Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Valentine's Day

It’s coming to that time of year again which is special to anyone in love. Gifts and cards will exchange hands and restaurants will fill up with couples sitting opposite gazing into each other’s eyes. Or, as Joel Barrish, Jim Carrey’s character in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind said: “Valentine’s Day is a holiday invented by greeting cards manufacturers to make people feel like crap!” Many share Joel’s cynicism. The author of a magazine article I once read saw it as just another corporate profiteering coup, like the Christmas industry, and thought that it should be renamed “Hallmark Day” or “Clintons Day” and seethed over the sight of couples expressing hypocritical sentiments to each other which they then conveniently forget for the rest of the year. I think that’s a big assumption to make about the feelings of total strangers and an unfair judgment in most cases. In my experience, couples with an unhappy relationship tend to ignore Valentine’s Day altogether. However I’ve personally always seen Valentine’s Day more as a festival for singletons like me rather than established lovers. It’s an opportunity to send an anonymous gift to your secret crush.

The origins of the Valentine’s Day tradition are quite obscure. It falls on February the 14th, the day before the Roman feast of Lupercalia. In pagan Rome this was a time for the celebration of fertility, romance and sexuality. It included the prevailing tradition of sending a gift to someone you secretly favour. The Christian world probably adopted the practice and changed it to fit its regime, as it did many pagan rites, and put it on St Valentine’s Day because that was the closest day to Lupercalia. However it wasn't mentioned in its modern sense until the medieval English writer Geoffrey Chaucer did. The character known as St Valentine is not connected in any other way to this rite. Valentine himself is a very mysterious individual; or individuals plural as some claim he represents several people. He lived in the fourth century and was born in Britain, probably in the area of modern Newcastle. He became a Christian and was punished by the pagan authorities. He was buried in Via Flamminia north of Rome. The exact whereabouts of his grave is not known, but two churches in Ireland and the Czech Republic possess bones supposedly from Valentine’s body as holy relics.

I will not be sending any Valentine cards this year. I’m single and not infatuated with anyone; and I’ve learned to enjoy that. I like being my own man in charge of my own emotions. I know a few attractive ladies, but nobody “special” if you know what I mean. There used to be though. From 2000, for four years, I sent a card every year to a girl at work called Vicky. She immediately guessed that I had sent the first one which disturbed me because I’d always kept my feelings for her secret. I must be more transparent than I thought I was! Unfortunately Vicky didn’t feel the same way about me, but never mind. She was very understanding towards me and didn't spit in my face. She left a couple of years ago. I was upset at first, but in the long run it was for the best and I can look back to that time without regrets. This experience has helped me see how much I’ve changed in the last few years; even in just the last two. I’m no longer the kind of person who gets hung up on people. As I said above, I thought the magazine article writer was far too cynical, but a part of me knows where she's coming from. I know many people who get involved with other people because they're motivated by conformist pressure or material gain. This is summed up by the Pet Shop Boys song Rent:

You dress me up, I'm your puppet
You buy me things, I love it
You bring me food, I need it
You give me love, I feed it
And look at the two of us in sympathy
With everything we see
I never want anything, its easy
You buy whatever I need
But look at my hopes, look at my dreams
The currency we've spent
I love you, oh, you pay my rent
I love you, oh, you pay my rent

You phone me in the evening on hearsay
And bought me caviar
You took me to a restaurant off Broadway
To tell me who you are
We never ever argue, we never calculate
The currency we've spent
I love you, oh, you pay my rent
I love you, you pay my rent
I love you, oh, you pay my rent

Im your puppet
I love it

And look at the two of us in sympathy
And sometimes ecstasy
Words mean so little, and money less
When youre lying next to me
But look at my hopes, look at my dreams
The currency we've spent
I love you, oh, you pay my rent
I love you, you pay my rent
I love you, you pay my rent

Look at my hopes, look at my dreams
The currency we've spent
I love you, oh, you pay my rent
I love you, you pay my rent

Other people become obessed with people who treat them badly; mostly women but some men too. This infuriates me. It's as if these people are addicted to abuse! I'm definitely better off being independant! I’m a single father and I live quite a solitary life, but rarely feel lonely. I have few friends, but nevertheless feel like I’m in lots of good company. I don’t know why that is, but I’m not sure I want to; I’d rather just enjoy it!


wise woman said...

Hi Ben
I was just wondering about the origins of Valentines day earlier today.

I am also a single parent. I think there is a lot to be said for the single life.

But I have also wondered who made up the rules of relationships and what it would be like if we didn't have to follow society's dictates. I think we would make different choices.

Thanks for your article & in the spirit of single parenthood I wish you a Happy Valentines Day.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

You're welcome. Happy Valentine's Day to you too! Shame there's not a holiday for single people! We'll have to invent one. I know what you mean about relationships. Every person is unique so when it comes to interactions between us the number of unique relationships gets squared!

I agree; why should there be rules and regulations on what form a relationship should take, dictated by the Conformist Regime. There are people in conventional couple-type bonds who despise each other; in fact your partner is the person most likely to murder you! Then again there are people who enjoy the most intense and loving interactions imaginable for their whole lives, who are completely Platonic. The film "Lost in Translation" is good because it's about just such an interaction.

Alex Robinson said...

Thank you kindly.

I agree. We have a relationship with every person in our lives - I get annoyed by the way some relationships are held to be more special than others - in particular, 'couples' & 'families'.
These are often closed off areas - 'by appointment only'.

What if we made our friends our 'love interests' and lavished them with time & attention - we've been tricked into looking for something that isn't there - perfect partners & families.

When I stopped waiting for my family to be 'a family', I found my friends and my life changed.

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Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Vicky has returned to my hospital! I actually first saw her a week or two after writing this, but I thought she might just be passing by. But this week I've seen her twice. It's weird; after all my swaggering in the article I still felt my knees going weak when I saw her. I don't know whether to be happy or disturbed that she's back.

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