When I was 19, I had a variety of odd jobs while I figuring out my skills. One of them was working in a florist for a while. Mainly big events over a 3 day period, such as Valentine's and Mother's Day.
Obviously, I'm not really into retail any more, or floristry as a passion for that matter, though I do love to shop and adore flowers of all kinds. Given the opportunity and the expendable income, I would probably cover my home in flowers on a weekly basis; gerberas and daisies, orchids and sunflowers, and lots of the classics - roses and chrysanthemums.
The best Valentine's I've ever had, to this day, was the year I worked in that florist. As someone in a committed relationship, that may be hard to believe on principle, but I'll get to that.
Surrounded by thousands of roses, coloured paper and ribbons of every shade you can think of, it was magical. I worked like a dervish, whirling from one task to the next; cutting, bundling, wrapping and ribboning hundreds of bunches, buckets and pots of flowers, ending every day smelling like a wild garden and waking up the same way, no matter how long I soaked in the tub. It was wonderful.
By nature, I'm a pretty practical person. I don't always know the right answer or make the right decision, but I like to think I base my decisions on a considered approach. Which makes me sound awfully dull, but my idea of spontaneity is very much around calculated risk. As I've gotten older, my calculations have gotten better, and the risks therefore lower. It's not that I don't do exciting, I just like to know what I'm getting myself into first.
On that note, I'm not great with surprises. Chocolates, little presents, flowers - sure. Random holidays, new people in my home, massive purchases like cars or houses - no. Absolutely not. No, I'm not keen on a sudden trip to a remote island to get drunk for a week. Weekend away in the Hunter? Maybe. Afternoon high tea in the city? Absolutely.
See where I'm going with this? If you can, bear with me a little longer and I'll get to the point...
Not too deep down, surprisingly perhaps, I'm a romantic. I want the fairytale. I want to be the princess in a beautiful dress who goes on amazing adventures. I want magical creatures, daring feats, and wonderful feasts by firelight. It would nice if there was a princess or prince to share the adventures with me, but that's never really been a big deal. It's always been about the lure of faraway places, lush gardens, and glorious lights to follow into the forest.
You know what Valentine's Day has become? A cardboard cut-out of the above. A staged affair with a very bad cast, sub-standard props and an overly expensive location that never feels comfortable. And you get to pay a fortune for the privilege of interacting with this charade, which may or may not end well, depending on your expectations.
Now before you give up on this post in disgust, thinking I'm a dreadful grinch, let me clarify; the key here is your expectations.
Valentine's is fraught with the highest of expectations that no amount of romance, short of the actual fairytale proposal, can ever live up to. And by the way, the first time I was proposed to was on a Valentine's day and no, it wasn't that great, even with the picnic by the water. He didn't have a ring, which considering how he turned out, was the least of my disappointments.
Romance has never been a difficult thing for me, either alone or with someone. I find sunlight on a cold morning romantic. Flowers in the rain, music at midnight, cuddles when I'm sleepy. All these things warm my heart and make me feel all fuzzy.
But I can't feel romance on command. And expecting myself to just makes me feel sad, disappointed and generally makes my partner feel less than average too.
Overly sickening greeting cards, ludicrously priced food, and expensive gifts do not a romantic interlude make. Don't get me wrong, I have bought something rather elegant for my beloved this year, but it's a gift I have been thinking on for a while, and an occasion to remind me hadn't arisen until now.
Expectation kills romance faster than a cold shower. The cab is late, my hair is a mess, the food was rubbish, the service worse. This suit cost more than dinner, and I'm still not getting laid. Her/his friends are here and I haven't got anything to say. His/her teeth are crooked and how did I not notice that before? Is this as good as it's going to get and is she/he really not going to get a dessert??
And on and on AND ON it goes. It used to be me who felt the pressure. But I gave it up around the age of 26. Feeding my anxieties instead of my ego started to wear on me, so I just let it go.
I went on an anti-Valentine's fun campaign - singles events, social dinners, walks, you name it. And you know, my expectations got lower. If I had fun, it was fun. It was that simple. The process took quite a while to work into my consciousness, but once the decision was made, it was done.
Understand, I still feel a little weird now whenever the day rolls around, but that's not me, that's the social expectation. There again - expectations.
Today, I still have expectations, I'm still the romantic. I'm still the princess looking for adventure. But I know that romance and adventure aren't all the things you see in magazines or on tv. Expecting one particular day to be the most wondrous experience ever is only going to end in disappointment.
