Blow-up hearts adorn shop fronts. Chocolatiers melt, and then reform reindeers into love hearts, transforming them into eggs a month later. Restaurants promote a Valentine’s Day special menu, eight courses of oyster. You must understand that particular restaurant specialises in oysters, not subtlety. Following their lead, obstetricians offer an interest-free nine-month payment plan.
A commercial exercise? Simply an indirect donation into those ailing giants Hallmark and Cadbury? Or is it society’s way of providing a solution to deadened, grey couples and hesitant admirers? No pressure, no questions, no purpose – just impassive obligation. It gives men a painless means of expressing love, without requiring the hazardous personal impetus generally needed to actually express love. Women are provided with confirmation their man still cares enough to follow the recurring theme presented in supermarket catalogues. On the 14th of February gender roles are not open to debate.
Walking past couples kissing on bridges with the sun setting and a busker lingering (loitering) in the background caused me to both roll my eyes and bite my tongue. I prayed that when I found myself in a similar situation I would choose the midday heat over the sunset, the sleet over the snowflakes, and the downpour over the rainbow. I would choose originality.
I saw St Valentine’s Day as the ultimate cliché; overused, overworked and employed ad infinitum by the lowest common denominator. It was simply a cop-out in expressions of love. It was a day reserved for Disney.
The logic of my argument is not new, possibly acquiring its own cliché status, and is employed by the partnered and un-partnered alike. Why, goes the argument, do we reserve just one day for Cupid’s bow when the arrows should never stop flying? Is it not simply a lazy excuse for the same people that postpone the writing of resolutions until New Year’s Eve?
I thought so. I challenged friends over their motivation for choosing the 14th of February as the day to buy flowers, order dessert and pen further clichés in cards. I could not understand why they would buy into a manufactured day, when spontaneous romanticism held so much more reward? What happened to letting life decide when the time was right for roses, candlelight and a baby-sitter for the evening?
When partnered I gauged expectations and where possible tried to register my protest by steering the day away from everything warm and fuzzy. A visit to the museum, lunch with my parents, a morning swim and sauna at the Japanese baths all seemed plausible options. Although never again will I suggest an afternoon outing to the art-house cinema for the latest wildlife documentary. While sensing unrestrained teenage pashing in the seat behind you is nauseating, and there is something disturbing about watching gorillas copulate, experiencing the two activities at the same time becomes nightmarish.
Expectations from the lady resulted in reluctant participation. I winced as I booked a restaurant for two, on the 13th or 15th to protect my conscience. I looked away as I chose flowers from the grinning, winking florist. And I made certain the card was hand-made, employing my dubious craft skills, to ensure public display was unlikely.
And when partnerless I made sure I worked late. I chose to wallow in a hangover until the afternoon began, I read Proust until my eyes hurt. I donned lycra for a long ride, quickly overtaking riders that resembled couples.
Then something shifted. I began to appreciate the tradition, even if it was one initiated by a multi-national. I smiled when I saw the awkward couple sitting in the uncomfortable glow of candlelight, still in the stages of counting dates, do their best to choose a main course that would be seen as adventurous, considerate, passionate and mature while still being edible. I appreciated the love-inducing efforts of the butcher, the sushi shop and the dentist as they all leveraged off the day. I saw an innocent love in couples kissing on the bridge, holding hands in the food court and downing the oysters with gusto, expressing a love which will always require purpose and justification but on this day, requires no explanation.
I saw a human balance in the pain of the rejected, wondering silently if solitude would be their destiny. I acknowledged with respect the solitary diner in the restaurant, surrounded by tables for two. I nodded understandingly to the lone cyclist waiting at the lights. And I pitied the suit emerging from a late night stint with the computer, looking suitably important but failing to hide his mortification as he hurried into a cab, Subway in hand. Their time would come. Sweeter, every year they passed alone.
While St Valentine’s Day remains simply another day in the calendar, it provides an excuse to reflect, to risk and to savour one part of our life that, despite being life’s basis, so often goes unexamined.
Do not pretend you are above smiling at the commerciality of the day. Don’t act as if your armour is superior to Cupid’s arrows. Please avoid involving your family in any part of the day. And for safety, always trust Hollywood.
I will see you at either the 24-hour gas station this Saturday night scoping out the least offensive bunch of petrol-scented roses or in the bike lane, with dark glasses shading my disappointment and dejection.