to have your romance today? Why not a candlelit supper at home? But you wouldn't have an audience, right? Today is the day you have to do it. Everyone else is. I mean, what would you say to everyone at work the next day? "Oh, we just stayed in"? You can't! Well, you can, but anyway. Your public needs you.
Consider now a discomfortingly growing trend that blights offices and workplaces the world over on this most hallowed of supposedly romantic days: getting flowers delivered at work. It's grotesque, yet some people can't help themselves. I know people (mainly women, I'm afraid) who have actively encouraged their beau to send a stonking great bouquet to their work. It's a huge "fuck you" to anyone with less considerate (or less pliable) spouses, not to mention the eternal singles, who sit and seethe -not with jealousy, please don't misunderstand - at your desperation and neediness, weary at the knowledge that you're going to crow about it all afternoon long. If the unthinkable happens and your partner commits this sin and you find yourself staring down both barrels of a floral tribute at work, at least have the decency to be embarrassed and castigate them when you return home.
There is a huge pressure to be romantic which comes with Valentine's Day. Because you're supposed to be deeply in love and be nice to each other and considerate and starry-eyed, any squabble or wrongdoing on this day is magnified to epic proportions. "Why?" you'll scream at each other, probably in public after your abysmal Valentine meal in a crowded Nando's. "Why did you have to spoil everything, today of ALL days?"
It's not just couples that make Valentine's Day unbearable for everyone; singletons have their part to play too. Some single people can get mopey and pathetic in the run-up to the 14th. Despite the fact that it's no different than being alone on any other day of the year, the sheer volume of saccharin, heart-shaped, conveyor belt love has them railing against their single status. They will watch, cow-eyed, as the endless bouquet deliveries turn their colleagues' veal-fattening pens into boutique florists, worrying that ending the night alone means they're destined to face a further 12 months without another half to make them whole.
Feeling vulnerable, they'll make their way to one of the few pubs holding an anti-Valentine event, drink vodka after vodka only to hook up with a 3/10 (at best) just so they don't have to go home alone. Valentine's Day plays on a singleton's insecurities and thus ensures its survival.
I believe in love and adore romance. I know that some partners need a gentle reminder every now and again to show their appreciation, but surely it means more to do it on a day that's significant to you? Your anniversary, the day you first copulated, your birthdays or the day you first moved in together. There are lots and lots of other calendar days just waiting to have some romantic magic dust sprinkled on them that are all yours and that you won't have to share. But perhaps that wouldn't mean as much to you. You like to be watched, after all, don't you?
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