Thanks to the supermarkets’ insistence that we accessorise the milestones of our year with cards, bunting and awful injection-molded plastic stuff, we’ve all got used to the notion that particular festivals will be represented by particular colours. Christmas is red and green. Hallowe’en is black and orange. Easter is daffodil-yellow. Mother’s Day is pastel, like the Baby section of Clinton’s Cards.
I’d always thought of Valentine’s Day as crimson. But somewhere, somehow, some evil soulless monster of Tescopoly commercialism has started to turn Valentine’s Day a sickly shade of artificial pink.
This worries me.
There have always been a lot of things wrong with Valentine’s Day. It’s an entirely manufactured celebration; unlike the other great occasions of the year, it has no deep roots in the old agricultural rhythms of the agrarian calendar. It proposes just one mode of human happiness – straight, settled and in a traditional couple – and insidiously suggests that if we’re not in one of these paired-off hetero units, there must be something wrong with us. Since Valentine’s cards have been with us since at least the 1400s, Valentine’s Day was probably the original Hallmark Holiday.
But damn it, at least it used to actually be for adults.
Here’s the one thing I like about Valentine’s Day; it’s a celebration of carnality. Its’ traditional gifts and rituals – chocolates, roses, champagne, restaurant dinner, silky underwear, sex – are designed to appeal to the senses, not the intellect. It reminds us that we’re animals, and that being an animal is actually pretty awesome. If you subscribe to Eve Ensler’s provocative and compelling interpretation, even the love-heart – the iconic symbol of Valentine’s Day – actually represents an altogether more earthy body-part.
Or, that’s how it used to be. And, back when Valentines Day was a deep shade of crimson, I felt comfortable with my reading of it. But candy-cane pink? What’s that all about, then?
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink. I look down Tesco’s Seasonal aisle, and that’s what I see. Champagne (pink, of course) in a pink shrink-wrapped bottle, looking like something you’d give a five-year-old at a Princess party. Pink flowers. Pink-sprinkled chocolate hearts in pink heart-shaped boxes. Pink teddy-bears holding up pink hearts, bearing the pink message, “I wuv u”. Pink balloons.
Balloons and teddy-bears! I mean, come on, are we six? My daughter would love this stuff. But my daughter would not send me a Valentine’s card.
Except that these days, she can, and quite possibly will. These days, our children are encouraged to make Valentine’s cards for their parents. Don’t get me wrong – I love it when my kids make stuff for me, I love it when they tell me they love me. But, on this one day of the year, this day that ostensibly celebrates adult relationships with other adults…no. Please, no. If you want a formal occasion for children to melt the hearts of their parents, we already have two; Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Why take over Valentine’s Day as well?
“I wuv u”. What is wuv, anyway? It sounds so frail and limp, so vulnerable and transient. Wuv means fluff and fragility, a willful infantilisation of ourselves, a simpering pretense that we’re pure and sexless, motivated entirely by sweetness and one-sided devotion. What kind of emotion can flourish on a diet of emotional candy-floss? Wuv, I suspect, is not durable.
My husband and I have been together for over a decade. In that time he’s seen me pregnant, twice; he’s seen me give birth, twice – once naturally and once by C-section. He’s held my head and stroked my back while an anesthetist took a needle big enough to stick an elephant, and shoved it deep into my spine; while cradling our infant daughter, he has accidentally caught sight of my insides (apparently my abdomen, when cut open to allow access to my womb, looked “like lasagne”). Wuv would never have been able to withstand the shock of all that stretching and screaming and cursing and blood. Wuv would never have coped with my dreamy proposal of marriage to the anaesthetist. Wuv would have run, screaming, from the operating theatre and the delivery room.
But despite all of that, and despite all the intervening daily grind between then and now – stuff to do with nappy changes and bins and bad days at work and socks on the floor and floor-mopping and sleep deprivation – he’s still here, and we still love each other.
That’s not wuv. That’s love. Love is durable and tough. Love can be stretched out of shape from time to time. Love grows, shrinks, fades a little and is then unexpectedly renewed. Love can absorb the occasional moment of hatred. Love is not something you can express with a fluffy child’s toy.
A couple of years ago, I happened across a brand new occasion on our calendar. 14th March has now been designated Steak-and-Blow-Job Day. This is needed because, apparently, Valentine’s Day is now officially just for us women, and in return for obliging us with all that fluffy-bears-and-balloons shit, the men want to institute a day that’s about stuff that they like.
There are a million things to object to about Steak-and-BJ day (not everyone likes steak; not everyone likes blow-jobs; not everyone’s partner has a penis; That Image on the front page of the official site). But my biggest problem with it is what it says about Valentine’s Day. Somehow, the myth has grown up that, for some inexplicable reason, balloons and teddy-bears are what grown women like. Men like eating and sex. Women like being treated like an eight-year-old.
As far as I’m concerned, Valentine’s Day is steak-and-BJ day – or, at least, Nice-food-and-sexual-practice-of-your-mutual-choice Day. Surely I can’t be alone inthis? Isn’t it time we reclaimed it? We don’t need balloons and teddy-bears; we don’t even need red meat and oral sex (although personally speaking, that would be shiny). We just need our partners, and time to focus on each other.