Valentine’s Day might be my least favourite “holiday” of the year. It’s when our other half feels pressured into buying uncomfortable lingerie you’ll never wear again; coming home with chocolates that get eaten by your kids before you’ve got to them; being presented with flowers that really aren’t your style and that get lost in the kitchen table detritus anyway.
That’s not even going into the sheer terror that strikes my heart when I’m faced with the question of what to buy him. Although maybe that doesn’t matter so much because it turns out that men spend way more on Valentine’s Day than women do and are therefore prime targets for Valentine’s marketing campaigns too: in the UK in 2021, men spent an average of £100 on a Valentine’s Day gift to women’s £65.
The thing is, I love the idea behind modern Valentine’s Day. Show your loved ones that you care, reach out with thoughtful gifts and signs of affection, remind yourselves why you’re with each other in the first place.
Of course, it’s nice to do these things at any time of year, but we’re all busy and we all forget – especially as a grown-up, with a job, mortgage (or rent), kids and a household to worry about. Relationship maintenance does tend to fall to the bottom of the pile.
Yes. I appreciate the reminder as we recover from darkest January and focus outwards again. It’s the pressure to perform and the stereotypes of acceptable gifts that I find unnecessary. In tandem with higher male spending around 14 February, I often feel like the gifts women are meant to be given are quite reductive – turning us into objects to be won over. Quite often they’re performative rather than actually thoughtful.
Apart from fixing all the things that make me mega rage-y – like the pay gap (100 years to wait for equality!), the lack of normalised flexible working even now, societal pressure on female body image, and the fact that the law doesn’t even require seatbelts to be tested on female-modelled crash test dummies – I can think of quite a few things that would help re-ignite the midlife spark in my house.
Here are my new Valentine’s suggestions:
Ditch the serenading (I’m far too Britishly awkward to be serenaded anyway) – I’d rather be listened to. Forget the flowers (roses are expensive, don’t you know there’s a cost of living crisis on?) – I’d settle for my partner donning Marigolds and taking over the kitchen sink. Or, if you must get me a plant, buy me a succulent – they’re really hard to kill, and they last for ages!
A Valentine’s Day gift doesn’t have to be complicated. I’d love a simple bit of time by myself. But stay away from breakfast in bed (the crumbs!) just let me have a lie-in and take the kids out for the morning. If you want to throw in a massage, then be my guest, but I’ll be happy with the headspace created by not listening to my kids fighting.
Even simpler, you could buy me that book by my favourite author that I’ve been going on about. You could sit me in a room with that book, a cup of tea and a packet of Hobnobs and shut the door. Or call up one of my friends and organise for us to have coffee together rather than wrangling the kids’ Saturday swimming lessons.
If you really want to go down the comestible route, buy me something I actually crave – like those cinnamon buns from that trendy bakery I’m always seeing on Instagram. Or instead of going out for an overpriced dinner, I’d actually appreciate you cooking our favourite supper. Though do make sure you clear up after yourself, darling.
But the biggest, most heartfelt gesture of affection I can think of? Letting me watch Death in Paradise rather than the Six Nations rugby match next weekend. It’s giving me shivers of anticipation just thinking about it.