Happy Valentine’s Day. I said this to my 15-year-old daughter this morning and was met with a muttered response of ‘But I’m single’. I can completely understand why she said that because it would have been my reaction too when I was 15 and for a long time afterwards.
I used to dread Valentine’s Day. I never had a boyfriend at school. Too fat apparently. Gosh, I wish I was still ‘enormously fat’ aka size 12-14 now! We digress…
At college, I had two extremely short-term boyfriends – we’re talking only a couple of dates here – but one of those did coincide with Valentine’s Day. He was a friend of a friend. He fancied her, she didn’t fancy him, I met him and told her that I thought he was quite sweet, and somehow we ended up on a date. Cue absolute torture about the type of card to buy for someone I’d only recently met. Cue even greater discomfort when he presented me with a soft toy gift that my friend had previously told me he’d planned to give to her. Perhaps explains why it didn’t last long.
The university years were a little different. In my first year, I had a boyfriend. For both of us, it was our first serious relationship and he made a big fuss about Valentine’s Day, presenting a card and gifts at midnight. I was therefore a little surprised later in the day when I nipped out of my room in our halls of residence to make a cuppa and returned to find another card and gift on my bed. Not from the boyfriend. The lad living in the room next door to me had decided to use Valentine’s Day to tell me how he felt about me. He knew how serious things were between the boyfriend and me because he was part of our friendship group. Eek! Hadn’t seen that one coming. The friendship between him and the boyfriend was a little strained from that point.
In my final year at university, I was stunned to find a whopping four Valentine’s cards in my halls pigeon hole. I’d been expecting one from my female bestie in the room next door. Both single, we’d decided to exchange cards to celebrate friendship which was lovely. The other three were a big surprise. My bestie had a surprise card too and a male friend who lived on our floor in our halls of residence admitted to sending us one each, also celebrating friendship. What a star. My third card was a fun one, tracked down to a lad I’d had a bit of an on/off flirty thing going with but the fourth was a mystery which I was determined to solve.
My mystery card had these words in it: Why is it girl that when the world is lit by lightning that I keep telling you that I love you? It sounded to me like a song lyric but I couldn’t place it. These days, this would have been resolved in seconds by a trip to Google but this was 1994 and the tech didn’t exist.
My friends all agreed that it sounded like lyrics. A few thought the words were familiar but couldn’t get to the next part of the song. Most didn’t recognise them at all and it was driving me mad.
The sun went down on Valentine’s Day came, the mystery card-sender hadn’t revealed themselves and I was annoyed that I couldn’t place those lyrics. There was one person I thought might have sent the card. His name was Pete, he was a first year, and we’d seen each other for about a week the previous term but it had fizzled out as quickly as it started. We were still friends so I asked him if he’d sent it. He wanted to know why I thought that but I couldn’t come up with a reason and he refused to confirm or decline unless I gave one. The mystery continued.
The lyrics constantly played in my mind and I began to wonder if it was a Deacon Blue song. I adored Deacon Blue and had their brilliant 1987 album ‘Raintown’ and more recent 1993 album ‘Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’ in my CD collection at the time. I knew all the tracks on both really well and it wasn’t from either of them although I had to have a proper listen to both again to make sure.
So the mission then became tracking down someone who had the two Deacon Blue albums I was missing in their collection: ‘When the World Knows Your Name’ (1989) or ‘Fellow Hoodlums’ (1991). And that’s when I came up trumps. I was right about it being a Deacon Blue lyric, from a song called ‘When the World is Lit by Lightning’ on their 1989 album. The song hadn’t actually been released as a single so no wonder I’d struggled and several friends hadn’t recognised it at all.
Yay! I’d finally confirmed my suspicions that it was a song and now I knew which song. And it didn’t help me one iota. I’d assumed that identifying the song would give me a clue about my mystery sender but it didn’t. So I confronted Pete again on a night out with friends and he said the same as before: Why do you think it’s from me?
I’d love to say I worked it out for myself but Pete could obviously tell I was never going to get there and decided to put me out of my misery. Yes, it had been him, and he was disappointed I hadn’t worked out why. When he told me the logic, I was disappointed in me too.
When we’d started seeing each other, we’d had a conversation about his name – Peter Deacon – and he’d told me he’d always imagined that, if he ever sent someone a Valentine’s Day card, he’d write a Deacon Blue lyric in it as a clue to who it was from because of the connection to his name. It wasn’t just his surname Deacon that had a connection to the name of the band. With the first name of Peter, there was a connection to ‘blue’ through the children’s TV programme Blue Peter. Blue Peter / Deacon Blue. Genius. I felt so awful because I’d genuinely forgotten that conversation although, once he reminded me, I did recall it. To this day, I have no idea whether he sent the card for a bit of fun, perhaps intentionally to create a mystery, or if he was hoping it might trigger us trying again. If it was the latter, I messed it up by forgetting an important conversation.
I never felt the same way about Valentine’s Day after that. I felt like I’d hurt someone who I cared about and that made me uncomfortable. I thought about how much tension the incident in my first year had caused when my next door neighbour shared his feelings for me and how awkward that moment in college was when my new boyfriend gave me the gift intended for my friend. I’d always thought that Valentine’s Day was uncomfortable when single and card-less but it struck me that Valentine’s Day could be just as uncomfortable when in a relationship or when cards came and the sender was unknown. I also realised that what had made me the happiest were the two friendship cards I’d received and that’s how I see Valentine’s Day these days – a celebration of love and friendship in all its forms.
Last year, I was asked to write a piece for a national newspaper group about why I loved Valentine’s Day and I had to laugh at the assumption that, just because I was a romance author, of course I’d love it. So I wrote about the celebration of friendship instead and gave some suggestions for how those who were single or in a struggling relationship could embrace their friendships, love for family members, their pets and, very importantly, enjoy a little self-care.
I’ll be celebrating my 17th wedding anniversary in September and my 19th anniversary since meeting my husband in July. In all that time, we’ve never been out for Valentine’s Day but we always exchange a card and sometimes he gives me flowers of a fun gift. This year we couldn’t go out even if we’d wanted to as I tested positive for COVID earlier in the week and he tested positive yesterday so we’re both isolating. Fortunately we’d been organised this year. I’d got him a card a couple of weeks ago and he’d spotted this little fella on the supermarket shelves. Isn’t he just the most adorable and absolutely perfect for me?
Whether you’re loved up, single or somewhere in-between, Happy Valentine’s Day to you. Wishing you a day filled with love from a partner, friends, family, pets, your favourite teddy, a bar of chocolate, a film or a book.
Ooh, and if you’re looking for a warm hug of a book, I have 14 in my collection out now which I can highly recommend! For those who know my writing, you’ll know what a strong emphasis I place on the importance of family, friends and community in my books. There’s always a romance story but the other threads are just as important and I’ve often wondered whether my early experiences of Valentine’s Day and my fairly disastrous love life until I met my husband (when I was 31) have influenced my desire to write about so much more than romantic love. I think they have. In my mind, love is all around (as the song says!) and it really doesn’t have to be of the romantic variety.
Big Valentine’s hugs