Monday, February 13, 2012

PAPER HEARTS

I had never heard of Valentine's Day until I was eleven years old. Young enough to be charmed and old enough to be disenchanted, in one easy lesson.

When I was eleven our maths teacher was an Armenian woman whose teaching style involved barks and growls. She loathed all of us, except for smartypants Evelyn who was a maths genius. This teacher came into the classroom on Valentine's Day with an enormous red paper heart. Inside were lots of small paper hearts, each with a personal message which began: I love you because ... These were clearly ground out between metaphorically gritted teeth, and said things like I love you because you have blue eyes, or I love you because you have neat handwriting. Mine said, I love you because you have nice skin. Evelyn's said, I love you very much because you are really good at maths.

The idea is simple enough, and even admirable: show someone that you love him/her. But that isn't simple enough any more. Nowadays the message is, on one day of the year, show someone that you love him/her and buy him/her something expensive to prove it.

It's sad. Sad if you feel you have to do it, and sad if you expect a diamond and get a txtmsge.

If love needs proving, you aren't doing it right. If it takes something expensive to prove it, you are probably in trouble. Flowers, chocolates and a soppy card don't make up for barks and growls on the other 364 days of the year. And it's a scientific fact that a man bringing home flowers has been up to no good.

However let's not be cynical – February 14th is supposed to be a day when women turn soggy-eyed at the drop of a rose on a breakfast tray. But what about the rest of the year? Where's the romance? Where's the gallantry? Valentine's Day doesn't sit well with how things normally are these days. As Alan Ayckbourn, in Round and Round the Garden, wrote: "Woe betide the man who dares to pay a woman a compliment today ... Forget the flowers, the chocolates, the soft word – rather woo her with a self-defence manual in one hand and a family planning leaflet in the other."

Today's woman is more likely to say, open the damn door for me once in a while, and not only when I'm carrying a load of groceries.

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