A couple of years ago and in a brand new relationship, I enjoyed what I thought were all the archetypal Valentine’s Day trappings, inluding an invite to a Valentine’s Ball. That year, the heart-shaped balloons weren’t garish - they were fun and joyful! The onslaught of slushy songs wasn’t cheesy – it was meaningful and touching! And for once, instead of noticing the hand holding and knowing looks around the table and wondering when it would be my turn, I was busy holding hands and giving knowing looks of my own.
Fast forward a year and - barely a week out of the aforementioned relationship - I had to go to another Valentine’s Ball as it was too late to drop out. Back to being a sore thumb-shaped singleton in a sea of couples and vomit-inducing Ed Sheeran songs, I saw the romantic decor through a very different lens (including the bloody soup, which featured a heart poured out of cream). This really was a souped up version of my least favourite scenario - being single and surrounded by happy couples - and on the most romantic night of the year! But I ended up being really proud of myself that night, because in getting out there rather than hiding away, I ended up having a great time and kick-starting a very special journey.
I was back to being a sore thumb-shaped singleton in a sea of couples and Ed Sheeran songs.
A year later, I’ve come a long way and finally accepted that unless I meet someone who can enhance my life rather than detract from it, I'm better off going it alone romantically. I’m still acutely aware of the Valentine’s marketing creep that pervades the new year, but having spent Valentine’s Days married, newly coupled up and newly broken up, I’ve come to realise that it’s just not the big deal I’ve always made it out to be. Actually it can be what I make it. For example, although I'm not exactly Elton John, I’m quite capable of buying myself flowers and now do so regularly, so why do I need a bloke to buy them for me on a specific date just because Interflora says so? Sod that; this year I’ve decided to treat myself to a beautiful bouquet and have added some beautiful heart shaped chocolates and pink fizz to the online shop too. Because why the hell not?
But it’s important to consider why all this pink sparkly shit matters so much. My theory is that it’s because it gets us right in our weakest spot: wanting to be part of something. And unfortunately society tells us that the most valid way to achieve that is romantically, regardless of all the other rich and wonderful relationships we're so blessed to have. So no matter how together we are (or aren’t) about our *relationship status, something in us will always smart a bit at all the slushy Facebook posts and dine in for two adverts.
It’s important to consider why all this pink sparkly shit matters so much.
The other thing I've realised is that Valentine’s Day - and relationships in general - aren't a simple “them and us" equation, with “them" being smug couples gazing into one another’s eyes on yet another mini break and “us" being the ones in bewildered awe that there are men who are not only normal, but actively want to partake in functioning relationships. It’s the ones who’ve been there and done that and are quite happy to stay single until the right one comes along. It’s the ones who are in a relationship with a perfectly nice partner and feeling trapped and guilty because they want to end it. It’s the ones who wish to god they could escape because their partner started out with the hearts and flowers, then gradually became abusive. And of course, it’s the understated ones who are genuinely, happily and mutually in love - with or without interventions from Moonpig or M&S - who show us the type of love that’s worth waiting for.
Because anything less isn’t.
So on the 14th of February, whether you’ve met your soul mate, you’re stuck with someone you wish was just your mate, or you’re being your own mate, remember: heart shapes don’t have to mean heartbreak; you are part of something, and you can - and should - buy your own flowers.
*'Single' is a perfectly legitmate relationship status.