To my Cuddlebunny

20 Feb

The Valentines card I sent my sister this year

So I’m weighing into this a little too late, but hopefully you can all forgive me for my tardiness. Or you can just save this to read on February 14th 2013.

Valentines Day. This year’s has been and gone, and the nation has gone back to normal. The daily influx of emails reminding me to buy scented candles, heart-shaped cooking utensils, perfume, knickers, chocolates, wine, new outfits, rampant rabbits, and personalised cufflinks for my man, have all finally abated. The accusation that Valentines is too commercialised is well established and, more than that, true, but that doesn’t to my eye mean we can write it off straight away – after all, the Easter chocolates were already in the shops when they rolled out the Thornton’s selection boxes and five pound rose bouquets in our local Tesco Extra, and, like a holiday revolving around the giving of chocolate, surely one revolving around the giving of love can hardly be a bad thing?

The trouble is, what with all these emails and shop window displays and the incessant conversations of “so what are you getting him” and “how much are you spending,”  it’s easy for the act of giving to be displaced by the act of purchasing. The purchases made, moreover, are straying further and further from the realm of thoughtful gifts into the realms of useless tat – sure, some rose petals on the bed are a classic Valentines aesthetic, but when Marks and Spencer start selling Valentines crackers [I kid you not], I think the whole thing has gone a little too far. The industry is conning us into shelling out not just for the love between individuals, but the collective universal of love as shared by humanity: anything red, pink, or with a heart on it goes.

To me, Valentines day is like a dessert menu presented to an overstuffed diner – you are repelled by the thought of such a superfluous and unnecessary purchase [after all, you don’t really need a pudding, you do have a perfectly acceptable packet of chocolate digestives at home], but at the same time, you feel embarrassed to admit to the expectant waitress and assembled companions, “I’ll pass, thanks.” Perhaps we fear someone will think we have fat issues, perhaps we don’t want to look like a cheap-skate or a spoil-sport, or perahps we just don’t want to look boring – but usually our secret salivations over the overpriced slice of chocolate fudge cake results in us opening up our purses and splashing out the better part of a twenty-pound note on some plastic heart-shaped fairy lights, or [insert your own foolish expenditure here].

Of course this analogy works best if we imagine the baker and purveyor of this cake to be none other than the love of your life, the central orb of your horizon – and so in rejecting their culinary delights you somehow reject the entire relationship, and quite embarrassingly so, in front of a crowd of friends and strangers alike who will condemn you for your inhumanity. The chocolate fudge cake is conflated with love itself, most especially in the eyes of those who would like to see you pay to eat it. No-one wants to look like the Valentines-Scrooge.

I have witnessed this exact scenario in action, about mid-January to be precise, when I began a comprehensive online search for Valentines cards [oh, the shame of such a confession!] Anyway; my housemate Clev [who, by the by, has intimated she might like to write a guest post for this blog!] had happily chosen to bow out of the whole Valentines rigmarole. That is, she was content until I shared my searches with her, and before you can say St Val’s your uncle, she and H had made plans to eat dinner at an overpriced Mexican restaurant, and H was flexing all his muscles of cunning [a.k.a. asking me] to remember which expensive shoes she had implied she would like to receive. But! Hold-up, a few days later and Clev had relapsed – the restaurant menu was too expensive, and actually she couldn’t afford to eat anything but beans on toast for the next few weeks, let alone a vegetarian fajita. She refused on principle to let H pay, and proceeded to plan Plan. B, which involved a romantic dinner at our house.

Unfortunately for her, her trials were not over. As I discovered to my chagrain when googling cookie recipes, the cumulative cost of flour, sugar, eggs, milk, chocolate and vanilla essence reached substantially more than a batch of freshly baked Tesco cookies. Similarly the ingredients for Clev’s homemade lasagne, garlic bread, and dessert had to be sourced, as did potentially a new outfit [even though the arctic temperatures of our kitchen require at least ten layers at all times], new lingerie, candles, chocolates, and a card. Now, I know that many men probably cook for their women on Valentines day, some might take care over their outfits, and if they know what’s good for them I’m sure they all stress about cards and chocolates. However, it seems to me that women still share a disproportionate burden of the Valentine’s menu’s ideological cunning. We are conditioned to expect certain things – flowers, a card, to be treated in some way – but what we actually give in return has become muddled with the idea that what we are giving is ourselves – and so we spend our money on pants, hair products, make-up and fancy outfits.

