Valentine's Day. A day to revel in the passion of a recently discovered love. Or perhaps, as one half of a more weathered partnership, a time to dig deep and remember those days of nervous anticipation and butterflies. Romance is the force that pulls us together, but how easily it fades into the background and quietly slips out the door one afternoon while our attention is drawn elsewhere.
Who is responsible for this barely perceptible death? Children would be one answer. I know this was the case for us, although not in the way that most people would expect.
I once imagined that having a baby would be a pretty romantic affair. I figured that we'd conceive this baby on holiday or following a candlelit meal. I fantasised about how I would tell my husband, maybe by wrapping the pregnancy test as a gift, or spelling out the news in Alphabetti Spaghetti on his plate.
On Valentine's Day 2008 we were one of 'those' couples, making a toast to the exciting next chapter in our lives. But over the following couple of years something changed. Or rather, it didn't. There was no baby and there was also no reason for its absence. I stopped wondering how I'd share the pregnancy news with my husband and what we'd name our firstborn. I found myself scrolling through advice columns on how to keep the sex sizzling while on the infertility treadmill. 'Relax,' they said. 'Keep it fun,' they said. But they should've been honest. You see, failure and fun will not make good bedfellows. Spontaneity and schedules do not mix!
Too many times I'd ask my husband if he'd remembered his sperm-boosting vitamins that morning. Too many times I told him, 'Not now, honey. I ovulated last week.' I knew straight away that we'd arrived at the milestone of doom. Each month I swore things would be different, and each month nothing at all would change. But who wants to have sex - especially brilliant, possibly baby-making sex - on a day when there's no chance of making a baby? God, it would just feel like such a waste.
By Valentine's Day 2011, our 'baby dance' had become more of a conga, with a designated team brought in to orchestrate our most promising attempts to conceive. We were no longer in the same room for the event. Rather, I was in a hospital gown in a room full of strangers, while in a neighbouring broom cupboard my husband selected a sub-genre from the available library of pornography, a small plastic cup gripped tightly in his free hand.
It wasn't the stuff of fairytales. It didn't matter anymore. I forgot about dinner dates, gifts and conversations that didn't revolve around which test or treatment we were going to try next. I chatted online to other women who had membership to the infertility club. They told me their lives were the same. I withdrew from my marriage and I hid from the world. I dreamed of a positive pregnancy test.
And when, some eighteen months later, that magical moment occurred? Well, I didn't need to figure out how to tell my husband, because it was 3am on a Wednesday morning and he was standing right beside me in the bathroom, both of us sweating like Ted Striker in the finale of Airplane, praying that the verdict of our latest IVF attempt would be different from all the results we'd had before.
It was. The page had been turned, and we were finally embarking upon our next chapter - albeit four years later than we'd expected. We were back on track. We were going to be parents. And now romance could legitimately be put to bed.
It's been eight years now since the last Valentine's Day when romance even played a part.
Enough time to realise that there are bigger things in life and other ways to feel content. Enough time to also realise that it does still matter, and I would quite like it back.
As for Valentine's 2017, I'd say the headline for this year's romance forecast would be "still don't hold your breath". Or actually, maybe do, because there are two small people sprawled across the middle of our bed most nights, and my husband and I now book alternate weeks to take a shower. But, although romance and passion now have a new form of competition, I am a little more optimistic about their future. And I am definitely not complaining.