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14 February 2017

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

Why I adore it non-ironically.

By Stephanie Boland

“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.

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

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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.