Yesterday I had the rather sobering experience of chaffeuring GothicDaughter on her first Valentine’s date, complete with red-ribboned fluffy bear (named, I kid you not, ‘Fluffy’), an anxiety-inducing cinema trip and national-emergency levels of awkwardness.
I am not sure who was more nail-bitingly nervous about this whole occasion– me or the SparklyDaughter; she is always prone to worrying about many things, particularly awkward social situations and my shortcomings as a parent.
‘Shouldn’t you give her some ADVICE mummy? You know, about love and kissing and everything?’ she wrangled in a stage-whisper.
Well reader I confess I didn’t manage it, too overwhelmed as I was with the weight of the occasion.
Maybe today’s a better day to talk about what advice I should give, if only I was some sort of semi-functional parent, about how to handle the perils of Valentine’s Day and whatever love means.
But it’s hard not to talk about Valentine’s Day without sounding a. smug or b. bitter. The smug-coupled were certainly out in force yesterday, with close-ups of over-decorated cup-cakes, Instagrammed-sunsets and dimly-lit jewellery. I saw so many snaps of bottles of champagne and supermarket flowers yesterday that my merged-social-media-platform (where I live these days) looked like a funeral sponsored by Guns and Roses.
The bitter-and-twisteds were not far behind; my favourite Twitter-bitter was ‘I hope I never have a relationship with someone who thinks I will be made happy with a bracelet charm! #fake #fools #vomit’
I see her #point; I speak as a over-sharer myself – there is a undeniable undertone of showy-offness to the bouquet-heaving status updates.
Not that I mind you understand – if you can’t show off to your friends, then what frankly is the point of Facebook?
Social media has undeniably changed the face of Valentine’s Day. When I was a kid, it was about secret admirers, anonymous notes and disguised handwriting. WHO ON EARTH left that packet of Spangles in my desk?
In 2014 Valentine’s Day seems all rather intense and public; a kind of unison bar, when we all celebrate LOVE at the same time, and make sure we are all singing the same tune. And there seems to be a bit of a consensus about what this might look and sound like – flowers, chocolates, home made food or fancy restaurant meal (preferably Instagrammed to high heaven).
But I don’t think there is a consensus about what love means.
Of course we continue to prioritise the finding of The One and Only, the Soul Mate, Who Will Make Us Complete.
(This is all rather complicated by the fact that we can’t seem to meet anyone in The Real Life anymore, perhaps because we don’t really go out, perhaps because we don’t have any money or because we have forgotten how to talk to people unless we have our fingers hovering over a keyboard or perhaps because it hadn’t stopped raining since 2011. Whatever the reason, the stats tell us that more and more of us are ‘finding’ love online – 1 in 5 relationships now start on the internet and 5 million of us are registered to online dating sites according to recent surveys.)
But the problem with giving advice about love is this – whilst the experience of love is universally human, it is also incredibly specific to the person and their circumstances.
Of course I know what falling in love feels like, but only for me, and absolutely not for anyone else. If I asked you to name the song that summed up what you love feels like, you would name a different one from me; no two people in a thousand would name the same one love song. Ask someone what love is, or Google ‘what love means’ and see how many different answers you get.
Love defies any kind of generalisation or simplification. I have seen love drive people to acts of extreme selfishness and extraordinary unselfishness. I have seen people saved by love, and people destroyed by it. I have seen the same person ripped apart by the force of their passion, then fall into indifference surprisingly soon. In large part the way we feel and experience love depends on whether we are trying to recreate the model set by our parents, or frantically trying to avoid it.
Don’t tell me some of those aren’t ‘real’ love; who are we to judge what’s real and what is not?
I might say to GothicDaughter – keep your head, keep your dignity, don’t let love run away with you, or run away with love. But she will know that I never took my own advice and I wouldn’t change the path that love blew me along.
I guess what I might say is – don’t worry about finding ‘real’ love, whether you love someone or are IN LOVE with someone. You can waste your life away with love-semantics. It’s pointless.
If you stop trying to define ‘real’ love, you realise love is incredibly commonplace. I saw it three times on the way from Boots to the carpark today, a journey of about three minutes. Two friends tussling affectionately about who should pay for their car parking ticket; a toddler cuddle-wrestling his baby sister to try and comfort her; two young girls giggling over a selfie in M&S (weirdly, in the Per Una aisle – love really IS strange).
Love your lover like your friends, and your friends like your lover. Let love rule, and let love flow.
And next year, see if you can get some chocolates instead of a bloody teddy bear. If he REALLY loved you, he’d buy you some Green and Blacks.
And you can tell him that from me.