Lisa McInerney: I remember well the February 14th I realised Valentine’s Day was not for me. I was eighteen, lurching through drizzle to get to a lecture, when a friend stopped me and asked excitedly what I had gotten for my boyfriend.
“Nothing,” I said. “Am I supposed to?”
For I had thought Valentine’s Day was about single people, which I realise sounds perverse, but it makes sense when you think about it. When you’re a kid, you use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to send lovelorn, barely anonymous cards to stodgy idiots too stupid to play detective. When you’re a slightly bigger kid, it becomes an excuse to go on the lash wearing a suggestive grin and a Traffic Lights Disco sticker on your cheeky chest (amber, of course – no one ever wore a green sticker coz that was, like, desperate). When you get to the stage where you’ve sealed the deal with your desired one, Valentine’s Day becomes trashy, tragic… a day for drunken boors, and weeping chicklit weirdoes. Doesn’t it?
“You have to get him something!” mouthed my friend, so close to dumbstruck was she.
“Nah. Sure he’s not going to get me anything either,” says I.
Naturally, he arrived at my flat a couple of hours later with a self-penned, TERRIBLE poem and a teddy-bear clutching a satin heart. I had nothing to give him but a sheepish hug. I figured that as he was a boy, he’d only have been embarrassed by any cuddly-wuddly gifts I would have proffered, so that I’d get away with it. But he stood there, looking sad and unloved.
He broke up with me a week later. Just as well; it never would have worked. He was far too big a sap.
Still have the teddy, though.
Sinéad Gleeson: I have had numerous heart-in-mouth Valentine’s Days. Teen ones where you pretend not to care and then ambush the postman at the front door. One year, five pink and red envelopes fanned the hall floor and I wondered if a portion of them were pity missives, as I was on crutches. Another year, 12 red roses arrived anonymously. The mystery! The romance! The idiot! Who spends a small fortune on 12 red roses and doesn’t sign the card?
Then there were my own delivery efforts. The memory of rushing up someone’s driveway in the dead of night, Ninja-style to drop a card in the letterbox. Or elaborately disguising your handwriting so that a guy you’d never spoken to would – gasp! – not suspect it was you. When I was 15, I had a planet-sized crush on a guy in my school. He possessed creamy skin, cow brown eyes, an aquiline nose and floppy hair beloved of 1990s indie boys. He was incomparably gorgeous. About 50 other girls felt similarly, so I lingered in this imaginary, adoring queue and admired from a distance. I would see him approaching on the school corridor, hiding behind his fringe and my heart would totter from one side of my chest to the other. We liked the same bands, and one day his friend stopped me. I turned and standing beside him – and about three feet from me – there HE was. He – let’s call him John – nodded to my scratchy, canvas schoolbag and asked if I really did like The House of Love. The handwritten logo had taken hours of painstaking copying. I nearly keeled over. But not before noting his striking resemblance to the band’s guitarist Terry Bickers.
When Valentine’s Day came around, I decided I would send a card under cover of ruthless anonymity. Or so I thought. I bought a calligraphy pen and copied the text from a House of Love 12” – “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”. I procured his address and posted it off.
Apparently John got EIGHT cards that year, a nugget casually passed along by our mutual friend some weeks later.
Me: “Really? Wow. That’s a lot of cards”.
Friend: “Yes. But he got this one card that he that was so cool.”
Me: “Oh yeah?” (being as nonchalant as a loved-up 15-year-old in pre-OMG days can be).
Friend: “Yeah. One with the exact same font as a House of Love song. Any ideas who, er, would have sent that?”
Me: (panicked now) “Um. No. Er, great. Well, seeya. ”
He looked at me and smiled, as he had probably smiled at the other seven girls who had sent his friend a card. For the next two years, John and the Leaving Cert did equal battle for my headspace. We spoke occasionally and I never said a word about how I felt. Years later, on a casual night out, someone revealed that John had actually liked me back. I laughed, of course. Then I thought about it. And then I wished I was gymnastic enough to kick myself. But it was a good lesson. Life is too short. If you like someone, tell them. And bypass the calligraphy. It’s an almighty pain in the ass. And it’s so 1990s.
Catherine Crichton: As a skinny, speccy, swotty teenager, Valentine’s Day was a form of torture for me. Other girls, infinitely cooler and more popular than I, would swan into class brandishing their haul of cards for all to see. The ones who had actual boyfriends got gigantic garish padded cards and cuddly toys, others received mystery greetings from unknown admirers, covered in amusing and romantic verses. I could only gaze on in silent envy. My experience of boys was limited to the odd wordless slow dance at the school disco; I had never had a real conversation with one.
