Legend has it that during the ancient pagan Lupercalia fertility festival, upon which some argue Valentine’s Day is based, girls were playfully slapped with strips of bloody goathide (an activity I hereby dub ‘goathiding’) before being awarded to young men as prizes in a lottery. Fortunately, somewhere in the Middle Ages, ‘romantic love’ entered the equation and contemporary celebratory activities are pretty tame by comparison. Today it’s all about showing the one we love how much we care (even if we’re woefully inattentive the rest of the year)… and of course for reminding people who aren’t in relationships that they’re alone and that their lives are really a bit empty and shit.
I can say with some degree of certainty, that come Monday, my letterbox will not be overflowing with cards, but rather stuffed with flyers from people offering to clean up my garden, deliver me pizza or help me with my tax return. Oh, and I guess there might also be an exciting utility bill. Similarly, whilst I might get a couple of nice, blissfully normal and non-romantic messages from friends, the only correspondence I can absolutely guarantee receiving by email will be as follows: 1) my helpful daily South Beach Diet update (so at least I can concentrate on bemoaning my being overweight instead of being single) 2) a selection of depressing rejection messages from online recruitment sites (so at least I can concentrate on bemoaning my being unemployed instead of being single) and 3) the usual smattering of spam (so at least I can concentrate on bemoaning my being targeted by Nigerian scam artists and purveyors of dodgy discount Viagra instead of being single).
If you can’t already tell, I am a long-standing loather of Valentine’s Day- especially given that come February 14th each year I am inevitably single, whilst everyone around me appears to work themselves up into a frenzy planning elaborate dates, buying lavish presents and contributing to the tons of paper wasted on cards filled with heartfelt words written by other people. Indeed, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates one billion such greetings are sent each year worldwide, a wonderfully vague statistic which reminds me of witnessing a bloke buying five copies of a card which proclaimed “baby, you’re the only one for me!” Needless to say, some do go to the effort of composing their own message- A friend of mine in a long distance relationship (“LDR”) once received a card which read “darling Karen, I think of you always and ache to be with you- counting the days and thinking of your smile”. So sweet… Shame her name is Becky.
But mistaken monikers aside, what do people in LDRs do if they’re destined to be apart for Valentine’s Day? One website recommends getting “the exact same bottle” of a “wine you both enjoy” and then “share notes about how lovely the wine was”. In other words, sit at home and drink alone. No thanks. I suppose if you do find yourself in an LDR, whilst you can’t physically be together, remember your beloved’s voice is only a phonecall away. However, do check the time difference- a specially written 36 verse Valentine’s poem may not be well received if you call unexpectedly at 3am. For the more adventurous there’s phone/Skype sex… providing the mood isn’t ruined by the ten second international call time delay or the fact that your partner’s crappy webcam makes them resemble a moldy chicken dumpling. Mmm… sexy…
When living in Cambodia, if you did wish to send a card, you would need to plan your visit to the Post Office around their 5 hour lunch break and politely pay a “facilitation fee” to ensure your envelope travelled beyond the bin. For inward bound greetings it was essential to provide a reliable address to send to, especially if you lived at number 46E1A, sandwiched between numbers 17 and 211X. Alternatively, I suppose you can always save effort, money and trees by sending an ecard. With www.someecards.com providing timeless sentiments like “I love you like a cannibal loves human flesh” and “let’s break out the special lube tonight”, you can at least be a funny lazy cheapskate. How about gifts? Send pricey jewellery or cologne to
and you’re bound to make someone’s day… although that someone is probably a customs official or his wife. Your partner will be even more thrilled if the gift actually does arrive… albeit just in time for May’s plowing ceremony. Cambodia
As with Christmas, New Years Eve (probably the one day of enforced-emotion I detest more than Valentine’s Day) or, in Australia anyway, Melbourne Cup Day, the 14th of February brings with it an unbearable level of expectation and pressure to have a wonderful time: thanks to that little bugger cupid men and women alike are compelled to waste small fortunes on expensive dinners, romantic excursions and snazzy hotels in an attempt to impress and delight their partners (and of course credit card companies).
I maintain, the most meaningful, treasured presents are those with the personal touch- like a CD of your partner’s favourite tunes, tracks that remind you of times spent together or songs otherwise relevant to your relationship. Bear in mind if you receive a mix featuring “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Cheating on You” or “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, maybe things aren’t going as well as you thought. “If music be the food of love” said Shakespeare, “play on”… But if, like me, you once again find yourself without a significant other to choose ballads for, then why not while away some time making a mixtape for yourself? Depending on your outlook, music can also be the food of singledom-celebration (Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”), of hatred (nothing like having a good old vent about an ex to Cee-Lo’s F You… the unedited version, obviously), or of simply wallowing in a decent self-pitying cry (might I recommend Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” or the acoustic version of “Heartbeat” by Robyn?).
Anyway, who says you have to do anything for Valentine’s Day? After all, thanks to rampant commercialization the real beneficiaries are the card companies, lingerie shops and overpriced restaurants! Why not forgo the synthetic sentiments and ignore the whole damn thing? Or, dare I say it, just make more effort the other 364 days of the year?! But enough of my embittered cynicism. I do sincerely hope all the great couples I know have an amazing day… or at least one that doesn’t end in a wine-sozzled argument… and that all my beautiful, amazing single friends can take the whole wretched event with the generous pinch of salt it deserves.
If anyone feels like having a good old moan, I will be available by email, Skype or phone… and if you’re dreading being at a loose end come Monday, sod the hearts and roses- I suggest all us super singletons get together for a good old fashioned playful goathiding.
A shorter version of this originally appeared as a 'Sexcetera' article in the Phnom Penh Post's 7Days supplement, 12/02/10