A Valentine’s guide to love
Roses are red, violets are blue, this poem’s rubbish, unlike you.
Ah, Valentine. The day when anything goes. The day when we make false promises that last for less than a day. The day when we make fools of ourselves only to realise we ought to be demonstrating our love and affection daily, not just when an Instagram advert jogs our memory on February 14.
We live in a world where it’s possible to send a heart-shaped black box of gold and red roses for £288, buy a woman’s silk pyjama set for £128, or purchase a say-it-with-chocolate box of 27 love hearts for £25.95. What a time it is to be alive. Alternatively, we could dispense with tokenism and just do something kind, like say the right thing at the right time, offer to do the chores, or be the milkman of human kindness as we make tea, run a bath, and engage in other acts of un-declamatory kindness. Who needs to waste money on amethyst and diamond necklaces when we can just, you know, be nice, be kind, and tell our partner/friend/lover that they’re the best and we’d be lost without them. It really is that simple.
Except, of course, it doesn’t always seem it. When we’re kids, we’re tongue-tied, clumsy, over-eager and frequently just-plain-daft as we stutter and stammer over the wrong words and inappropriate gestures. And so as we carefully steer clear of delving into the box of personal memories – every episode recounted here is, of course, entirely fictitious – it’s time to assess Valentine’s Through The Ages.
As we reflect on teenage crushes, ham-fisted attempts at saying ‘I Luv You’, and desperate scenes – we take you through the barricades, as Spandau Ballet might have said, to present our not-particularly-serious guide to a lifetime of love.
Isn’t it lovely. We are in the first throes of love, or, at least, the chemical reaction that passes for that. We fancy the girl – or boy – next door. And they’re coy when we offer them a smile. It’s giggly and, if we’re really lucky, we’ll get to hold one another’s hand. Who knows, there might also be a clumsy embrace beneath an apple tree – though clumsy embraces are also available beneath other types of fruit tree or on benches in public parks. As kids, we really have no idea what makes us attracted to others. It just is. And we are a mess of nerves and contradictions as we try to articulate our emotions – for some of us, a state of mind that lasts a lifetime. My first kiss/first girlfriend was with the girl who lived across the road. I’ll spare she and I our respective blushes by not divulging a name, not that I expect her to remember. The fact I can, when I was only five, makes me think I must be a little bit kooky. But then that’s what puppy love does to us.
Or, The Years When It All Goes Wrong. Adolescence is ugly. Adolescence is messy. Adolescence is the place where hormones and emotions run out of control. We’re convinced we’re the first person in the world – Ever – to feel this way. We’re a bundle of contradictions. One minute we’re proclaiming undying love, the next we’re trying to get off with a best mate. Or was that just me? But in our love-through-the-ages hoopla, we might recognise the years of the teenage crush as being the minefield through which it’s impossible to navigate. We are not in control of our emotions. We do not have the emotional maturity to make sensible decisions. We’re the equivalent of a missile that’s been fired without the laser-guided widget. We’re likely to cause destruction – to ourselves, as well as the other party – as we veer between the chaos that is Love Missile One. We imagine, in our uneducated, self-delusional, uncontrolled mania, that love is a game and we can win it by doing something daft, like saying ‘I love you’, by gifting flowers, or by letting our heart rule our head with a partner we know no better than a lump of cheese. And that’s not intended to be disrespectful to cheese. Adolescence is truly the time for error, for madness, for chaos and for mistakes that we look back at and cringe.
As we move through our teen years into adulthood, inhibitions go out the window. We know the game of love, or so we think. We’ve got a place of our own, so our style isn’t cramped by parents or siblings – though, most likely, it is by dodgy housemates. We may have a nice car and imagine ourselves as a latter-day Steve McQueen. Or we might have a rubbish car, and just imagine ourselves as Steve. For some, it’s still a time of wrong choices, or finding our way, of making up the numbers in the UK’s remarkably poor stay-together rate that sees most twentysomethings separate sooner rather than later. My mates used to go clubbing in West Brom. I organised dinners at tapas bars in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. And while I still got it wrong – I don’t regret either divorce, but I do realise I made a catastrophic error of judgement by going off with a someone else when I’d found someone I loved and who loved me – that’s what you do when you’re still an uneducated, inexperienced, and unwise fool. Valentine’s might be a day of looking at competing offers, rather than nailing colours to the mast. We’re still jostling for position, no better than animals in spring competing for the prettiest muntjac. And that’s why we get it wrong, allow baser instincts to cloud our judgement, and get stuff really, really, really wrong.
Love Gone Sour
We were clear in saying our Valentine’s Guide of love through the ages wouldn’t dwell on personal experience. However, Valentine’s when you’ve bought an M&S ready meal for one and you’re scouring Match.Com like a bloke trying to find a new Ford Puma on Autotrader is a lonely place to be. When you sell your wedding ring to buy a week’s worth of food and petrol, disregarding the vows you said and meant, is as much fun as opening the freezer and finding your last tub of Ben & Jerry’s was punctured on the way home from the shops and has leaked over Sunday’s joint of prime sirloin. Valentine’s can be as happy as Christmas without any gifts, as a car without any fuel, as a supper without any food.
Some reach adulthood in their teens, others reach a state of wisdom in their 20s, and some wait until much, much later – or just don’t ever get there. It’s a time when 40 red roses is replaced by a warm embrace, when pointless, over-the-top gestures are replaced by a smile, when less really is more. Love is the best. John Lennon was wrong, when he wrote All You Need Is Love. You also need elderflower cordial in spring, warm sun in summer, and roast potatoes that are cooked in beef dripping and are crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy within, but he was right about more stuff than I’ll ever be, so we won’t split hairs. Adulthood is great. It’s when you know. It’s when you’ve found the one – while realising that if you hadn’t found the one, you’d have found another, and that’s okay. It’s when you accept that some stuff’s really, really good, and you don’t need to go hunting for more. It’s when you know.
And so we enter the time that might seem like the least exciting and least adrenalised, but it’s actually the most rewarding of all. We forsake the madness of youth, the crazy, no-sleep, no monogamy, no maturity, thrill-seeker kicks of youth, of buying pear-shaped diamond rings while going to Tesco’s to buy a sandwich – true story – to fall into something far richer, far saner, and infinitely more rewarding. Being safe in the arms of another, knowing that someone has your back, being free of the not-knowing is literally the best. It is, to coin a phrase, the point at which you’ve found your Fabia.
Pipe and Slippers
The best love of all isn’t the stuff you get when you get bone-shaking tingles at the age of 15. Nor is it the nonsense that comes with nights on the prowl, outlandish gestures of affection, or buying life-sized teddy bears that are dumped back on your doorstep when you’ve been led astray. All of that’s the learning, the mistakes, the getting things wrong. The best stuff is seeing an elderly couple holding hands, looking affectionately in one another’s eyes, having survived life’s tests. My parents are fabulously in love. They always have been. And they remain so. It’s inconceivable to imagine better teachers than a pair of loved-up, lovebirds who found one another as kids and stayed true – and happy – on their devoted route through life. And so the Instagram pictures you see of a couple of retirees, of people who link fingers and relax into one another on the sofa, really are the best, the sweetest, and the most profound Valentine’s Day images of all.