It's Valentine's Day!

But What Do We Do If We're Not In Love?

So we've reached that time of year again, when the shops crowd their window displays with heart-shaped helium balloons, giant red cards and huge teddy bears. Yes, it's nearly Valentine's Day. What was once a time for old romantics, or people with unrequited loves, or teens smitten by the boy or girl next door is now a multi-million pound business. As well as becoming one of those events that marks the passage of the year, it's become almost a national holiday when everyone is expected to go out with their 'partner' (doesn't anyone say 'girlfriend' or 'boyfriend' any more?), shower them with gifts and buy them the biggest card in the shop.

Now this modern take on  Valentine's Day stuff is all well and good, if you happen to be in love. If you're not, you end up staying indoors because on 14th February at least you will be invisible to the rest of the world. So, you will have figured out by now that this year, not for the first time, I'm 'out of love' on Valentine's Day. Now, before you all sigh in sympathy, I have no problem with this. So I'm not in love? But neither do I have a broken heart. It's all good. But it bugs me that other people think I should be miserable because I am unattached, but there you go …

I'll admit, I was unsure how to tackle Valentine's Week here at Raggedy Ann Girl. After all, we tend to be about 'keeping it real' and Valentine's Day has a nasty habit of getting a bit out of hand. And not being currently caught up in a big romance, I wondered whether I would be able to quell my natural cynicism for anything even hovering close to cutesie. Can I? Well, I'll let you decide at the bottom of the page. I promise to do my best.

One of the things that really bothers me about Valentine's Day is that it becomes some sort of competition. Not of how many cards we might have received, but of just how many roses, how big a box of chocolates and how expensive a restaurant we are treated to. Of course, and at the risk of making a sweeping generalisation, I'm really talking about women here.  I can't imagine a bloke complaining that his missus didn't give him a card this year. He may mind, I don't know, but he'd almost certainly never admit to his mates that it bothered him one way or the other. Women, on the other hand, seem to revel in the competitiveness. If they're not showing off about how fabulously romantic their man is, they're complaining that he's the most uncaring swine on the planet just because he didn't see the need to present her with a fluffy bunny this year. And then, as what Bridget Jones would call a 'singleton', there's that awful moment in a room full of attached women, when they realise you're the only one present  without a fella and you suddenly find yourself swamped either with over-the-top, 'oh, never mind, one day you'll find "the one''' sympathy or 'you don't know how lucky you are' scoffing.

Personally, I've never believed that life 'with someone' is better than life otherwise. Life with the 'right someone' might be, but surely not just anyone? Believe me, I've seen more than one woman so hung up on being with a bloke come Valentine's Day that they make such almighty compromises that they're doomed to failure. It's like that mad crush at five minutes to midnight on New Year's Eve to find someone, anyone actually, to snog as Big Ben chimes. Only on a much larger scale. 

Of course, the whole idea of Valentine's Day was for secret admirers to send messages of love. Not that you can be all that secret if you're a teenage girl. Valentine's cards to schoolmates are never secret. Fact. They may start out that way, but they rarely finish it. Another fact. Not once you tell your best friend, which you're bound to do - she's your best friend. That's what she's there for. What she's not there for is to tell someone else, particularly not your crush's best mate (who she probably secretly fancies anyway). And most certainly not the target himself. But that is what she will, in all likelihood do anyway. Rarely will you end up going out with your chosen lad. No, you will end up embarrassed and humiliated. Because he will be embarrassed and humiliated. To deflect his embarrassment and humiliation he will laugh at you in front of his, and your, mates and so increase yours. Because, you see, lads who don't notice you, rarely change their mind just because you've sent them a Valentines' card. Trust me on this, I write from experience here, things only ever change in the movies.

Of course, there are the occasions when a romantic Valentine card does the trick. When two would-be lovers just need a little kick in the right direction. This is where Valentine's Day comes into its own. Or where it should do. In reality it's more likely to be about over-priced roses and fluffy toys. Okay, the cynical singleton might have emerged there for a moment, but you know I'm right.

Valentine's Day, of course, gets in the way of all sorts of every day activities. A few years ago, with my Dad away on business, my Mum and I decided to have dinner at a local restaurant. What we hadn't bargained on was that it was Valentine's Day. The 'free' roses for the ladies didn't bother us too much, but we were less than happy at being stuck in a dark corner at the back of the restaurant as if we were, by not being in a neat little romantic couple, ruining the 'look' of the place. And then there was all that billing and cooing going on around us. You just don't notice it when you're doing it yourself, but as platonic observers? Not so much fun. Imagine you're on the upper deck of a bus. Alone except for a canoodling couple on the front seat. You can hear the giggles and purrs. And you'd rather be anywhere else – even next to the tramp on the deck below.  Now imagine that in a restaurant of 30 two-seater tables and you might get the idea …

Just about every business has a scheme for Valentine's Day. Those more cynical amongst us would suggest that they are not so much high on love as they are keen to take advantage of a business opportunity. I can't blame them. A certain 'naughty lingerie' high street store often treats passers-by with its own take on 'romantic' Valentine's underwear. As one unknown wag commented: 'If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?'. And it's always struck me that sexy lingerie is at least as much a gift for the giver as it is for the receiver. Special it may be, but romantic? I think not.

The other year one of our local bus service providers had what it calls a 'special offer' for the big day. After 4pm anyone buying one of their saver tickets will get another free of charge, so that their honey can travel with them. It all sounds very nice, but the only people I know who are likely to head out for a romantic date on a bus at that time of day, are either old enough to travel for free anyway, or too busy with their homework.

Now you're probably thinking that an old (well, just a little bit old) skeptic like me knows very little about romance, so I'll leave the last word to my wonderful Dad. Through getting on for 46 years of marriage he has never once given my Mum a Valentine's card. No, he doesn't take her for granted. Their love is as strong as ever. But he prefers what I'd call the holistic approach. If you're with the love of your life, do you really need a special day? As Dad says:'With your Mum, every day is Valentine's Day'.

All together now: 'Ah!'