I noticed Valentine’s Day this year more than usual. It’s not that I was scouting out gifts and ideas for the perfect date to indulge the girl I am head over heals in love with. Nor was it the pining for affection that comes in the wake of realising I didn’t have a Valentine when so many others did.
I walked through central London yesterday and saw the men hurrying home from work clutching bouquets for their loved ones, the less organised queueing round the shop only to end up with the last wilted bunch of daffodils on sale. I spotted the women carrying theirs, one with at least 4 sets of flowers – either one very besotted partner or she was a lady in much demand.
And on the internet I saw the mix of cute and kitsch, couples stating their love for each other on Facebook as though a wife telling her husband she loved him was a performance piece. There were complaints at extortion from purveyors of roses, photos of candles and dinners, declarations of thanks for their wonderful wife/husband/ boyfriend/girlfriend/date/crush/secret admirer, and the attention they had shown.
There was also the backlash. Those who were sick of the romance and the sugar coated affectations. Some of it came from thinly veiled anger and frustration, for others there was peace and contentment. There were single people going for dinner on their own, or just happy to enjoy an evening in watching season 2 of House of Cards.
But more than either the participants or the left out, this was the Valentine’s Day of the analysers. Never before have I seen so many people commenting on Valentine’s Day, what it means, where it came from, who it might offend, who might be left out. A tweet about V-Day, as it had apparently been contracted to, required an obligatory nod toward those who might find it difficult. Everyone (except Theos) seemed to have specially themed content for the day. Marketing departments went into overdrive. Unsurprisingly the action film on TV last night was stuffed full of dating sites advertising their wares during the breaks. From tenuous discount offers to comical tweets. And many of those comical tweets were really not very funny. There are only so many times you can read ‘Roses are red’ with it cumulating in a marketing tangent on a humorous final line before you want to block all tweets with the word roses.
— Champagne Bollinger (@BollingerUK) February 12, 2014
— FAGE (@FAGEUSA) February 13, 2014
And the bizarre.
“Roses are red, concrete is grey, we may be stone hearted but Happy Valentine’s Day” pic.twitter.com/EXv1V19lhp
— Barbican Centre (@BarbicanCentre) February 14, 2014
The internet loves irony, so there were posts about awkward Valentine’s cards, emotionally repressed British Valentine’s cards, tweets of slightly dubious Christian alternatives, and a host of other ironic gestures aimed at poking fun at the institution.
Except the poking and the prodding and the analysing and the advertising had become bigger than the day itself. A friend hunting for a card for her boyfriend recounted the trauma of trying to find a suitable card. The umpteenth layer of irony is that the ironic alternatives were a lot better than what was readily available in the shops.
And yes, I am analysing the analysers.
For couples taking a moment to enjoy and celebrate their relationship, Valentine’s Day is great. And for some people it will be hard, to see people celebrating what you have lost, have not got, or fear you never will, is going to be hard, especially when it is something that tugs so intrinsically to our emotions and our personhood. But booking every other seat in the cinema to stop couples sitting together is taking things a bit too far.
I’ve written before on singleness and how I just am single, I don’t not like it, or particularly thrive on it, it’s just what I am. I therefore don’t find Valentine’s day a difficult day. But having someone to watch Newsnight with would be nice, and I hear and agree with all who say the marriage does not solve the problems and that singleness is not a prelude. And yet I sometimes want what others have and I do not.
That we celebrate something with the passion we do each 14th February demonstrates the longing in our hearts for relationship. And that it is hard because for many relationships are scarred with hurt and brokenness, shows that there is much about these relationships not to celebrate but to mourn.
When I commented on the masses of roses I saw on the underground someone suggested it was because people had lost their weekend retreats to the floods. And in a way it is about lose. When they took their vows and committed to another they set themselves aside. And they choose relationship over self.
While there are wounds that still seer, and memories that will not leave, while there is loneliness and longing, and dreams left behind. There is also the glimpse of beauty. And maybe, that is why we talk about it so much, analyse it to allow ourselves to keep out distance, choose irony to disguise the truth, which actually often communicates a greater truth than the honed words we could never find ourselves.
Because whether we had a Valentine or not, relationships matter. And the analysis and the irony we put into it just reinforces the point.