When email was new and spam was something you found in school lunches, I once got a message on my hefty laptop headed “Be My Valentine?”
I deleted it, unopened.
With a shudder. And I’d never even heard of viruses then. I just didn’t want to go there.
Now, I’m as romantic as the next woman. Tear up at the end of Romeo and Juliet. Weep, strictly in private of course, over Anne Eliot’s heartbreaking declaration: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!”
In spite of – or maybe because of – that, the whole valentine concept has always made me slightly queasy.
It’s contrived, phoney, embarrassing. There’s a dash of stalking in there too. I mean anonymous messages declaring love? Really? The sensible woman surely heads for the hills. Above all it’s planned. Romantic happens spontaneously.
Of course, I come from a long line of of valentine sceptics.
Indeed my father, a fine conspiracy theorist, held the view that Valentine’s Day, along with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Wedding Anniversaries and all Congratulations cards were the result of a multinational Plot by greetings cards companies, chocolate manufacturers and the Post Office to flood the world with waste paper, bad verse and sugar in all its forms
My queasiness, you might say, is inherited.
Mind you, he had a point, my father. Valentine’s day might just as well be called Celebrate Pointless Consumption Day. It is estimated that this year in the UK we will spend £1.6 bn on telling someone we love them, according to the Daily Telegraph. That’s everything from wining and dining, with fireworks thrown in, to a modest card.
Not to mention what gets paid to journalists for writing this sort of guff, or to pollsters to come up with a new angle for Valentine’s research. Or, for that matter, to PR companies to push those polls.
Now, my feeling is that, if I do love someone, I want to tell them from the heart, spontaneously, when the feeling creeps up on me and the mood is right. Not orchestrate a big production with all the performance risks that that entails.
My father had a higher embarrassment threshold than I do. (Just.) But he was primarily affronted by Valentine’s Day because it was expensive and new-fangled. Typically, he blamed the Americans for this, as he did for blue jeans, sex, Hallowe’en and gum.
This year, to be fair, the US National Retail Federation is forecasting lower expenditure than the previous two years at only US$18.2bn, or US$135 a head. By contrast, in the UK we stump up a national average of £45 a pop. That’s only US$56.
My father would be pleased about that, at least. “Nothing but a catchpenny“, I hear him snort.
But apparently younger Americans think of Valentine expenditure as investment to impress potential mates. Possibly even a life partner. (I would die of embarrassment.)
Valentine Disasters …
I once invited a visiting foreign colleague to supper, along with a few other friends he knew. It was this time of year. A courteous guest, he brought chocolates. But as he’d only arrived the day before, the box he chose was full of scarlet-wrapped heart-shaped …
Agonies of embarrassment on both sides. Much amusement for everyone else.
Even when we’re not talking about the Anonymous Admirer who may turn out to be a creep, a geek or worse, the whole performance aspect of Valentine’s Day fills me with dread. Not to mention the unspoken expectations.
Orchestrated romantic moments are doomed, in my experience. Dance by a river at sunset and you’ll fall in. Anything else is a movie.
When I was young, I shared a passion for old movies with a man. He danced, as they say, at the other end of the ballroom, so it was not romantic. Ours was a friendship of shared jokes and occasional sustaining social support.
And when I started to write romantic fiction he sought out Valentine cards appropriate to my new, mainly secret, calling.
The cards were always good but the best arrived after we had gone to see a late night showing of Love Story.
He had taken plenty of tissues, as it was generally agreed to be a 3-hankie weepy. He got through most of them. I didn’t. But then, I’d read it. I didn’t cry over Little Nell, either.
A Valentine Smash Hit
Erich Segal, an American Classics Professor, wrote “Love Story”. He said he got the idea from overhearing a conversation between two young men at Harvard, later revealed to be Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones. The latter was probably the model for Segal’s athlete-poet hero; the plot is pretty much Lady of the Camellias.
The movie came out in December 1970. It was a blockbuster. Its tag line, which became a cliché for a while, was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
But long before the movie came out, the book was the best seller of 1970; published, of course, on 14th February. Sold more copies than any other novel in the US, that year. Stayed on The New York Times Bestseller List for 41 weeks. It was said that one in five Americans had read it. And then it went round the world – more than 20 languages, Heaven knows how many countries.
Best Valentine Card Ever
So my friend the movie buff sent me an encouraging Valentine Card. I kept it for years though, sadly, I can no longer find it. Essentially it was bright pink, took the iconic figure of that great philosopher, Snoopy, at the typewriter. And added an appropriate caption.
E. Rich Beagle
Loved it then. Love it now. Here’s to you, Snoopy, old chum!
I’m with your father. Doing the washing up can say ‘I love you’ more eloquently than a bunch of roses or a card.
Oh April, that is so true!
Oh, hooray! I agree with every word – and I love your father. The whole thing sets my teeth on edge, and as for the current fashion for renaming it simply “Valentines”… I fear I shall have to retire from social media on Tuesday lest I explode all over it.
Oh Lesley, you always make me laugh. My Dad would have loved you too.
Your father’s comments are wonderful! And I agree with April that doing something for someone you love – like washing up – says far more. In fact, it’s the same importance of ‘show don’t just say’ that we writers try to remember to do all the time in our novels. .
I think that’s an excellent point, Elizabeth.
Indeed my father – a man who used to commission me to buy flowers for “your mother’s wedding anniversary”, when reminded of the date’s significance – did just that. And lots of other things too. Even when cold and tired he would go to meet her at the station if she came home late.
He just didn’t do “soppy”. He was a sweetheart but he hid it well.
In our family, we mostly just ignore Valentine’s day. When little the kids make home-made cards, but as we grown we ignore it entirely.
I approve of the cards — they can get very creative. And they were made for several different holidays. But the point was the fun of making the cards. And, please note — homemade cards are NOT commercial and don’t cost the family much — if anything at all!
Haven’t had to grapple with the concept of children receiving Valentine cards before, to be honest, Sue.
I love homemade Christmas cards, which a few of my friends do – one has an absolute production line and the whole family sits round the table and each one adds their contribution. (Being the glitterer at the end is Top Job apparently.)
It is commercialised, like everything else. On the other hand, if it serves to remind a few idiot men that they do occasionally need to say the words to their spouses, it might be considered a “good thing”. I never got many Valentine cards in my youth, though one boyfriend did remember. It’s no fun when you know who it’s from though! One can look at it as creepy and stalky, but you can also see it as a harmless game.
My mother used to send Valentine cards to her grand-daughters (and her daughters) just so they would at least get ONE!! Needless to say, this habit was not very much appreciated…
My father always sent me one – but I knew it was from him, and Brian and I, probably reprehensibly, always sent them to our four. But without any tricks – that would have been unfair. Actually, I don’t know why we bothered!
Have to admit that sending Valentine cards to children just strikes me as weird. What does it tell them?
As a child I know it would have made me confused and uneasy. Probably too much Shakespeare at an early age, mind you. Have sometimes thought that I graduated to Jacobean Revenge Tragedy a mite too young.
Like-minded piece on BBC Radio 4 website is worth a read
with a delicious image that i shall try to paste in here
I loved that so much I’m sharing it, Joanna!
My pleasure, Lesley. And the BBC’s, of course