Sublime or ridiculous? A Valentine’s day debate
To Conor Pope, the day is a ‘ridiculous concept’, while novelist Alison Jameson thinks it’s a ‘time to pause and think about love’. Who is right?
Valentine’s Day teddy bears at a shop in Mumbai. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
Father Bernard Murphy, curate at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street Church, blessing engaged couple Helen Young and Conor Kavanagh, from Rathfarnham and Harold’s Cross at the Shrine of S Valentine in the church. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Alison Jameson at Poolbeg Lighthouse. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times
CONOR POPE: I’m not going to beat about the overpriced rosebush, Alison. Valentine’s Day is a ridiculous concept, to be avoided unless you enjoy being shoehorned into whatever restaurant you can get a table in for the “romantic” candlelit dinner served off “the special menu” (the only special thing being the price). There you will sit, surrounded by other couples stealing sad looks at wilting flowers, trying desperately to feel loved-up. Because loved-up is how you have been told to feel by the ad men and women who have peddled their romantic lies for generations. Love is the most precious of emotions and it must be shielded from the corporate shills.
ALISON JAMESON: Valentine’s Day, in itself, is a brilliant concept. What people decide to do or for some reason feel obliged to do might be ridiculous, but that’s their problem and their choice. I’ve not seen any maitre d’s with sticks herding couples into restaurants, nor have I ever witnessed a florist threatening people with shears. The idea that people should show some love on a particular day is brilliant, because otherwise it is easy enough to forget. You’re right: love is the most precious of emotions, but expressing it isn’t always easy.
I was doing my shopping in Lidl last Saturdayrecently and spotted what someone else might call “an adorable couple”. They had those cute Sherpa hats with braided ties, – the kind that you get in Nepal and if they hadn’t been to Nepal already. I knew they would want to honeymoon there. They were at that point in their relationship where even a trip to Lidl was exciting and romantic. We seemed to be buying the same stuff, so I ended up behind them. In fact, I really ended up being sort of with them but because I belonged to “the rest of the world“ they didn’t notice. We got to the limes and he held one up, looked into her eyes and said, in a quiet voice, ‘Would you like a lime?’, and she thought about this for what seemed to me a year and said yes. We got to the aubergines and, – same deal. On and on they went, him picking up groceries and offering them to her and the two of them staring into each other’s eyes and swimming.
These kids don’t need Valentine’s Day. But a few years from now she might not be so impressed with the limes and the aubergines. If they stay together and have children, one will be texting the other telling them not to forget to remind the other about picking up the nappies again…and to bloody hurry up because the baby is screaming. The point is, for the rest of us, those of us who are happily attached but not up to romantic Lidl strolls, Valentine’s Day is a time to pause, think about love and, what the heck, run up to that someone you really like and show it. What could be wrong with that?
C P: That couple you stalked in the supermarket sound lovely. I want to go around to theirs for dinner. I’d say their vegetarian curry with a lime garnish is amazing, although, I’d get weary of their plans to free Tibet pretty quickly. If they stay together they’ll have tough times for sure. After the Nepalese honeymoon, there may be mortgages to pay and jobs they hate and kids they love. But don’t kid yourself: Valentine’s Day won’t help. It will make things worse because, like New Year’s Eve, it almost always disappoints. It has to. Expectations are too high, pressure is too great and the restaurants and bars are too awful.
Romance is brilliant ...... And romance is what will turn the Lidl couple’s burning passion into an eternal flame – that, and a keen eye for bargains. But it’ s only brilliant when spontaneous, not when done to order. And Valentine’s Day romance is done to order. And who’s doing the ordering? Hallmark. Of course we are not driven into restaurants and flower shops with cattle prods, but we are bombarded with messages telling us that if we don’t celebrate on February 14th, we are worse than Stalin.
A J: Let’s try to get out of this fog that is “spontaneous romance”. I knew a spontaneous young man once. One Saturday afternoon he called to my house out of the blue with flowers because he thought it would be romantic. I didn’t know him well and it wasn’t a bit romantic. What he found was someone dressed in weird-looking trousers and, because I had no time to put in my contact lenses, wearing very thick glasses. When I answered the door, I nearly had a heart attack, and so did he.
Don’t you think most things in life require some planning? What’s the point in whisking someone off for a romantic meal if you don’t bother to book the restaurant? Valentine’s Day is about people showing a bit of love for each other. Or at the very least having a laugh.
Why should our expectations around it be so high? Who told anyone to have these high expectations? I know you’re going to say, “Hallmark” or the restaurateurs offering heart-shaped balloons or the radio ads, but we’re all grown-ups. We’re not being pressurised by anyone. And sure why would you be going out on Valentine’s night for, anyway? Surely tThe whole point is to have some quality time together.
C P: So we can’t agree on the nature of romance, but surely we can agree on the cost. If you follow the traditional love parade, you won’t have any change out of €300 by the time midnight on February 14th comes around. A dozen red roses will cost more than €100, a card will set you back €5 and a bottle of champagne another €40. Then there’s that “romantic” dinner and the cab. And maybe a present? Is it money well spent? Celebrate love two days later and it will save you more than €100.
A J: I think the people who are most vulnerable to overspending are couples who have just met. For some it’s like the Junior Cert of romance. There’s the worry that if flowers aren’t sent or if the wrong restaurant is picked, she or he will be mad as hell. So they over-compensate and spend a fortune – because they’re afraid not to. I really hope there are lots of sensible (and romantic) people out there who will celebrate Valentines’s Day without spending a packet. I’ve never been out on Valentine’s night and I intend to keep it that way. I’m a huge fan of small romantic gestures, though – like making pancakes for breakfast or a home-made card, or cooking a nice candlelit dinner at home.
C P: What about the single people? Should they be so excluded? Or bombarded with messages that make them feel alone for weeks ahead of the big day, and then made feel like unfanciable lepers, unwelcome in bars on restaurants because it’s Valentine’s Day? And there’s the teenagers, waiting by the letterbox for cards that never come. It’s so desperately sad!
A J: It’s not a bit sad. I thought teenagers were done with all that old “paper“ stuff. I’m not sure they would know where the letterbox is. And as for the single people who are made to feel like “unfanciable lepers”, maybe they should read some of those Susan Jeffers books where she explains that we are all responsible for how we feel and no one makes us feel anything. Personally I think that’s a load of rubbish – there are plenty of people out there who can make you feel things. But seriously – single people with any sense don’t go out on Valentine’s night.
What is sad is that I am about to watch ‘ Eat, Pray, Love ’ on Netflix. But maybe that sums up how you feel about Valentine’s Day: eat like a pig because someone else is paying. Pray his credit card isn’t already maxed-out. Love... the fact that it only happens once a year. Personally I prefer; to: eat some nicely marinated, but inexpensive pork chops; pray that he hasn’t bought you a cactus pot from Lidl; and- just love. Just that.