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It’s time to get over Valentine’s Day cynicism

Why I adore it non-ironically.

“Well, more people would like Valentine’s Day if they got to hang out with me,” says my boyfriend, grinning. Clearly, I’m a lucky lady. He’s sat in his chair, copy of yet another political biography open in his lap – he’s a journalist – and I’ve just told him I’m going to write an article declaring my non-ironic love of Valentine’s Day.

Because I adore it. True, I’ve a dinner reservation for tonight, which might make it easier to get into the spirit of the thing.

But the excuse to cram tapas into my maw isn’t the only reason I’ve decided to become a Valentine’s evangelist. For a start, we need something to perk us up in February.

Christmas, it’s time we accepted, comes too early to really be a mid-winter boost. There’s a reason the White Queen’s reign in Narnia made it “always winter and never Christmas”. The period of winter that doesn’t have Christmas in it sucks.

We’ve put away our party shoes, stopped inhaling cheap prosecco every night, and reacquainted ourselves with the gym (or so the story goes). Now, there’s weeks upon weeks of grey skies and cold hands at the bus stop to endure. Spring feels like it will never come.

It’s time for a quick mini-celebration. Of course, sending chocolates is no cure for true seasonal affective disorder, which deserves medical help.

But for those of us who just get a bit grouchy at so many weeks of commuting in the dark, it’s the perfect time to indulge in a little silliness and frivolity. We’ve had a pay cheque to soften the post-Christmas recession, and dry January bores have got back on the good stuff.

“That’s all well and good for you,” I hear you say. “With your boyfriend and your half-baked theories about happiness. What about those of us who are alone, or suffer from utter rage at not being able to set every last pair of novelty boxers on fire?”

Well, I’m with you on the boxers thing. But being alone on Valentine’s Day doesn’t make people as unhappy as we might think.

Plus, under my new Valentine’s regime – to which you, dear reader, are now invited to commit yourself – the fun won’t just be for smug marrieds.

Studies show that we’re increasingly bad at having friends – even though not maintaining a strong support network is proven to be unhealthy. In the US, for instance, the average person has one less close friend compared to the 1980s.

What’s more, a series of interviews conducted in the 1990s suggest that time pressures are at least partly to blame. We get older, get into romantic relationships (oops), have kids, and friendships fall by the wayside.

So what if we treated Valentine’s Day as a prompt to do something about that unread text you’ve been putting off? In Finland, 14 February is Ystävänpäivä, a “Friendship Day” to celebrate those close to you, whether you fancy them or not. (Finns, we should note, are almost disgustingly happy.)

Include your friends, and Valentine’s can become a holiday dedicated to the families we choose for ourselves – just like the fridge magnets told us. In these dark days, we need them more than ever.

For those of us in a relationship, there’s also a good reason to ditch the cynicism.

Whereas once a period of courtship would be followed by a marriage proposal, today more of us hold off on the marriage bit. Instead, we move through a series of fluid steps as the relationship becomes more serious. The shift from “dating” to “partner” takes place without leaving a trace on our calendars. There’s not a specific anniversary to celebrate.

Valentine’s, commercial trappings aside, is a day that invites you to focus on your partner and the relationship you share. Unlike birthdays, it isn’t centred on one person. Unlike Christmas, you don’t have to invite your family along. It’s about the two of you as a unit.

If that sounds a bit soppy, well, it’s not my fault. My partner is still sat in his chair, book still open, and he’s explaining the above theory. “It’s one day a year marked out to have a nice meal, buy a card and spend time together,” he concludes. Then he pauses, possibly remembering his Northern man’s oath of anti-sentimentalism. “Although, obviously, I’d never write that.”

I ask him if I can use it. “Yeah.” Can I attribute it to you? “Only if you think it’ll help the article get shared, or whatever. Otherwise, absolutely not.” (Like I said, he’s a journalist.)

So tonight we’ll be celebrating, just the two of us – although I might text a couple of friends first. It’d help save face if you were to share this article, of course, but that’s up to you. The fact is, I think he’s right. And I really am quite lucky.

Stephanie Boland is head of digital at Prospect. She tweets at @stephanieboland.

Harry Styles performing in London on April 11. Photo: Hélène Pambrun
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How Harry Styles’ European tour was transformed into a LGBT-positive safe space

And all thanks to two fans, 50 volunteers and 28,000 pieces of paper.

After 21 dates, 20 cities, 19 suits, 14 countries and one kilt, Harry Styles’s European tour came to a close last night in Dublin. Some of his most dedicated fans attended a handful of dates in a row, organising their own queuing systems, and arranging tributes to the Manchester terror attacks. “Feel free to be whoever you want to be in this room,” Styles said at every gig, always bringing an LGBT flag on to the stage as he performed. As ever, his shows were a always collaboration between artist and audience to create a safe space for teenage girls and LGBT fans.

On this tour, two fans in particular went above and beyond to create a visually striking, affirmational statement. Ksenia, 17, and Luna, 20, came up with the Rainbow Project, a labour-intensive and involved plan to invite those attending the London dates of the tour to participate in a giant rainbow running around the circumference of the O2 Arena. The project involved distributing 14,000 pieces of differently coloured paper and instructions each night to different seat sections: fans were then invited to put the paper over their phone torches during the song “Sweet Creature” to create a rainbow light effect.

Ksenia and Luna tell me they have been fans of Harry's since his One Direction days: in 2014 and 2012 respectively. “We are really proud of how far he’s come,” Luna explains, “from being afraid of what people thought of him, to confidently pulling off wearing a dress!” The two say they were inspired by Harrys support of the LGBT community: “We just wanted to do something for him.”

Such fan projects aren’t new. As the writer Aamina Khan explains, One Direction fans – who are known for collectively organising to win polls, drive obscure songs to become chart hits, or raise money for charities the band have supported in the past – have been organising fan projects around the rainbow flag since 2014. As the presence of such flags became more and more visbile, Styles in particular started engaging with both the symbol and its message: draping flags around him speaking of love and equality to the crowd. Last year, fans brought hundreds of #BlackLivesMatter signs to Harry Styles concerts.

But Ksenia and Luna’s project seems by far the most complex and challenging so far. “It took us three months to prepare the project,” Luna explains. “We had a group of about 25 volunteers for each show who helped us to hand the colours out. Almost everyone in the arena got a colour, so we made 28,000 pieces in total for the two days.”

Aside from the hours and organisation needed to produce, print, cut out and distribute close to 30,000 small pieces of paper, they both feared that the strict security teams at venues like the O2 wouldn’t take too kindly to their plan. “Obviously you are scared that what you planned doesn't work out,” Luna explains. “But we were pretty optimistic.”

“The venue sadly did take 5,000 pieces away from us on the first night, as we needed permission to do the whole thing – which we didn’t know. The next day, the O2 and its venue manager Rachael reached out to us, and we were happy to have official permission. That night everything worked out perfectly and we’ve never seen something more stunning. It left us speechless.”

“Harry creates wonderful safe spaces each night he steps on stage,” they tell me. “We think we speak for everyone when we say that we’re thankful for that.”

Luna says that the inclusive feeling of Harry Styles concerts is a collaboration between both audience and artist:  “He brings a message, and we as fans chose what we can identify with or look up to. The combination of that creates the feeling at a concert.”

The Harry Styles tour has left Europe, but it’s far from over. As it moves on to Australia, Asia and America, more creative fan projects are undoubtedly on the way.

All photos by Hélène Pambrun.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.