The Valentine’s Day run-up has begun, good and proper, cards and hearts and teddybears all over the place, my local gym telling me to book a massage for the one I love, and it was still (when I noticed that particular gem) still definitively early January (the latest gym offer I’ve noticed is a ‘couples’ discount. Thanks. You’re a couple. You already find one another attractive. I am single. I need all the help I can get. I should get a discount for being all bitter and single and so on, obviously…). I still think Valentine’s Day is cruel to singletons (I wonder if that’s pretty much the entire point of it, actually) and nothing special for couples – just an excuse to go out for a romantic picnic or a nice meal and you can make those excuses for yourself, there are reasons enough, and why should you feel you ought to celebrate your relationship on this one specific day just because a million card shops and the odd gym promotion tell you you should?
That said, I’m not wholly against it and I’ve heard some beautiful stories in my time – the boy who turned up at my friend’s door last year with a Tesco bag containing some strawberries and things, and took her out for a picnic, no finesse but highly cute, I think, and the last I heard, they’re still together. He took that chance, and won. Reunions, forgiveness – the stories that ignore the cliche and the commerciality and the people who use Valentine’s day as an excuse, a spur to action, to make them truly say how they feel, it’s not something I’m good at. Last year I sent a card, I played down my feelings quite a lot, and it didn’t arrive on the day so I disappointedly worked my way through half a bottle of whisky before I even left the house that night; I am told that night didn’t end well. A few days later I recieved a thoughtful and kind reply, not the kind of reply I was really hoping for, but I didn’t mind as much as I thought I would, and I’m still glad that I did it, that I spoke up and admitted how I felt. In some ways I felt a bit pathetic for still liking that person or for falling for them again but actually when it came to the crunch, admitting how I felt made me feel brave and not pathetic in the least, and I can’t say now that it ended badly.
Over the years I’ve talked a lot to friends and family about relationships and things – I’m interested in how people work and their stories, and this kind of thing has always fascinated me in real life far more than the films, Bridget Jones, Love Actually, no, those are fairytales and it’s the real life fairytales and the not-so-fairytale stories that I like. And finally I’ve realised something blindingly, hopelessly obvious. People tell you certain things as hard and fast truths about life: Everyone thinks they want to marry their first love (I remember this being said to many of my friends, I’ve even said it myself), unrequited love isn’t half as bad as being broken-up-with (don’t be so condescending), getting back together never ever works. And so on. But I have met schoolyard sweethearts still together decades on; of a friend of my mother’s who went through break-up after break-up with this one bloke, heartache and heartbreak and huge emotional ups and downs and third-degree emotional chaos until somehow, they made it through, calm and content and happy after all that, together; three year breaks to ‘find ourselves’ who did get back together and still are together; relationships rising like a pheonix from the ashes, stronger than ever, having hit what seemed like the absolute end of the line. My parents had met once or twice before they started dating in the May, and within six weeks they were engaged, before getting married that October, and they’re still together – and, I believe, happy – now.
My mother says my dad called her an ‘old boot’ at the speech he made at their wedding. What he really said: since there was a lot of surprise that they’d got together so quickly, and so he was trying to explain how they just knew, so he described their relationship as like putting on an old pair of boots – worn such that they’re perfectly and entirely comfortable, shaped around your feet – they just somehow knew that it would work, and it has. My mother says that when they went on their first date she thought, looking at his large irish skull, ‘giving birth to his babies is going to be painful’ – claiming that she already pretty much knew that was what was going to happen. As far as I’m concerned my parents seem like a modern-day fairytale; I don’t suppose the same will happen for me, because it’s so unlikely.
Two absolute commitmentphobes I know got together six months back and within two weeks of the start of their relationship, terrified, admitted that it felt as if God was telling them both that he had huge plans for them both which in part involved marriage, to one another. What I think about that – given that I trust them both as very rational people, and I too believe in the same God – I honestly don’t know. It took a friend of mine two or three years to finally get into the relationship he’d barely realised he always wanted (though I could see it and I doubt many couldn’t); now he’s seriously considering where he should do his Masters based on where she’s going to be. Other couples have seemed fairytale perfect and foundered at the altar. Others have seemed completely right for one another but never even got to give it a go, passing like ships in the night. Sometimes you don’t know the truth about someone until one day they admit they’ve been screwing your two best friends, and, worse, they’ve told all three of you that they love you, and they thought they meant it.
As my mother says, there’s nothing new under the sun; and the whole gamut of possibilities renders all the advice that anyone can give you more or less meaningless. I can’t tell you to forget her and move on, I can’t tell you to wait and see. You don’t know how many fish there are in my sea, you don’t know that it’ll all end in tears, I can’t possibly judge.
What I’m saying is, you can’t ever know what’ll happen next. There are no rules or reasons. You know nothing. So if you care, tell someone. If you’re sorry, if you’ve acted like an idiot, if you feel bad, if you spoke out of turn, if you’ve lost touch, if this silence has gone on too long. Whatever you’re feeling come out and say it. Now, tomorrow, on Valentine’s day, when you next see that person, when they get out of the shower, by text, by phone, by carrier pigeon, standing in the rain on their front doorstep, return ticket in your back pocket, just in case, battered box of chocs in your hopeful, hopeless, beta-male hand, just in case. Whether it’s the fuckbuddy you’re feeling more for these days, your grandmother because you never go and visit her, your best friend, your girlfriend, your mother.
Because, quite simply, what are emotions for (and this is where I start sounding like Doctor Who, but this is the amazing thought I’m trying to explain in this entry) if not to remind us that man is not an island? They are there to be shared, however difficult or painful or embarassing (goodness knows this is something I have to learn to get better at myself), because they’re what make us human, what make us sociable animals, and they should be shared with the relevant people. No use angsting over coffee with your girlfriends between lectures, no good whining at your mother because you’re worried about your housemate, no good recording your moods over LJ or Twitter or on someone else’s blog – do something with them, not because you want things to change, not because you want an answer – say it with no expectations, not Marry Me, or Accept Me, or Be My Babydaddy (though seriously, consider that last one, is it really a good idea?), just, look, this is how I feel, I care, perhaps that’s enough. Because what is the worst that could possibly happen? And how is it worse than if you say or do nothing? Honesty, I still believe, makes the world a far simpler place.
And yes, you can even tell me you love me (seriously, I must have got myself a crazy internet stalker by now? Looking at the blogs and comics I read, a stalker is a sort of must-have You’ve Made It accessory and I’m starting to be almost disappointed…) although, just to warn you, no – I won’t send you my underwear, or pictures of me in bunny ears or whatever, and I probably will laugh a lot. Here’s hoping. And Valentine’s for me this year has to be an improvement on last year, which involved copious amounts of whisky, tears, and one very irritated bouncer – this year I will be in church, and if I’m organised about it, I will be hosting some kind of party, too, with lots of cake and things, to raise money for something which I may or may not tell you about later, depending on how interesting I decide you’ll find it. But probably not (on the party score), because I’m not that organised.