I am six years old and I have pieced together some very traditional, conservative, heteronormative concepts. Valentine’s = red hearts = love = marriage. I have, at some point, probably a Christmas party, been given a card making kit. No one is a big fan of messy play in my house, least of all me, but I decide that celebrating Valentine’s Day would be a grown-up thing to do – and, of course, being a grown up is my number one priority.
I announce I am making a Valentine’s card for a boy in my class at school. His name is Owen. “Ooh, Owen! Why do you want to make a card for Owen?” “We have the same surname so if we get married I won’t have to change my name.” Mum laughs. I am adamant about this. It seems very important. Glitter gets everywhere, no one is happy about that, and in the end I never give the card to Owen. Everyone would have laughed anyway, so it was probably for the best.
Having a Valentine as a child is a sweet idealisation, even if my choice of Valentine was based on such practical decision-making and baby feminist ideology. On the other hand, teenage Valentines seem to focus on material goods and possessions.
My first teenage Valentine was exceptionally tall and liked indie music. So did I. We became acquainted through MySpace messages and MSN. Age thirteen, on the 14th February, said teenage Valentine’s father appeared on our doorstep with ten red roses. “Uhh, these are for Elyse…” He gruffly handed them to my bemused mum, as self-conscious as if it was him giving the gift. Mum graciously accepted them on my behalf and thus I received flowers for the first time. I was a combination of embarrassed and secretly delighted. Getting a bunch of roses, that’s another grown-up thing to do. Ticked that box. I need never get flowers again, because when people talk about it when I Am Older I will be able to say “that happened to me once too!” (I planned to leave out the dad-on-the-doorstep part.)
As it happened, I did receive flowers again. Teenage Valentine #2 sent me flowers on more than one occasion, including Valentine’s Day. We had a couple of Valentine’s days in our time. Each time, a bigger bouquet, added chocolates, added jewellery. The bigger the gift the more significant the love, right?
No matter how much I – we – pretended to be grown-ups as children or teenagers, it was easier to express emotions this way, with gestures and gifts and glittery cards. They served a purpose and allowed us to play at being committed without ever really having to commit to anything.
Unlike many twenty one year olds, particularly ones not known for being especially affectionate, I surprisingly don’t baulk at the notion of celebrating the 14th February with a loved one. Experiencing non-ideological, non-material actual love will do that to you.
However, for the past two years I have been a single girl on Valentine’s Day, and I have spent it with a group of good friends – celebrating one of their birthdays as opposed to St Valentine. We have gone for dinner and been a borderline rowdy BYOB table of six among a sea of quiet couples. It feels nice. We are close: happy and honest, platonically in love and outwardly exclaiming “look! We’re ok with this!” to the couples.
Is it a show? That often discussed twenty-something trope of a “city family”, the people you surround yourself with to create a home-away-from-home: these guys are mine and I love them dearly, truly. For some of them, I know a table for two is the ultimate end goal. Maybe things would be different if I shared that viewpoint. However, for the moment, I am more than content – my friends are my Valentines, our relationships are real, and I still want to shower them with more glitter and Interflora and Milk Tray than my childlike self could ever have imagined.
And this way, I definitely get to keep my surname.
Elyse Jamieson is an English Language student at the University of Edinburgh. She’s also the Head of Programming at FreshAir radio – which you can listen to here. In other Elyse related info she is a self-confessed islander grrrl and she spends most of her time studying your accent and perfecting tweets. Also makes good toast.
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