Valentine’s Day 2014. My date and I walked into a restaurant in downtown Santa Monica, California, without a reservation, yet somehow still bagged a table for two.
That was my first clue that maybe, just maybe, the cultural significance of Valentine’s Day had been overplayed. Aren’t all restaurants and other generically romantic venues meant to be booked up months in advance of 14 February?
Anyway, the meal was unremarkable, and our conversation had the stilted quality of a sub-par first date, even though this man and I had been going out for six weeks.
After dinner, we strolled along to Santa Monica Pier, by all accounts a solid — if clichéd — choice for a date spot. At the fairground overlooking the ocean, he made a show of winning me a very small cuddly toy, while I spoke in the baby voice I use when I’m desperately trying to make a situation less uncomfortable.
Finally, we upped the romantic ante by climbing up a lifeguard tower and watching the waves crash under the moonlight, in a perfect portrayal of a happy couple out for Valentine’s Day.
It was there, lying in my not-boyfriend’s arms in one of my favourite places on the planet, that I felt the aggressive onslaught of what Love Island’s Leanne so aptly calls ‘the ick.’ I wanted to be anywhere else, with anyone else.
He was a decent guy, probably, but we were so wrong for each other it’s almost hilarious now, looking back from this very safe distance. That night, though, I wasn’t amused. I spent that time in the most romantic of settings agonising over when and how to break it to him that we just were not going to work.
In my 25 years of life, this was my only Valentine’s Day spent with a significant other, and it was by far the worst one.
I know you’re supposed to feel bitter and agonisingly lonely when you’re single on Saint Valentine’s, but I’ve always thought it was quite lovely, despite my apparent inability to hold down a relationship.
Let’s see: a day carved out in celebration of love? Lovely. A day of being actively encouraged to consume a large pile of heart-shaped chocolate? Lovely. A day shrouded in pink? Very, very lovely.
All my Valentine’s Days, bar 2014, have been wonderful. There was the one where I gathered with some friends around the telly, passing around a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Glorious.
There was the one where I went to a spin class with the theme ‘Britney vs. Justin’. Brilliant.
There was last year, when I flew out to Copenhagen to visit a close friend, armed with most of M&S’s V-Day range. Heart-warming.
If there is one common thread to all these very nice Valentine’s days, it is that I was utterly single on all of them.
Either freshly ghosted, still healing from a broken heart or so desperately alone that I was close to forgetting what a man looks like, but always distinctly single.
I’m sure it’s beautiful to be in love on Valentine’s Day — or at the very least a little bit reassuring. As in, happy couples probably don’t spend the day asking themselves whether they’d rather die alone with a dog, or die alone with a cat. (Dog. The answer is dog.)
But, as I learned from that one short break from a long life of singledom, spending this day of loveliness with the wrong partner is simply not the way to go.
Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love, whatever that looks like for you.
So until I meet someone worthy of Santa Monica beach at night, you can find me on 14 February celebrating my true loves: my best friends, milk chocolate, full-fat dairy, early noughties celebrity gossip and getting yelled into submission by overzealous cycling instructors.
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