I wondered why on earth not. It wasn’t either of the two Easters yet. Perhaps it was snowing outside? A slightest sight of snow would guarantee instant paralysis to London’s transport network. But snowing it wasn’t and wasn’t going to, either. Was the Tube on strike? Nope – and even then, I’d normally cycle everywhere. Was the city besieged by aliens? In that case the last thing my Greek teacher would do is email around homework reminders.
Heart-shaped sun, heart-shaped clouds, heart-shaped everything
I was seriously confused. And it wasn’t until I logged in to my Facebook account later this morning that things finally became clearer. Heart-shaped objects literally inundated the newsfeed. Of course – today was the 14th of February, aka Valentine’s Day. My Greek teacher wasn’t trying to confuse me at all – in fact, she probably genuinely wished I had better plans for tonight than attending a language lesson. And my affirmative “Of course!” possibly made her feel a little sorry for me.
I dare say I never quite warmed up to the whole Valentine’s Day scheme. As a young girl in the Soviet Union, I was blissfully ignorant of this (and indeed any other) Western indulgence. During my subsequent single years, I christened the 14th of February the “Singles’ Awareness Day” and resented the very idea of a mandatory marking of the occasion by couples. Sorry for stating the obvious, but, if you are a couple, shouldn’t you celebrate every day together? So, when boyfriends started dotting the horizon, they were each politely advised to disregard the date and spread their love evenly throughout the year instead.
This goes for all the suppressed men out there
My main problem with Valentine’s Day, however, has always been its startling inequality. It is unfair that only the male side of the population is summoned in for nice Valentine’s gestures. Being a banker, I have seen all too many male colleagues stressing about that impending date in February. Sorry to disappoint, ladies, but few of those presents you receive are bought with any advance planning. Most result from a 10-minute trip to a nearby train station that conveniently houses a jewellery shop or a chocolate stall. A transaction can even take as little as two minutes; this Tuesday, the ground floor of the very building where I work hosted a jewellery fair. Hats off to the silent genius that brought the right merchandise closer to the busy customer on the occasion when rings are likely to be purchased by a kilo.
Men are expected to rush off early from work, give bigger (if not the only) presents and pay out of their pockets when it comes to that inevitably overpriced meal at an overbooked restaurant. The job of the women is to sit back and enjoy getting spoilt. Which is only fine when a certain man actually enjoys spoiling his woman – on any day, not one designated one – and a certain woman still has the decency to appreciate the gesture rather than take it as a granted Valentine’s “duty”.
And my already strained relationship with Valentine’s Day went further downhill when I met the man I truly believe to be “the one”. Apologies for boring any of you, but every day with him is indeed a celebration of true, unconditional love. Fresh flowers are delivered with enviable frequency, presents given for no reason whatsoever and my offers of honest contribution towards restaurant meals, rugby tickets and the Eurostar all denied categorically. Indeed I have had to impose restrictions on the number of presents made per calendar month and ban all but the simplest flower combinations – partly in an attempt to control my other half’s budget (which he seems to be managing very well himself, anyway) but also to save myself from getting hopelessly spoilt by this ceaseless pampering.
But surely it isn’t all that bad
It is easy to see how an imposed date for men to take their loved ones to dinner and splash out on flowers and chocolate is not exactly necessary. But I tried to see the arguments of the defence side, too. Surely there was a good reason why today’s Facebook was all covered in “I do’s” and coloured a subtle shade of pink. I gave it a little thought and came up with the following few benefits of Valentine’s Day.
First, Valentine’s Day is invaluable when it comes to teaching teenagers about being romantic. Teenagers are not exactly known for being steadfast in their emotional attachments and have little experience in dealing with the opposite gender beyond the usual friendship level. Teenagers are also likely to be preoccupied with a range of time-consuming activities, be it sports, studies, social occasions or hobbies. As a rule, they value their budding relationships less than older folks like me. Granted – Valentine’s Day may indeed be that one time in a year when teenagers actually learn to spend time with the person they have declared to be “In a Relationship” with. This way doing romantic things later on may not seem like a total shock to the system.
Second, the “couples’ day” can be a good social laugh at school and even the workplace. Some establishments go as far as setting up post boxes where romantic letters are deposited anonymously and distributed to the addressees on the day. We had one in the final years of school; I secretly dreamt of receiving a flaming love message but never did. My brightest memory was posting a satirical poem to the guy I actually rather disliked. To my utter surprise, he loved my piece of poetry so much he read it out to the whole class, choking with laughter. Everyone was wonderfully entertained.
Third, Valentine’s Day is a good milestone for men to proceed to major steps in relationships. Let’s face it – men are simple, unsophisticated creatures and really aren’t into over-engineering things. The 14th of February is a fixed date easy enough to set aside for proposals, moving in together or even starting to share responsibility for a flushing spaniel. At least one proposal was recorded on the immortal plaque of my Facebook newsfeed this afternoon. I admit feeling a bite of jealousy at the fact; thankfully, the ring was not at all my type. And, just for the record, the man in question wasn’t, either.
Is chocolate the answer?
But the best aspect of Valentine’s came after my zumba class. The same ground floor of my building that staged a jewellery fair two days ago now had a 2-meter chocolate fountain installed. Bowls of fruits and sweets were surrounding it, and two smart waiters zoomed around serving chocolatey goodness to people.
As the chocolate melted on my tongue, so did my heart. I thought that maybe – just maybe –Valentine’s Day wasn’t such a bad occasion, after all.
I might even celebrate it with some Greek homework.