I can’t speak from a truly gender neutral position, seeing as how I’m a girl and all, but purely from the experience of the email newsletters I have received I cannot fathom that male recipients are targeted in the same ways as women; that the same emphasis is made of physical appearance and artificial fripperies that become essentials when in pursuit of the “perfect Valentines.” I’m pretty sure that no-one in the Ann Summer sales department is going to raise an eyebrow at Chem wearing the same pair of pants on February the 14th 2013 as he did this year, but if they get wind that I might trot out my bargain Peacocks ensemble for the third year in a row, I will surely be doomed to a life of perpetual loneliness, cat ownership and rejection.

Whilst I understand that Ann Summers are a business who are just trying to maximise their profits, and actually it was in no way compulsory for me to sign up for their newsletter in the first place, I actually prefer the generic love heart themed products and novelty decorations that resound in the Valentines displays of shops like Paperchase. This is because, in my eyes, part of the fun of Valentines is in celebrating Love itself as something to be cherished and, from time to time, reminded of. And the two people reminding each other of this love do not have to be lovers, but can be friends or family. For example, for about the last three years I have consistently posted my sister a Valentines card, and she posts one to me, regardless of the acquisition of any male admirers along the way. Admittedly, my Father has stopped buying me a Valentines bouquet of flowers now that Chem [after nearly two years of not very subtle hinting] has taken up his manly duties. But he did still send down some extra money with my sister when she came to visit on the 15th, in case I felt left out.

So to me, Valentines has never been that tremble-inducing reminder of inadequacy or loneliness, even before I found someone willing to buy me soppy cards and put up with the sometimes negligible results of my baking.  But then, I always resisted the notion that I needed a boyfriend to make me happy on all the other 364 days of the year, so this day was no real exception. Call me old fashioned, but I think the joy of Valentines is in celebrating the people who love you for who you are, whether they be lovers, friends, or family – and that is a sentiment both personal and universal.

Disappointingly, my own attempts this year to have my personal sentiments for my dear boyfriend immortalised in icing on the universal medium of a Thornton’s chocolate heart were cut short, when the saleslady refused to ice the message “You Smell” – apparently it was “too offensive.”

2 Responses to “To my Cuddlebunny”

  1. Oliver February 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    The lateness of this post is excused by your continued capacity to write with excellent wit and dexterity. I was wondering if you would weigh in on this Valentine’s lark, and I’m very pleased that you did. Your dessert menu metaphor was spot on.

    In response to the gender question, I would say that men are pressured as equally as women to perform on Valentine’s Day, but, as you make evident, there is a distinction between the type of pressures felt. We return, it seems, to the persistently troubling paradigm of worth: a woman’s value is measured by the way she looks; a man’s is measured by what he can afford. Regardless of gender, our environment is saturated with the pressure of obligation. To whom, I wonder, are we really obliged? It’s certainly not Ann Summers, though I’m sure Ann is a lovely girl. Maybe it would be better if we weren’t signed up to so many newsletters.

    (You may be delighted/horrified to know that there is now a link on my blog to yours, so that any wanderer foolish enough to stumble upon my clumsy drivel may hopefully find their way to you and be saved.)

    • zellamalendah February 21, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Thank you for commenting once again, Oliver – you may be pleased or perhaps embarrassed to know that with this second response you have become my top commenter!

      The question of whom we are obliged to is certainly an interesting one, and I do think that, particularly when you live in a house of girls as I do, one of the strongest pressures can be exerted (however unwittingly) by us ourselves – it’s an unhappy fact that those who don’t join in will find themselves compared, and will probably compare themselves, to those who do.

      However I don’t think this pressure is entirely negative – Clev was cynical about Valentines day before she decided to celebrate it, and her decision, as far as I can tell, was based not on a capitulation to commercial pressures or the need to compete by outwardly demonstrating the value of her relationship through commodities. To me, she seemed to realise she was missing out on a bit of fun, a bit of a lark as you say. (Clev please do feel free to disagree with me on this if I am oversimplifying the matter!)

      I think my own participation (which I managed to mostly sweep under the rug by talking about Clev, a bit of a cheat!), was motivated by a similar attitude of, well, why not? All holidays are commercialised and have their faults, but if you can draw out what is fun and joyful from them and celebrate that, then to my mind it can only lead to good things.

      I can attest that me and Clev are certainly not unhappy to be munching our way through the leftover cookies and cakes that were baked in honour of the day, even if we did initially complain at all the effort of buying the ingredients and making them…

      (P.s, olivercooperwrites is now also featured here, so that such claims as the above of its being clumsy drivel can be investigated by curious readers, and refuted.)

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