Here’s a thing: I don’t remember ever having felt uncomfortable about Valentine’s Day when I was single. I used to let February 14th sail high over my head; a pink tangle of noisy marketing and excessive chocolate; restaurants crammed with uncomfortable-looking couples and, of course, all of those awkward singles’ parties
It wasn’t that I objected to the commercialism of it all, or that I felt ashamed of being so very single; I was simply ambivalent. I expected nothing to arrive mysteriously on my doormat on February 14th, nor did I much care when exactly that happened. (And I most certainly was not one of the 14% of single women who send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day. Ye gads! What were you thinking, girls? You’re fabulous regardless of the number of admirers you have!)
Then, about two and a half years ago, I fell in love with someone and commenced a serious relationship. And now – only now that I am a target for all of those special heart-shaped cakes, mushy greetings cards and pink fluffy handcuffs – have I realised that I absolutely hate Valentine’s Day. I hate it! Do you hear me? I want nothing to do with it! Pancake Day I’ll take. St Patrick’s; Guinness me up. But don’t you come near me with your Valentine nonsense or I’ll throw a half-eaten M&S Valentine’s Meal Deal at you. Seriously. Back off.
It would be fair, at this point, for you to decide that I’m a woman with an angry soul and a haughty disregard for romance. But actually, that’s not the case. I love a good snog, I long to be sent flowers every week and I sometimes look at my partner (The Man) and think things like, ‘I love you so much I might explode’ or ‘ahhh, I would cross deserts for you, The Man.’
We have shared many a romantic moment over the last few years and I hope we have many more. What I am certain about, though, is that those moments cannot be planned. Love is a many-spleandoured thing but it is also a complex bugger and it’s not always there when you require it. Love does not have any interest in the calendar. It does not care if Saint Valentine was imprisoned and executed so we could all love each other on February 14th (That’s not really what happened but it’ll do.) Love is messy. It involves two people, one or both of whom may be having a bad day. And it’s been my experience that love is frequently absent when I require it to be present.
Take my first anniversary with The Man as an example. We were in Bogota, Colombia. We had booked our first nice hotel in months and had planned an evening of eating, drinking and extremely romantic love-making. ‘It’ll be lovely,’ we whispered naively.
By 10.30pm we were standing on a street corner, unable to speak to each other. Our candlelit meal had turned into a bad arepa bought from a street stall for The Man and a noisy, self-pitying nothing for me. It was a bad row, probably our worst. I can’t remember the details but I’m absolutely certain that it happened because we were both creaking under the weight of our Great Romantic Expectations.
Our next anniversary saw us trapped in a pitch black apartment in New York with a hurricane raging outside. We had had another dreadful row and lay at opposite ends of the bed from each other, hating each other with a spicy passion. I thought things like, ‘I want to punch you in the backside’ and he thought things like ‘My girlfriend is a foul monster.’ But it was our second anniversary! We should have been gazing lovingly into each others’ eyes while lambs gambolled in our stomachs and hearts clouded our vision!
Forget it. Love doesn’t perform to order. We had a perfect meal together a few nights later, crammed with mush and snogs and giggling. It happened naturally. As these perfect nights always do.
So our romantic dinner this Valentine’s Day will be spent in a West Indian takeaway of inestimable deliciousness round the corner from our house. We may not even be there together; The Man is leaving for Africa the next morning on a plane and will probably be packing. If he does turn up we’ve agreed we will ignore each other and read the paper. It may turn out to be the best night of our lives. But we’re not banking too much on that.
But, as always, I’m willing to be wrong. If you and your loved one manage to conjure up romance to order, please share your tips!
A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger by Lucy Robinson is out now in paperback (£6.99) and eBook (£1.99)