Everyone has met one in their lifetime. Heck, some of us know two. But if you haven’t met a Valentine sucker yet (and I shun being the bearer of bad news) chances are you may be one. Non-definitivo, though the odds aren’t on your side. For if love is a battlefield, then Valentines is a landmine.
Public Enemy #1 is The Hand-Holding Couple from Hell. You know, the ones who just won’t let go. Fire hydrants, sign posts, human bodies late for work, old ladies with walking sticks, a collapsing building, Osama bin Laden… whatever it is, they are Not. Letting. Go.
A close second is the Insufferable Humblebrag. Like he who plasters his face on a highway billboard with the words “Will you be my Valentine, (insert name)”, then gives a press interview about it (“I was so afraid she’d say no. I spent US$30,000 on that ad”).
Did I miss the memo? When did an earnest proposal on bended knee not be enough anymore? Call me old-fashioned but there will always be a certain je ne sais qoui to being discreetly propositioned. A lesser degree of annoyance are Matching Half Heart T-shirt Couples. His tee has half a heart on the right, hers has half a heart on the left…and when they stand together…a full heart! Aaaaawwwwww.
Then there’s the Dirty, Flirty Duo – loud voices, octopus hands and cheesy sexual innuendos. Thirty-nine empty tables, and they almost always find a way next to mine. But what really flips my switch, is when I hear The Flirty Giggle. Tip from an expert: If you’re clutching that steak knife a little too tight, just remember, it’s four years in prison for weaponising a sharp object. Unless, of course, you’re spearing that knife straight into your beating heart.
The History of Valentine’s Day
A fitting end to this faux celebration that is more bloody and macabre than All Saints Day. For Valentine’s roots are grisly and sexual (not to mention, unsanitary). In the pagan festival of Lupercalia, celebrated on the ides of February by an order of priests called the Luperci, Romans were purified through blood in order to arouse fertility in women and abundance in crops.
In the first part of Lupercalia, the men gathered in a sacred cave where Rome’s founders – Romulus and Remus – were believed to have been suckled by a shewolf (lupa). They sacrificed a goat and dog and smeared blood on the foreheads of young men who would cave-dance naked in celebration. The statesman Cicero criticised the Luperci as nudus, unctus, ebrius – undressed, anointed, drunk.
Part 2 began when they stripped the goat’s hide and made thongs (leather lashes, not bikini underwear), dipped it in blood, and ran naked through the city, lashing women – who lined the streets to receive such blessing – with their bloody goatskin thongs.
What about the name Valentine then? That provenance is murkier but no less gory. Although we’ve heard of St Valentine, the Catholic Church has three different martyred saints of that name. In one legend, circa 269 AD when Emperor Claudius II or ‘Claudius the Cruel’ reigned, marriage was outlawed for young men going intobattle as he believed single men made better soldiers.
The Catholic priest Valentine rebelled against this injustice and secretly wed young Christian lovers in defiance of the edict. For treason, Valentine was caught and sentenced to a three-part execution – beating, stoning, beheading – on (you guessed it) 14 February, later called St Valentine’s Day after the Church declared him a martyr. And there you have it. Valentine on a platter.
In the late fifth century, as the Catholic Church grew in influence and power, Pope Gelasius drove the final nail into paganism’s coffin. He abolished Lupercalia and revived St Valentine’s legend albeit with a spin, portraying him as God’s soldier for sacred, unrequited love whom all should emulate. Mankind has paid the price ever since.
Modern day romance
Right this minute, if everyone in the world dropped Valentine’s Day, entire industries might collapse. For Hallmark, this single manufactured holiday equates to almost 150 million cards sold, its most lucrative card-sending holiday after Christmas.
For swathes of restaurants, florists, cinemas, airlines, hotels, jewellers and banks, it’s non-stop ka-ching! in the lead-up to D-Day. MasterCard’s latest Love Index, a quirky annual survey that tracks sentimental spending from 11–14 February, proves romantic spend in Asia Pacific is heating up. We’re spending 22% more on Valentine gifts since the survey’s inception in 2015, and transactions have leaped 74%. That’s 4.6 million transactions in Asia Pacific alone.
Topping the region are Mainland Chinese, who plan to spend an average US$273 for a night out with their current soulmates. Taiwan (US$245), Hong Kong (US$231), Singapore (US$180), and Thailand (US$145) trail closely behind.
But are we feeling more loved? Don’t be deceived by the façade of fluffy teddy bears and cheeky cupids. Lift the veil and you’ll see Capitalism is a brazen little hussy. Cosmopolitan magazine online recommends couples in long-distance relationships surprise their partners by appearing unannounced at their doorstep. “Show your significant other you care even when you’re miles away,” blares the subhead. Look to the right of your screen. Boom! An ad to buy a new car.
“Find the right credit card to ride you through Valentine’s Day and beyond,” touts another website. Click! Here’s plastic for money you don’t have. They even offer salvation for el cheapos with tips like “How to Impress Your Date with $20 on Valentine’s Day.” Yes, and unicorns fart rainbows. A right proper cheapskate would question: “Why spend anything at all?” Attaboy! Wear that scarlet letter with pride.
Truth be told, most of us buckle under pressure. As 14 February rolls around, like shamed sheep who’ve strayed from the herd, we fall back in line as the herding dog comes our way.
So whenever you feel like you’re losing your nerve, chew on this cud by CBS correspondent Tracy Smith: “I wanted to make it very special on Valentine’s Day, so I tied my boyfriend up and for three solid hours I watched whatever I wanted on TV.”
Oddly, Valentines has always been a passable blur to me. Well, aside from the mixer event a friend and I organised decades ago. We rocked a full-house party at an Irish pub, entrance for singles only, on 14 February, way before Singles Awareness Day was even a thang.
What do I remember as romantic? Every other day that had a lil bit of Valentine. A cheeky morning text. A loving note on the counter. A playful kick under the table. Flowers unexpected. Bawdy jokes. Last minute road trips.
This Valentine’s Day, how about we give saccharine-sweet love a rest. Just one day. Then maybe, just maybe, every other will ever be in your favour.
Related: 6 Strange Love Rituals in Asia