After several years of this, my luck changed and a card addressed to me hit the mat on the big day. It featured hearts and teddy bears, and had the requisite ‘roses are red’ verses scrawled all over it. It was perfect. I had no clue who it could be from, but of course that only added to the thrill.
I shyly showed it to my mother. “What’s this?” she cried, unable to hide her surprise. “Ah sure, that’s only some of your friends messing”.
My Valentine balloon was well and truly burst.
I haven’t always loved it – as a young teenager I longed for a secret admirer to send me a card, but it never happened. And one boyfriend sent his 9-year-old brother to buy my card (he was the type to tell you that, in case you got above yourself.) I think he was also the boyfriend who got me a Thin Lizzy LP, though I had zero interest in them at the time and no record player either…
Nowadays, I relish the day. Any excuse to be gooey and romantic, and crack open a bottle of Prosecco and a box of dark chocolates with my husband. The card is the big thing for me – I love cards for every occasion – and I usually end up getting two for my man: something arty and something cute.
I always send my sons anonymous Valentine’s cards. They know they are from me but I’ve been doing it so long now it would be a shame to stop. And seeing that my husband proposed beside the relics of Saint Valentine in Dublin, I feel morally obliged to have fun on his special day. Roll on Monday!
June Caldwell: I was snared rapid at age 12 sending a card to myself because my friends recognised the obscure verse as being only possible by my neurotic hand (yes, I was headmashed even then): ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, a car is yellow and a gate is green.’ Signed by a ubiquitous ‘Edgar’. Boy did they laugh and boy did I cry. At least I knew from then on I’d make a lousy fraudster. In later years Valentines’ Day (VD day for short) came to symbolise something a bit more sinister: my first boyfriend very kindly gave me genital warts which were diagnosed on February 14th at an NHS clinic in Hounslow/London – though I waited till he went down that evening to break the news -and of course he didn’t take it well. Cheers Garry!
Many moons later a man I was in love with decided to get his demented, derailed girlfriend knocked up and took me out for a meal to announce his imminent and certain exit from my life. This on top of the fact that I’ve *never* received a poxy Valentine’s Card (not even from my mother, who would normally be prepared to adopt any hideous gesture to help make us ‘feel better’) means that I abhor, despise, dislike, hate, loathe the very idea that one day could be more superior a show of bravura and love towards a humped one that the other 364 days in the homosapien calendar… that we are somehow meant to sit in a shabby restaurant somewhere, sharing a plate of deep fried garlic mushrooms (times are tough and the gourmet food is gone) to celebrate a bucketload of saints & martyrs who were all called Valentine?
Preposterous, the entire thing. A National Day of Farting would be far more contempo and cutting edge. Who is St. Valentine anyway?
Hazel Larkin: It’s a Hallmark holiday. The one day of the year when a single red rose will cost you about five times the amount it would cost on any other day of the year. The one night when, if you haven’t booked a table for two, you’ll be lucky to be fed in your local chipper.
St. Valentine’s Day is an outrageous affront to love and lovers everywhere. Yet, millions of people across the world buy into it, and feel pressurised to make a display of how much they love their other halves. Surely, if you love someone, you should remember to tell them – and not need a day set aside to remind you? Surely, there is supposed to be a degree of spontaneity in love and its expression? Having a day set aside specifically dedicated to looking after the emotional well-being of the person you’re supposed to love seems almost as silly –and outrageously affronting – as having a ‘feed your children day’.
Of course, I might just be jealous. I’ve never received a V-day card in my entire life – never mind a red rose or the offer of a night out on the 14th. Neither one of my ex-husbands made the effort for my birthday or our anniversaries; so expecting them to do something romantic for V-day would have been expecting too much. Boyfriends before and since my husbands (and I include the father of one of my children in that mix) have displayed a similar attitude to this particular Hallmark Holiday. Maybe if I get a card this year, I’ll revise my attitude to Valentine’s Day – watch this space!
Jennie Ridyard: At my high school there was an annual V-Day fundraiser, when carnations could be purchased anonymously and delivered to the dreamboat who’d stolen your heart, the dreamboat who dragged it through the hallways, the dreamboat who never knew you existed.
I was 13, and breathlessly I sent a carnation to Jacques — tall, dark, athletic, the greenest eyes in the whole world, a full four years older than me and (possibly) four-foot taller. I’d first loved him at the age of eight when he asked me to dance at the primary school disco. Yes, now I realise it was a Big Boy joke and, yes, his friends sniggered as I boogied, yet as I did my rhythmic sidestep all I saw was him and I thought I’d explode with happiness, especially when he smiled so kindly at the end of the song, touching my shoulder as he said thank-you.
