Ever since I can remember, my mum has sent me and my six brothers and sisters a Valentine’s. Meticulously written cards from “guess who?” (no effort to disguise her handwriting), accompanied by little gifts like a pair of heart-shaped earrings wrapped in tissue paper, or a single red rose.
As a teen, the whole routine quietly appalled me. I was terrified that one of my friends would spot the card she sent me and assume I was some sad case with no boyfriend (accurate, but I didn’t want people to *think* that).
As I got older, my opinion shifted and I began to appreciate the inherent warmth behind such a gesture.
The Valentine’s my mum sent us kids weren’t big or fancy. They weren’t trying to compensate for partners, or lack thereof. And they definitely weren’t tat – my mum wouldn’t be seen within a hundred yards of a heart-toting teddy bear.
But they taught me a salient message:
1.) Being alone doesn’t make you loveless
2.) Romance is all around, if you want it to be
Singles vs couples
Google image the word “Valentine’s Day” and you get hit by a sea of red hearts, with a few couples posing coyly behind red hearts. They might even be handing one another red hearts, as a jazzy variation on the theme.
Add the word “single” and the cheesy romance vanishes into cynicism: “Netflix is the only lover I trust” and “Vodka is my Valentine”.
There’s no middle ground here. You’re either a.) a schmaltzy, vom-inducing couple with a deep love of chintz or b.) single, world-weary and firmly AGAINST ROMANCE.
The problem with Valentine’s Day is that it cannot get its head around the enormity of love without falling into big fat clichés. Those of us who happen to be relationships don’t all have a burning desire to shower each other with crap come V-Day (seriously, anyone who sent me a card which said “wifey love of my lifey” wouldn’t stick around for long). Similarly, not all single people are heartless wrecks who bloody hate romance and everything that it stands for.
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And more importantly, there are a hundred different forms of love that have nothing to do with lovers at all.
But somehow, Valentine’s – a festival marking the most universal of emotions – has become divisive and alienating. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Bring back the romance
Forget the lurid balloons and over-priced meals for a second. If you could send someone – anyone – a little gesture of love, who would it be? Because, let’s face it, romance and chivalry are two seriously unsung qualities in these modern times of ours.
Most of us, deep down, like having doors opened for us or receiving a surprise bouquet at work. And, before you charge in with accusations of sexism, who says it has to be a man pursuing a woman? Valentine’s Day (which side note, also comes with a hefty heteronormative slant) seems to assume that we only get romantic out of a dogged sense of duty, or in pursuit of an endgame. Either way, it’s exclusive to couples – or would-be couples.
But despite what Hollywood would have us believe, romantic gestures don’t have to be underscored by a narrative of “Man Woos Woman Because He Wants To Sleep With Her”. It could be “Woman Sends Woman Chocolates Because She Fancies Her”, or “Woman Opens Door For Man Because She’s Kind”, or “Man Sends Grandma Flowers Just Because”.
Lovers, friends, mums, neighbours: we could all do with a little more impromptu affection in our lives. Valentine’s Day is as good an opportunity as any to show that.
Reclaim the day
Just like people, love comes in all shapes and sizes. Often, it’s not particularly glamorous – but it’s real and meaningful, and it fuels us from the outside in.
So, perhaps it’s time that we all reclaimed Valentine’s Day. It shouldn’t be about busting a gut for your other half, or sitting through a soulless meal in some empty nod to tradition. Neither should it be about feeling crap or defiant because you’re single.
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At the risk of sounding like the true hippy that I am, it could just be about love. Pure, simple love in its multitude of being.
This year, I’m sending a Valentine’s to a mate who’s just had a baby (hello, romance drought) and my 91-year-old great-aunt, whom I love dearly (#spoileralert, Aunty Mary, if you’re reading this).
The Valentine’s in question might be little and possibly a bit homemade (I’m a sucker for a lino-print), but they will shout love from the rooftops.
My mum, meanwhile, will continue to send my siblings and I a Valentine’s of her own. We’re now aged between 29 and 50. Some of us are single, others are in happy relationships, and still more are struggling between the two.
But wherever we stand, the parental Valentine’s will be cherished. Because, at the end of the day, it proves Hugh Grant true (yes, Hugh Grant! Goddamn him and his Heathrow musings):
Love actually is, all around.