I actually got engaged on St Valentine’s Day… in a graveyard. My now-husband had actually planned to propose in the cloister of Muckross Abbey outside Killarney, which has an ancient yew tree right in its centre.
I, however, scuppered his plan completely by walking straight ahead into the churchyard, and in a panic he ended up having to pop the question while perched on the side of a tombstone.
Who said that romance was dead?
Still, I think I have an even less romantic Valentine’s story from last year, where I spent most of the day sick in bed suffering from mastitis after I developed an infection while feeding our then two-month-old daughter. Though, to be fair to my husband, he bought me a giant box of Maltesers and flowers to go along with my Flucloxacillin prescription and stabbing pains. As you might have guessed, we don’t take Valentine’s Day too seriously in our house, but usually mark the occasion with a card. One of my favourite’s in recent years was one that read: “There’s nobody else I’d rather lie in bed and look at my phone next to.” Who needs a Shakespearian sonnet with a declaration like that?
I remember the last Valentine’s Day that I was single. It was a Thursday (and quite a few years ago).
Myself and the girls, all single at the time, hit the town and we had a great night out. Lots of dancing and fun. But before we hit the town, I remember walking home from work and seeing this handsome guy walking down the street with a big silly grin on his face laden down with a huge bouquet of flowers. I remember thinking, as much as I was looking forward to my night out … I want that, I really do want that in life.
The following year, my then-boyfriend of six months arrived at my door with a very similar bouquet of flowers (and a big happy grin on his face). Years later we are happily married and although Valentine’s Day isn’t quite as romantic, he still has that lovely smile.
So if you’re that person, thinking you’d like someone this Valentine’s Day, well you never know what the next year can bring.
February is a dreary time of year on the east coast of Canada where I’m from. The snow isn’t fresh and new anymore, the air is bitterly cold and the sides of the road are grey and mushy – a combination of snow, grit and dirt.
You’re getting tired of wearing wet mittens and having to put on your snow pants each time you go outside. As a little girl, I looked forward to the Valentine’s Day card exchange at our small, rural school. It was a warm and welcome respite from winter.
First, we would buy our box of cards. Some kids could afford the “cool” Valentine’s cards – the ones featuring Ninja Turtles, Barbie or Batman – which might say things like: “I like you more than pizza, dude.” The rest of us would have the more old-fashioned types adorned with pink hearts and teddy bears. The cards came in rectangular boxes and would appear at the small shop in our nearby village toward the end of January.
We spent the morning making our “mailboxes”. These were brown paper bags which we decorated with crayons and ribbons before taping to our desks. The school secretary and teacher’s aid would be in the kitchen area setting up a small party with cookies and hot chocolate.
We would then deliver our cards, dropping each one into the bags of our friends and classmates. It wouldn’t seem like much now – every kid getting the same Valentine’s card and each saying a simple “Happy Valentine’s Day” – but to six-year-old Janine it was special.
It was made even nicer when I would find a heart-shaped chocolate-covered marshmallow in my lunch and a note from my mom (who also happened to be the principal of my small school).
“You are always going to be my number one Valentine,” the note would read. She still does this but now via Facebook messaging. Times have changed but the sentiment remains.
In my life, I was not asked out on many “dates” in the traditional sense. Particularly not on St Valentine’s Day. However, I was asked to go on a dinner date one Valentine’s Day many years ago. I am still not over it.
Have you ever been to a chess tournament? Rows of tables, each one with two people at it, sitting across from each other, not speaking but at the same time desperately trying to work out what the other is thinking? There is a tension, a mutual interest and an audience and this makes for great chess. This scenario can equally apply to Valentine’s night dinner in many restaurants across the country and although tension and mutual interest can make for a great date, the audience and being packed-in like sardines does not.
The restaurant chosen was one I had often been to before, but this night it was set up like the aforementioned chess tournament. It was an effort to even get to the table with other diners pulling in their chairs and pushing trip hazards (handbags and coats) under tables.
Our table was so close to the couples on either side of us that we may as well have been sitting together. The menu innuendo didn’t help to encourage polite “what are you thinking of having?” conversations either.
Now perhaps these days the “getting to know you” part is completed via a social media stalk and endless WhatsApp messages but for those still hoping to learn about someone face to face, perhaps St Valentine’s Day is not the time for it.
Of course, the sardine experience doesn’t happen everywhere and after two years of horrendous disruption to our hospitality sector, I sincerely hope that restaurants get a really great bounce not only on Valentine’s night but the weekend before and the weekend after.
Many years ago, for Valentine’s Day, I wanted to make a big impression on my significant other. I decided on a bunch of roses to be delivered to her work, not particularly unique but a solid demonstration of my affection, I thought. The price of a bunch of roses was up on €100 in many of the places I looked so I was delighted when I found a site online doing a dozen for €60. Booked them in, wrote a nice note to be included and paid via credit card. The day before Valentine’s, it dawned on me that I didn’t get an email confirmation. I searched… nothing. I then looked at my bank statement and saw €60 payment to “condomfactory” (or something like that) and I thought, “Oh my God, I have been done!” Panicking I rang all of the (reputable) florists until one agreed to fit in my order at a considerable cost well over the initial €100 I should have paid. Valentine’s Day arrived, and herself was delighted when the flowers arrived at the reception in her work.
The second bunch, however, raised a few eyebrows in her workplace – prompting suggestions that she might fess up to having more than one admirer. She didn’t mind even having to haul 24 roses home on the train. Did my bankruptcy merit affection? That’s for me to know and you to find out.
I have to confess: I’m a bit of a Grinch when it comes to Valentine’s Day. It feels like contrived, commercialised, forced romanticism.
Everyone has their own version of what is romantic. For example, there’s the teenage doomed romanticism of Romeo and Juliet. Or there’s the 1980s (my decade) version which is probably The Smiths song There is A Light – “If a double-decker bus kills the both of us, to die by your side would be a heavenly way to die.”
I often feel the flowers and anonymous cards are best suited to teenagers, searching for or in the throes of first love. The best description of that experience is Billy Bragg’s Walk Away. Having found and lost his first love, the last line sings: “Then one day it happened, she cut her hair and I stopped loving her.”
The other end of the pendulum is older couples keeping the flame burning. In the film Field of Dreams, Burt Lancaster plays an elderly doctor who buys blue hats for his wife. When he dies, they find dozens of hats in his surgery, that he’d bought for her but forgotten to give her – that is true romance to me.
I’m somewhere in the middle of all that. Married for 27 years, I’m probably not romantic enough, but I find birthdays and anniversaries more significant than the 14 February. As I’m writing, I realise that today is the anniversary of when I first met Sandra.
Excuse me, I need to go shopping.
My parents met in 1972 and were married on New Year’s Day in 1974. Shortly after, the first of six children arrived.
My father worked full time and my mother managed the house and the children. My father – like many of his vintage – wouldn’t be the greatest in displaying his emotions and certainly not a romantic in any way.
However, back in the mid-1990s on Valentine’s Day as the whole family were sitting down for dinner, he arrived in the back door with a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates and a Valentine’s card for Mom! We could barely believe what we were seeing.
Fast forward to the following year, everyone wondering will he? Won’t he?
Well, he didn’t.
They are happily married now for 48 years and apart from that one time, my father has never once marked Valentine’s Day with a gift, a card or a chocolate.
This is for Mom!