The bitter aftertaste of too many lovehearts

Only two days to go before Valentine’s Day! You see, I have a feminist blog, and I feel that what the feminist blogosphere really needs right now is another post on how ridiculous Valentine’s Day is. Not really. But I have thoughts on this, and no time like the present, so I’m going for it. If you wish to discount this post as just another single lady whinging about being alone on February 14th, feel free to skip it. Everyone else, it’s good to have you on board.

I have been in and out of a variety of relationships for over six years now, and I have never had a date on the infamous Valentine’s Day. This is for a number of reasons: I wasn’t actually anyone’s ‘girlfriend’ for quite a long time, and the casual on-and-off relationships I had didn’t really lend themselves to this Hallmark holiday. Last year, when I was in a committed exclusive relationship (not that this is to be valued any higher than any other relationship), I worked a barshift on Valentine’s Day, while my boyfriend was on a business trip overseas. The best thing I have ever done on February 14th is to go ice-climbing up a frozen waterfall, while on holiday in Switzerland with my parents. This was fucking awesome. Seriously, it is one of the most incredible and terrifying things I have ever done, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think any other Valentine’s Day could possibly live up to it. It’s hard to argue with a frozen waterfall.

I’m not one of those people who hates the occasion, who thinks it’s all just a commercialistic excuse for card companies to make a fortune. I’m fairly sure that everyone thinks this deep down, but I know how it all ceases to matter when you’re with the person you love. Just like that new couple in their honeymoon phase is the most nauseating thing ever, but when it’s you, calling each other pet names and kissing in public just feels perfectly natural. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a specific date to show someone how much you care about them, although I’m a little dubious about that date being the same for everyone. (Personally, I find anniversaries much more important, but who says it has to just be one day?) And if you want to spend money and go out on a lovely date, then again, I’m happy for you. Just because the card companies are making a fortune out of it, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be happy. (They make a fortune out of Christmas cards too, but no one is suggesting we ignore Christmas.)

What I really dislike is the mad frenzy to find a date. All the sitcoms and pop culture show a sad, unhealthy view of this holiday, where single women cry and are snapped up by pick-up artists on the prowl for some easy prey, while women with partners stress about it not being special enough. If Valentine’s Day is about spending time with someone you love, then dating a stranger for the night just seems a little pointless (and this is coming from a girl who enjoys dating strangers). And similarly, if you and your partner really do love each other, it shouldn’t matter what you do, if you can’t afford that meal in a fancy restaurant or don’t want to spend money on the perfect card. My best friend and her boyfriend are doing Valentine’s Day for 35p each this year, and I think that’s beautifully romantic. (I have suggested that she buys him an onion, complete with this poem.) Alexander and I went out the weekend after, and had a lovely dinner for prices that hadn’t been raised extortionately for that one special day.

I also have an issue with the idea that grand gestures can fix an unhealthy relationship. If your partner doesn’t care about you for the rest of the year, if they forget the things that are important to you and don’t make the time you feel your relationship needs, then why should one ‘perfect’ night change any of that? I would much rather have someone who treated me with respect all year round than someone who felt a card and some chocolates could make up for a year of disappointment. And the idea that it’s men who will give presents to women, in return for sex that is perhaps kinkier or more adventurous than usual is also total bullshit. Sex should be something awesome that you do (or don’t do, if you’re not a couple with a high sex drive) all the time, not something that needs to be bought or bartered for.

Then there’s the hierarchy of relationship that Valentine’s Day inevitably evokes. At the top, monogamous heterosexual couples, followed by gay couples, as long as they’re doing something suitably traditional. But what about people in open relationships? Or threesome situations? Or casually seeing each other? Or in the first tentative stages of a relationship where doing something for Valentine’s Day seem a bit over the top? What about me, in my series of ridiculously complicated situations? My style of dating and sex just doesn’t fit with the standard Valentine’s Day dynamic, and I’m mostly okay with that. I think if you’re with someone you really care about and you want to celebrate, then it can be lovely to have a special occasion to do that. But if you’re not, it doesn’t make you or your indefinable unconventional relationship any kind of failure. There isn’t a card that says ‘I like fucking you and I hope to continue doing so, along with various other people’, and maybe that’s a good thing! Not all things can be printed on cards with cute little messages. Not everyone likes flowers and chocolates, just like not everyone likes bondage and erotic asphyxiation. But I’d never call anyone a failure because of it.

So what will I be doing on Valentine’s Day then? Well, I’ve got a two-hour dance class, and then I’m heading off to the theatre bar with a group of friends, and we are going to drink G&Ts and sing songs from musicals. And the next day, we will all still be happy, successful, sexually confident people, whose lives don’t quite fit with the pink heart scenario right at this moment. Maybe next year, maybe not next year. I don’t need an anonymous card to know that I’m sexy and desirable, and I’m sorry, but if you need to mark this day somehow to be sure that your partner really loves you, then maybe your relationship needs some work.

As Holly Pervocracy put it so beautifully, I don’t need you, I want you is one of the sexiest things you can hear. And I hope to be hearing it a lot.

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2 thoughts on “The bitter aftertaste of too many lovehearts

  1. I agree: the idea of an arbitrary date for every relationship is a bit dodgy. But I’ve never been one for labels and things. Besides, the person I’m seeing will be spending Valentines with his other girlfriend (Poly), as she’s more interested in specific special-dates. The stress on single people from others can get a bit awful, particularly if people around you seem to be pairing up.
    I think it’s complete rubbish to have a specific day to love someone more than you do normally. We had a talk about this at some point last year and I named an arbitrary date for him to declare his love, to make a point. As I’d forgotten the date and he had put it in his calendar, when the day came, that was kinda lovely as an “oh, yay” thing.

    • Having a random date sounds like a lovely idea! That would make me really happy. I tend to focus on key dates, anniversaries and other memories that are special for the particular relationship. It doesn’t have to be February 14th for everyone. Also, thank you for explaining your poly situation. I think that the more non-standard Valentine’s Day situations there are out there, the easier it becomes to break down the stereotypes. So kudos to you, and anyone you or your partner are seeing.

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