Derek Dubery is a model and actor living in Northern Ireland. He is 52 years old and lives with his two dogs, a cat and far too many clothes. He enjoys dressing inappropriately for the situation.
It was suggested that I compose a piece about Valentine’s Day – from the point of view of, and I quote, “a grumpy old man”. Putting aside for a moment that I’m 52 and not 82, I actually have rather complex feelings when it comes to Valentine’s Day (in the spirit of romance we can’t really abbreviate that to VD, can we?). These feelings aren’t really summarised by the grumpy adjective. Of course, Valentine’s has become far more of a commercial big deal, sandwiched briefly between Christmas and Easter in the year-round selling frenzy. What was once a simple card and a flower or two has become a trip to Paris, a helicopter ride around the Eiffel Tower and a self-penned love song performed by a professional choir during a firework display. However, I don’t intend to ramble on about that…
No, for me Valentine’s Day is the most bitter-sweet of days. Maybe it’s just me, but every 14th of February I’m taken on a mental whistle-stop tour of my love life. The loves lost and those that never were. In particular my mind goes back to my childhood and teen years. Let’s be clear, I was not an attractive child or youth. I was a geek before they had invented the word and unless a young girl was likely to be impressed by an encyclopedic knowledge of 1960s and 70s Doctor Who, I was going to struggle at love. That was then followed by a time of spots and crippling shyness. Every year I hoped for at least one Valentine’s card but never did receive one. It didn’t stop me sending them myself (although not to myself as far as I recall). Craftily slipping a card into the object of my affection’s desk or school bag. They were anonymous of course, as Valentine’s are supposed to be but rarely are. Valentine’s was I suppose, the yearly opportunity to try to attract the attention of someone you liked. I imagine mobile phones and the internet have changed all that now, but back in the 70s this day was your big chance! You had to be careful that your card wasn’t so anonymous that they couldn’t guess it was from you, but equally anonymous enough to deny everything if the school bullies cottoned on and you needed plausible deniability.
A lovely blonde called Julia was my crush throughout primary school. She was clever, great at drawing and a very fast runner (all key attributes at primary school age). She also had a very cute slightly upturned nose and was, to my eye at least, a sort of mini Joanna Lumley. Of course, she had no time for me. I dare say at the age of 11 I was exhibiting the sort of behaviour that would award a restraining order today.
I was spared further humiliation to some extent by being sent to a boys only school from the age of 13 to 18, which at least made my lack of cards less obvious. Things really didn’t improve a great deal until I was seventeen or so when I got my first official girlfriend and consequently a card. The point I’m seeking to make, is that for many people Valentine’s Day is a day of brutal rejection and loss. Unrequited love is a powerful thing and, if you think about it, in a society with so many lonely people, making such a big deal of a day dedicated to romance is a little cruel. Other post-school memories crop up too of course: the failed relationships and marriages; the hurt given and received; the time to wonder where those people are now and whether they are happy.
For those of us lucky enough to have a partner, what is Valentine’s Day all about? Do we give a card and a gift because it’s expected and our life wouldn’t be worth living if we didn’t? Do we really need a special day to show them that we care about them and love them? Probably not. However, how about using the day to remember how lucky you are to love and be loved, while at the same time making a new memory to help submerge previous hurt and rejection? It doesn’t take a huge present and a card the size of a fridge-freezer… all it takes is a shared appreciation of your good fortune to be getting a blooming card at all, while millions of others don’t.
Derek James Dubery