Valentine’s Day is like an extreme form of Marmite. Either you can’t get enough of it or you would rather slit your throat with a rusty nail and fling yourself into shark-infested waters than deal with this sickly sweet 24 hours. Some of us can pretend the day doesn’t exist, and ignore the large red love hearts blazing out of every shop window. Others cannot banish the day from their thoughts, because their enthusiastic other half would not let them away with it, or because they feel devastated about being alone on this loved-up day.
Recently or pathologically single folk presume that everyone else is gushing with love and romance on this spring day. They imagine couples walking hand-in-hand by the water’s edge, gazing into each others’ eyes, whispering sweet nothings, sharing plates of spaghetti, and surprising their partners with enormous crimson cards, sparkling jewels, holiday plans, and maybe even a diamond ring.
The unwilling half of a couple experiences equal amounts of dread and disdain in the run-up to this marathon of mush. They know that if they don’t have something wonderful planned for their partner they are liable to lose a limb (or another highly prized body part). For the sake of their own sanity (and physical well-being), they trudge to the gift shop, buy the first card that grabs their attention, and grudgingly “surprise” their loved one with a bunch of flowers and the piece of jewellery that they were ordered to purchase.
A number of years ago, a friend and I held a quiet protest on Valentine’s Day. Instead of sobbing at Love Actually on the box and checking the post every five minutes, we decided to replace the celebration with one of our favourites- Hallowe’en. We rented horrors, munched on treats, and sipped red wine. We were screaming so much that we didn’t have time to dwell on being single. And after watching The Ring, we were just glad to be alive.
For whatever reason, I’ve been single more often than not on Valentine’s Day. And it doesn’t bother me. It’s just another day (apart from the fact that card companies, florists, restaurants and the like are a lot richer afterwards). I don’t have to think about buying presents, writing cards, or making dinner reservations. And I have more money to spend on myself.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” Oscar Wilde
This year, instead of moaning about my single status, bitching about the shortage of romantic Irish men, or dissing the festival for being a “money-making racket” and an “exercise in soulless commercialism”, I am learning more about love. Recently, I have come to the delightful conclusion that I am loveable. I am getting to know myself more. I am discovering what I like in life. I have started doing the things I want to do. And I am thoroughly enjoying the process.
If you don’t know or love yourself, how can you love another, let alone believe that anyone would love you? There was a time when I looked at love dubiously. But I was confusing real love with romantic love.
"In real love, you want the other person's good. In romantic love, you want the other person." Margaret Anderson
Romantic love is often based on neediness and selfishness. You desire the person as a possession, as a tool to make you feel better about yourself. However, I’m beginning to see that there is another kind of love that speaks of balance and respect and sharing.
Once you know who you are and what you want from life, if you are fulfilled in what you are doing and treat yourself with love and respect, you are ready to move onto the next phase. And this is where love for another human being becomes possible. When you enter into a healthy relationship, you bask in the best parts of yourselves, and you accept and love the other bits too.
Relationships can be challenging. As Thomas Moore writes in his book Soul Mates, a struggle occurs between the soul’s need for attachment and the spirit’s need for freedom. When our partner seems distant, the soul becomes insecure and wants to hold on. When our partner clings, the spirit feels trapped and restless.
"A healthy relationship needs to create a balance between spirit and soul, expansion and constriction, freedom and commitment." Anodea Judith
So, this Valentine’s Day, if you’re part of a happy couple, do something nice together. Laugh and embrace. Remember the excitement of the first sparks of your romance. And celebrate the growth and intimacy that has developed since then.
And if, like me, you’re single, be thankful that you have this time and space to work on your self and your individuality. Love and accept each and every aspect of your being. Learn what makes you smile. Observe what fills you with passion. Witness the many ways in which you shine.