So on this first high school Valentine’s Day I glowed, waiting for break, waiting to see my carnation pinned to his glorious chest, and there it was. Well, I presume it was there, somewhere amongst the veritable bouquet on his blazer, the great field of flowers that he’d sweetly crafted into a big L: L for Lisa, Lisa his girlfriend.
Eventually the flower sellers arrived in my classroom, and I feigned nonchalance just like everyone else did, pretending not to notice as Jane got flowers, and Tai, and Cheryl and Sheryl, and then the sellers were gone, my lapel was empty, and I wanted to die.
I wasn’t alone though. The only truth I know about Valentine’s Day is that if you’re alone, if you’re unloved and undesired, you certainly have company.
But come each new Valentine’s Day it’s the hope that gets you every time…
Claire Hennessy: Valentine’s Day bothers me. It’s not a Being Single versus Being Coupled thing – in fact, I think it bothers me more when coupled. Gentlemen I have been entangled with have had to put up with my ‘let’s not do Valentine’s Day, okay?’ speech – and I’ve had to curb my eye-rolling at flowers (flowers! For flip’s sake!), teddy bears with hearts embedded in their tummies, chocolates, and other officially-sanctioned emblems of romance. All right, to be fair, chocolates are always welcome.
The thought of being someone who genuinely expects certain things (roses, chocolates, jewellery, fine wines, romantic getaways) on Valentine’s Day is repulsive – as is the idea of being someone who despairs, aloud, at how unromantic her ‘other half’ is. I hate the thought of having to be on your best behaviour because it’s a romantic holiday, one that’s commercial rather than personal. I hate the thought of expectations, implicit or explicit, that money needs to be spent in order to demonstrate one’s love. I hate the focus on romantic relationships at the exclusion of all else – the notion that there is one person in your life who fulfils all of your emotional needs.
I’m a cynic. But I do think cynicism and romance are two sides of the same coin, and the truth is, I love the idea of a day when people consciously check in and remind themselves why they are with someone, and why that particular someone instead of just Being Coupled for the sake of it. When they appreciate that person instead of getting caught up in the day-to-day rushing about. I just don’t think Valentine’s Day quite does the trick.
Eleanor Fitzsimons: Nowadays my Valentine cards tend to be handmade, not shop bought. Delightfully crayoned, heart-studded wonders sweated over in the classroom and triumphantly handed over to thirty teary mums at going home time. This year’s offering, addressed to “Dad & Mum” made me realise that I might have drifted slightly off-centre in my son’s universe. Could the two tickets that “Dad” scored for Ireland v France in the Aviva Stadium have something to do with that?
It’s quite some time since I received a card from a boy my own age. Recently number-one-son allowed us a glimpse of the future when he handed over his latest masterpiece to a girl in his class and hung around shyly to watch her giggle and whisper with her friends. My lovely husband is very generous with his affection but more likely to fill the dishwasher and put a wash on than buy a cheesy Hallmark token….and I’m all for that.
I was never one who overburdened the postman in mid-February but I do treasure the memory of the few cards I received. So, where did it all start? In Anglo-Saxon England it would appear. Once ‘twere customary for a young lad to hand over a token of his esteem, usually a pair of gloves (‘twas nippy back in those pre-central heating days), to his lady; But before we sigh a collective “Awww” be aware that gloves were a symbol of authority and benevolence, often given by landlords to their peasant tenants. Inhabitants of Norwich, the second largest city in England, after London, in the eleventh century, would leave a small package on the doorstep of the object of their desire on Valentine’s eve containing a terse “a Good-morrow to you Valentine”. They would then ring the bell and run away, no doubt to peep out from behind a nearby wall and gauge the reaction.
This innocent practice was bound to be commercialised eventually. In the seventeenth century a book of verse entitled A Valentine Writer put in an appearance and at this time Samuel Pepys records the practice of delivering “substantial” gifts (boys take note). The invention of the envelope helped with anonymity and the penny post removed the necessity for knocking on doors and running away. Victorian Valentine cards were complex and intricate concoctions of lace and ribbon (similar to the doily-adorned delight that Sinéad Gleeson received this year) containing messages hidden carefully from the keen eyes of a prying Victorian Daddy.
Before the pre-printed card a love struck lad or lass had to resort to one of the many books of suitable verse doing the rounds back in the day or, if really dedicated, invent something suitable themselves. Those whose intentions were less serious might turn to The New Quizzical Valentine Writer, which contained a “most excellent collection of all the humorous, droll, and merry valentines ever published.” As the century turned to the 1900s paper Valentines became so popular that factories were established to manufacture them and that’s where we are today. You can buy just about anything with a Valentine theme these days but I wouldn’t part with my half-share of a slightly scruffy handmade card, even if the accompanying chocolate heart was scoffed by its donor before we even got beyond the school gates.