Sometimes it does happen on the day. Sometimes, the stars align and the moment is right, and everything just shimmers with glitter and gold. That happens when you don't expect it. Trust me. And that day is almost always NOT Valentine's Day.
Real romance died a long time ago, and in a day and age where a text message is considered the height of communication, we ain't ever getting it back. So it's time to take a modern approach and start going back to basics with a twist.
Skype, for example, is exempt for that exact reason. If your love is far away on a day where the city around you is covered in flowers and bows, you can't help but feel sad and lonely. And in the age where technology has created a way for us to be close to our loved ones even at great physical distance, I can't help but be grateful.
Sadly, the line between convenience and laziness has blurred; technology, consumerism and our inability to take five damn minutes out to relax has made us complacent when it comes to romance. Buying a bunch of flowers or an expensive watch on one random day does not make up for phoning-it-in for the rest of the relationship.
If you one of the lucky ones like me, then this doesn't happen to you much. I get a call or a message every day asking how I am and what's happening in my day. Treats are brought to me on a regular basis, and I like to take my sweetheart to breakfast or lunch at least once a week. We hold hands and I get told how amazing I am. When I'm tired, my feet get rubbed, many cups of tea are made, and cuddles are plentiful.
Gagging yet? Feel free. But this is our idea of romance. We constantly like to express our awe at each other and have no reservations about telling each other how proud we are.
Don't worry, it's not all rose-tinted glasses. We get annoyed at each other and have disagreements like every one else. But here's the thing, the thing that makes us seem like the ultimate über smug couple; we really, really, REALLY enjoy the romance when it happens. Our romance. The story of how we got together (again*) is beyond unbelievably sweet, and still makes us both smile. We take time out to just be happy about getting to spend time together at our favourite places. We do all the little things that the other enjoys, purely because we know they enjoy it.
Romance is work people. It doesn't come wrapped in a box or stolen in a magic spell, and if it did I'd stop doing it. Real things are worked for, and for everything given something should be taken in return. That's why it hurts so much when you give your heart away - the universe is only adjusting the balance for what you're going to get back.
All the flowers in the world couldn't make me feel romantic. It's always who gives them to me and they way they do it. Even if I get them for myself to make my day brighter. A box of chocolates is just so much sugar, unless it's left by your bed or given when you're not feeling the best. Are we understanding my point yet?
Don't be down on Valentine's Day. Don't suddenly go all guerilla on your partner and accuse them of only being romantic when there's the expectation. Do start thinking about what romance is for you and do that.
If you prefer your romance to be shared, start making the effort yourself, take it upon yourself to get the ball rolling between you. I learned that lesson the hard way; your lover does not have ESP, and the more passive-aggressive pressure you put on them to be romantic, the worse it gets. For you.
On the other hand, if, like me, you're not fussed where the romance comes from - be it movies, flowers, walks in the rain, a good book or a favourite song - for goodness' sake, do the same! Make the effort to connect romantically anyway; just because you aren't fussed, doesn't mean your lover isn't.
And just in case you thought I'd forgotten about all those unattached peoples, the same absolutely applies to you too. Romance is not reserved purely for the loved-up. Don't buy into all Valentine's Day bullshit and start to think yourself into a puddle. Romance is about the warmth in your heart and the feeling of beauty for your soul. A quiet, warm bath and a bottle of bubbly are just as good alone as shared. Hell, I tend to do this alone as I don't like to share!
Hopefully, you get my meaning here. I don't hate Valentine's day. I'm just entirely uninspired by the modern version.
Ladies and gentlemen, let's bring old-fashioned romance back. And no one gender should be solely responsible for that. Let's be modern and proactive and think like we mean business. And that business is beauty and love and good vibes.
This Valentine's Day be romantic, but not because you have to or because you are expected to - do it because you want to. Then keep doing it.
Good Life: OneRepublic
When you're happy like a fool, Let it take you over, When everything is out, You gotta take it in...
*My partner and I were each other's first sweetheart in high school. We dated for about five minutes, then he broke my heart. We saw each other again in our early 20's, then I broke his heart.
Then, years later, when I'd not been anywhere we'd ever been or seen anyone we'd ever seen, I had a dream about him. The next day I looked him up, we went for coffee, and here we are.
It didn't start out as a great romance, in fact it didn't start out romantic at all. We made it that way. Because, in the end, that's how happily ever afters are made.