13 Feb Valentine’s Day
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 15.2.21
My favourite thing to do on Valentine’s Day is to park up somewhere near a florist’s shop and watch men emerge clutching bouquets of flowers – red roses if they’re traditionalists and can afford the inflated-for-a-day prices, but honestly, I am equally delighted at the sight of a bloke with a fistful of orange gerberas.
Men should carry flowers more often – it makes them madly attractive. They look like someone you’d want to know and could talk to easily. There they are, making a romantic gesture while also making themselves a little bit vulnerable, and we like that. The only thing sexier than a man carrying flowers is a man doing the vacuuming. We really don’t tell them that enough.
So it is always uplifting to see romance being embraced for the day by the literal man in the street. We have tended in this country to characterise ourselves as “not as romantic” as other cultures. Think of the French, for example, banging on about being enchanted to meet you and those kissy-kissy hands.
Sure, the feelings are there, but round these parts the words often catch. I remember as a child watching my mother waft into the living room one evening on the way to a formal event, swathed in purple chiffon and floating on a cloud of Chanel No. 5. She’d had her hair done, painted her nails, and taken even more than the usual meticulous care of her makeup. My brother and I sat with our mouths open, and our mother’s mother – there to babysit – beamed with pride. Our father’s eyes sparkled and he grinned… and then pulled himself together and muttered a deliberately peremptory, “You’ll do.” It was like someone seeing Niagara Falls and describing it as “some water”.
Scratch our surface, though, and we are more romantic than we admit. Not long ago, I spent many months talking to couples about how they met, and how they manage to weave their lives together. (Not just because I’m nosy – it was for a book.) Asked if they “do romance”, most of the couples awkwardly said no. But asked if they take a moment to celebrate this thing they have together, all of them – every couple – said yes. Wedding anniversaries (if there was a wedding) and also “getting together” anniversaries – the first day, or the first night, or the moment they decided to be each other’s One In Particular.
It seems like you need a circle on a calendar, a moment to think about where you began, what brought you together, and what it was about the two of you that made you want to do this thing, side by side. Because otherwise life is about business meetings – who’s dropping off the kids, and picking up the groceries, and did you call the plumber and has anyone seen my keys.
Romance, of course, is not just about roses and chocolates, and things from a catalogue tied up with bows. It can also be about someone keeping the oil topped up your car, or making sure your favourite beer sticks are in the fridge, or taking the bins out without being asked. Small gestures that say, “I’m thinking of you, and it is my pleasure to make your life nicer.”
So if Valentine’s Day slips by because you were too tied up in relationship admin, or even if you’ve diagnosed yourself with an allergy to compulsory hearts-and-flowers, I’d still advise giving it a go. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to be less suspicious of romance, and throw ourselves into a bit of handholding, possibly even some kissing (steady on) and the odd long gaze into the other person’s eyes.
And of course, you can be your own Valentine any time you want. I highly recommend this – and not just to those who are single. Though special hearts-and-flowers if Valentine’s Day is a slightly salty reminder that you’re doing life solo but would prefer not to. Either way, I’m a fan of buying yourself flowers for no particular reason any old time you fancy it and can afford it. I’ve also occasionally bought myself a piece of jewellery and pretended it was a gift for someone and let the nice lady in the shop stick a bow on it.
Oh, and here’s another thing as delightful as watching a man carry flowers – a man being given flowers by someone who adores him. It seems crazy that there’s a gift men give but hardly ever receive themselves. Maybe it’s time we stopped thinking a bouquet of roses (or sunflowers or freesias) is a gendered gift. He’s got a nose, right? Give him something that pleases it, and brightens up his world.