The year is 2005, it is Valentine’s Day, I am more embarrassed than I have ever been in all my life.
Surrounded by all of my friends, trying not to make a big deal of the fact that no boy will ever fancy me and I am about to be reminded how completely and utterly alone I am (a hard realisation for an eleven year old) as all my, much prettier friends, are showered with cards and chocolates and compliments, when I go past my locker and notice something pink in there.
Something pink and heart shaped. A pink, heart shaped box of chocolates. With a card. From my mum.
My cheeks flushed red and a wave of fury and humiliation like I had never experienced swelled in my stomach. A wave so ugly, so damaging that that afternoon I was more unpleasant to my mum that a child should ever be. How DARE she embarrass me like this? Did she not care about me AT ALL? WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?
Em, babe. She bought you a box of chocolates, stop being such a brat.
I see that now – but I couldn’t then.
And for years the memory of being such a tragic pre-pubescent that the only person buying me anything was my mum, put me off Valentine’s Day and all that came with it.
Even after I got together with my boyfriend and had someone that I wasn’t related to buy me presents, I couldn’t shake my loathing of it. It’s so commercialised, I’d tell my friends. It’s not real. I don’t need some random day to tell my boyfriend that I love him – he knows that already. I’d say it until I was blue in the face, I’d repeat it over and over again, I’d slam this holiday at every opportunity… even though in my heart of hearts, I didn’t even believe what I was saying.
Even though I sort of love it.
Not being one for PDA at the best of times, I could do without romantic candle lit dinners in which for one night, and one night only, it’s acceptable to snog over your spag bol (because it’s never acceptable to snog over your spag bol), but I’m so here for the rest of it.
The chocolate hearts, the roses, the adorable whale toy that I bought for Alex a few years ago that said “I whaley love you” on it- good while it lasted but eaten by the dog a couple of years back. The fact that, despite our rocky history with this day, my mum still writes a card to me every year and signs it off with a question mark (as if anyone my age even sends letters these days…), that people seem to smile more, that the lines have blurred so much it isn’t about that ‘one’ special person anymore, but about all your special people. I love that Galentine’s Day is a thing now.
I also love how I feel. I love that I’m given the opportunity to banish the cynicism and embrace a bit of romance, that I can make an extra special bit of effort and, if questioned, can lovingly roll my eyes and tell the questioner to lighten up and love the love, that there’s one little day squished into an otherwise quite dreary time of year that allows us a bit of sparkle.
This year, I’m taking shit seriously. And I’m doing it, for me.
I grew up foolishly believing that the only reason I should wear matching underwear would be to please a man. In my single days I worked on the logic that it only mattered if someone saw it and since, on every outing, I was not wooed by a man or involved in an accident that meant I could give the paramedics something nice to work on, I sort of gave up on the whole thing.
It only occurred to me recently that wearing matching underwear might be a really nice way of making me feel special. Well, once I worked that out I was revolutionised. Matching underwear is something that I’ve started doing for me and it’s epic.
My little secret. Damn I’m so sexy.
It’s a similar story with hair and makeup too. I don’t have to look at my face, I would think, so surely I’m only wearing makeup for the benefit of those confronted with it.
What a fool I was.
Makeup has long since something I have done for myself and it’s become really, really important to me in recent years. When I make the effort I feel fantastic, I feel proud of the sheet of skin separating my skull from the cold winds of London. (read more about my relationship with makeup here)
And then my hair… nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes me feel like more of a superstar than when I pull of a successful hair swish.
And so riddle me this, Em of 15 years ago and anti-Valentine’s-Day-people-everywhere, what’s not to love about showing yourself a bit of love when you’ve been gifted the perfect opportunity: a day that’s alllll about feeling special?
I still don’t plan extravagant gifts for Alex (sorry babe), I don’t imagine I’ll be changing my mind about public snog fests and mandatory hand holding, but I really have no reason not to celebrate this day.
Sure it’s a holiday that has been commercialised, but so is Christmas and I still go back for thirds of turkey.
We grew up with few single female role models; for years we grew up being fed the rhetoric that a woman needed a man to be complete, that she was not complete until she found one. On queue Bridget Jones and her contemporaries arrived and we revelled in them.
All of a sudden it wasn’t just okay to be single, it was encouraged, it was fun, fabulous, it was important. No longer were we bound by the shackles that forced us to feel anything less than in control, with a hangover from our school days; alone and awkward after being picked last for gym class.
My grandma told me once about a party she went to in the 1940s that saw her spend the whole night sitting, alone, on a chair squished against the back of the room because no one had picked her to dance.
Times have moved on and we’ve got a lot to show for it: namely, we don’t need to wait to be picked up by a man anymore. We’re fine on our own, and we wholeheartedly reject any day that might leave us feeling like my granny had all those years ago.
But for me at least, I’m working to change that rhetoric.
Perhaps it’s because I have a boyfriend now, a man who has no choice but to pick me at the dances unless he wants a frosty taxi journey home.
Or perhaps it’s because I’ve removed the blinkers and allowed myself to see Valentine’s Day in a whole new light: not just a day to tell the person that I love how I feel about them, but a day to tell every body special in my life.
Tracey from the Co-op, my dog walking pals, my mum, my friends, and most of all… myself.
This Valentine’s Day, for me, is a day to feel the love, in whatever form I can find it.
This post was written in collaboration with Debenhams who, drumroll please, have the most exciting Valentine’s Day shop on their website right now. Head over to their website and go and find yourself something fancy. Spoil yourself. If not now, then when???