‘I love you’
It’s arguably the most cringe worthy day of the year…and I love it
This is obviously will.i.am, not my lover, but he’s the same age as my older ex-husband so I figure it’s appropriate.
Valentine’s Day never meant much to me when I was younger. I was well aware, thanks to my Judy Blume filled childhood, that sending cute, hand scrawled cards to the six-year-old living across the road was what other children did. I knew that if you were a popular kid, you’d open your locker on the day and hundreds of red envelopes would tumble out avalanche style; letting everyone know just how coveted you were. I didn’t have any of that. When I was a toddler, living with my foster parents, their grandson was about the same age as me and they made us stand together holding hands as if we were a future Mr and Mrs. Me, dark skin with chubby cheeks and large inquisitive brown eyes and him with pale white skin, piercing blue eyes and platinum blonde hair. A United Nations style arranged marriage to join families and races across the world. Except we didn’t get married; I went back to my blood family and he went on to be the Milky Bar Kid. And that was the last time I had anything remotely close to a “Valentine” until I was in my teens.
I realised I would either have to be very sneaky in the event I ever did get a boyfriend, or I would have to become a nun
My mum, as I’ve said in previous essays, was quite strict. As an adult now, I imagine her mind may have been plagued with worry about underage sex and teenage pregnancies but at the time her behaviour felt extremely draconic. Especially being surrounded by friends whose families had no problem allowing their girls to go to mixed sleepovers. Mixed! My pre-teen mind was boggled. Once, my older sister wrote the name of a boy she liked on a notebook. She got into so much trouble that I realised I would either have to be very sneaky in the event I ever did get a boyfriend, or I would have to become a nun. It’s amazing what options you think you have when you’re ten.
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When I was at university, a friend of a friend became somewhat closer and he sent me white roses while we were on a transatlantic phone call that lasted almost six hours. I loved him for that, but I didn’t love him and so my hunt for my Valentine continued. My pops, who I now know is something of a romantic himself, used to send Valentine’s cards to my sister and me when we were living at home with mumma. I was embarrassed when they first used to arrive. I mean, I was looking for a sign from the love of my life and that certainly wasn’t my dad. I realise now that he wanted us to feel loved and to know that we were; from the first man who surely did. My parents divorced before I turned five, so he didn’t get the chance to show us that on a daily basis.
My pops, who I now know is something of a romantic himself, used to send Valentine’s cards to my sister and me
Thankfully, I remained relatively unscarred despite my almost entirely Valentine-free existence. I think I only sent one or two cards myself and received a “Thanks” so cursory in reply that I was not encouraged to pursue that practice. My first memorableValentine’s Day was when a man I had been dating for four months, whisked me away to Paris on the Eurostar – which is a romantic journey in itself. He booked a hotel room right in the heart of the city and the staff, who assumed we were not living in sin, left a handwritten card adressed to Mr and Mrs Fisher on the bed. I was delighted with the presumption although I still didn’t believe most of my friends who were sure I was going to get engaged. We took pictures with some enthusiastic tourists under the Eiffel tower and later he told me he had planned to ask me to marry him there but was so cold and nervous he couldn’t get the ring out of his pocket. Instead, he asked me later, while we were relaxed in our hotel room. I had just woken up and was still sleepy so it took a few minutes to understand what he was saying. We hadn’t yet drawn the curtains and the room was almost completely black, aside from flashes of diamond as he held out a delicate platinum band on his open palm.
When we divorced, I thought I would never have such a perfect Valentine’s Day again. After all, how can you beat that? I went on to have plenty of other dates with (some) perfectly lovely men, but none had that element of romance encapsulated in that first one, and none on 14 February itself. Last year, I went on a very traditional Valentine’s Day dinner. We had met about a month before and I wasn’t sure how I felt about him but when he invited me out ‘for dinner on the 14 February’, I got it. He was quickly moving himself out of the friend zone to let me know how he really felt. We had what we both – being foodies - concurred was a pretty average meal but we enjoyed each other’s company so much that we were that cliché of a couple that is so oblivious to everyone else that they end up being asked to leave at closing time. As the staff gently but somehow simultaneously passively aggressively cleaned up around us, we held hands and stared into each other’s eyes. It felt magical, romantic and terribly clichéd. In other words, I loved it.
A year on, and we are no longer together; the boy and I who enjoyed that magical starry-eyed night. But I realise that I am truly my dad’s daughter and romance runs in my veins. In Western society, we’ve commercialised Valentine’s Day so much that it fails to deliver the type that I love and has instead become tacky and unbearable. I see it as a 24-hour opportunity to celebrate romantic love that we fail to take advantage of. Of course real love is the day-in, day-out consistent, persistent commitment that we see in long term relationships. It’s joyful and fulfilling but can also be bloody hard. In sickness and in health, anyone?
But if you get the opportunity to enjoy this day of magic, get it in before midnight and savour every moment it gives you in return.
PS As I was editing this, I just received a Valentine’s Day message from mum so my dad shouldn’t be too far behin!
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