Valentine’s Day – A Hallmark House of Horrors

A version of this piece appeared in

Okay, it’s confession time.

I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, I don’t like Downton Abbey, and despite living in New York, I don’t like pizza.

And here’s the killer blow…I’ve never had a date on Valentine’s Day. No, not one. Ever. I almost had one when I was 16, when my 21-year-old boyfriend bought me a huge satin card, but the evening came to nothing because I finished with him when he seemed about to propose.

My disastrous love life in the subsequent 47 years might well have been my punishment for that fateful non-romantic day. Surely Cupid couldn’t be that cruel? If he is, it means he’s been operating not with a bow and arrow but a veritable arsenal of emotional weapons of mass destruction. All aimed at me.

But guess what. I don’t care. I am blissfully happy to be spending another Valentine’s Day alone and was greatly cheered when Fox News anchor Julie Banderas announced on live TV that she was getting a divorce from soon-to-be ex-husband Andrew Sansone – during the Valentine’s Day segment on Gutfeld.

‘F**k Valentine’s Day,’ she said. ‘Yeah, it’s stupid. Even when I was married I didn’t give a s**t for Valentine’s Day…well, I’m getting a divorce.’

Finally, somebody calling it for what it what it really is – a pointless ‘Hallmark holiday.’

So much pressure. The expense. The forced loved-up expressions. Getting the right gift.

It’s men with girlfriends and wives who feel this the most keenly. Women want to be wooed but men can never get it right.

Buy her chocolates – ‘You know I’m on a diet.’ Don’t get her chocolates – ‘Are you saying I’m fat?’ Jewelry – ‘I hate amethyst. Why didn’t you let me choose my own?’ A meal in a fancy restaurant – ‘Why are you wasting money when we have a freezer full of good food at home?’ What about flowers ­– ‘I can’t believe you’ve just wasted $369.55 on a Heart Black Box of red roses’ (from The Million Roses Company, should you be tempted). Perfume – ‘Why have you bought eau de toilette? You know I wear only eau de parfum.’ The latter is more expensive, guys – you need to know that. Nothing at all – ‘I knew you never loved me. I’ve wasted 30 years on you.’

It’s a Hallmark house of horrors.

I feel about Valentine’s Day the way Dickens’s Scrooge felt about Christmas. Bah humbug, I scream, when yet another card from a florist pops through my door, asking me to send flowers to my loved one. Bah humbug to the red hearts, ribbons and grinning teddy bears in every shop window. And especially Bah humbug to the paella or the Chateaubriand ‘for two’, that restaurants bizarrely insist upon, making singletons feel alone on every other day of the year, too.

Like Scrooge and the visitations from his Christmas ghosts, this is the time of year when I am visited by the Ghosts of Men Past, the Ghosts of Men Present, and the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come.

Where do I begin with the Past? The older man who ruined 30 years of my life (and counting) and whose shadow still looms in an unconscious damaged by what I now know to be a disturbed and disturbing predator?

The broadcaster on a diet, who brought his slimline, calorie-counted meal for supper but decided to eat my food as well? No surprise he never lost any weight.

The journalist who was going to leave his girlfriend for me but decided to give it three months ‘so that she can lose enough weight to be attractive enough to meet someone else’? Yes, at that point, I decided he wasn’t for me, after all.

My Australian Hungarian Jewish dentist who said, ‘I’m falling for you in a big way’, then came out in a facial rash and dumped me?

The ginger haired, boring graphic designer to whom I gave thousands when he professed poverty and then bought a bottle of Bollinger for women he fancied at another table – on my tab. He left me for a nurse in Boston. That’s all over, too now, and apparently his life’s a mess. Broke his leg in the Boston snow. Dumped by the nurse. Karma?

The Liverpudlian who claimed to be in the SAS based in Hereford in the UK and robbed me? How was I to know? He had a one-way rail ticket from Hereford to London; that seemed good enough evidence for me. I never was very good at spotting criminals – always too blinded by the possibility of sex rather than the forthcoming heist.

The Ghosts of Men Present don’t fare much better. The journalist I started seeing 35 years ago and still have the hots for ­­– it’s just a pity his hots extended to so many other women. A writer in the US who promised, ‘I’ll take you to a wonderful place and treat you to the best meal you’ve ever had’ which quickly became, ‘Shall I pick up a sandwich and bring it to your apartment?’

My crush on yet another man I can’t have – married and wouldn’t have wanted me even if he had been single.

And, would you believe it, the graphic designer, who contacted me after 15 years, bemoaning his now terrible life on the grounds that I might ‘understand’.

Small wonder that I’m not optimistic about the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. But that’s the thing about love – its inherent optimism continues to survive its own history, no matter how bad it might have been. It’s emotional childbirth – it might be tough when you’re going through it, but the memory of what love might be again resurrects itself and is what keeps us going.

At the end of every relationship, I always say: ‘I won’t make that mistake again.’ I may not, but, being human, I’ll just make different mistakes.

And I’ve learnt from most of those mistakes. I say no to sandwiches when I’m expecting Chateaubriand for two at the Ritz. I don’t lend men money. I also no longer believe anything that comes out of their mouths. Men are rotten liars, and I’ve learnt to trust my gut, which is what I should have done years ago. But hey ho – hindsight and all that.

This, alas, is the problem with the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. The Past is a wasteland of distrust and pain. The Present would be that, if I were not finding it all so enjoyable. The Future, despite the survival of good memories, is inevitably tainted with everything that has gone before. Suspicion, doubt and insecurity are inseparable triplets.

But I have a great life. I am surrounded by wonderful family and friends and there is never I day I wake up when I don’t feel passionate about my work. I have always known I was a writer, and being what I actually am, rather than harboring fantasies about what I wanted to be, is a blessing every minute.

Love is not just for Valentine’s Day. It’s there for the taking every second, in so many more ways than chocolate and flowers.

The Ghosts of Men Past have gone. The Ghosts of Men Yet to Come are unknown. Just as well –  who knows what monsters are lurking in the shadows. The present is all we really have – or can ever hope for. Therefore, we might as well live it and enjoy it while we can. And you can do that perfectly well without a romantic sidekick.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

I’m genuinely grateful to be by myself, free of the pressures, the expense and, most of all, the obligation to put on a display of fake love.

Now, where’s that Chateaubriand for one?