This time of the western calendar can mean many things to many people. The obvious is what was always intended – an excuse to ‘anonymously’ declare your undying lust or emotional obsession to the object of your affection. For others it’s a commercial conspiracy for you to spend money on someone you no longer feel deserves it. And for a lucky few, it’s a time to get all loved-up and reignite (or throw petrol at) the fire that got them together in the first place.
I dread going past greetings card retailers in the run-up to St Valentine’s Day when I’m single – it’s depressing. This is probably the first time I’ve been single and unfazed by it. I am well aware we’re all too busy or become too complacent in our relationships for a daily dose of romance, but I genuinely think that in the perfect relationship, it should feel like St Valentine’s Day everyday.
Until Jane Austin brought us Pride and Prejudice in the mid 1800s we probably thought there were only two types of men. There was the respectable, well-to-do, husband material type, and then there was the 'love rat' worthy of nothing more than a clandestine affair - a guilty pleasure. Austin merged these two characters to form the infamous Mr Darcy and has had men and women firmly place this fictional character as a benchmark in their love lives ever since.
Until recently, had I not known of the popular culture that Austin's work has become, I would have placed myself in the 'husband material' category. I'd like to think I'm also 'well-to-do', but unfortunately, riches is not something that features in my past or present. Now I see myself sitting firmly on the fence and drawn to others in the same category, having been categorically described as a 'guilty pleasure'. That hurt.
I've almost always been regarded as a 'trophy partner' until they realised I have a brain and an intelligent opinion. I was the type of boyfriend one wanted to introduce to the family and the wider social circle early on. The type of partner you feel proud of when he's centre of attention recounting a funny personal experience to your friends in an intimate social setting. But then I ended up representing the 'love rat', an awful heart-breaker that should be kept at arm's length or ignored altogether for all his sins.
Valentine's Day could be an excuse for a couple to attempt putting their troubles behind them and remember why they invested so much time and effort to each other in the first place. However, if you've tried that before on countless occasions, I would suggest you use the novelty to remind yourself of your self-worth, what you want and what you deserve from a partner. I used to think that high expectations heralded more disappointment, but who can deny that you're ultimately better off alone than unhappy? And why should any one's version of Mr Darcy be just a fictional, unattainable, unrealistic benchmark? Why is it not the standard expectation to aim for in a life-partner?
I've learned that if you get together with someone who you don't genuinely feel could easily be your best friend from the start, it'll be destined to fail; unless you're partial to a bit of S&M and you choose to take it outside the dungeon. I understand that not everyone wants a life partner or genuinely believes in 'till death do us part', that's fine, too - times have moved on and you have to be realistic - but whatever you want or desire from another, you should be honest enough with them and yourself to ensure you both get the most out of the experience and keep heartache to a minimum.
Jane Austin did us a monumental favour in changing our understanding of romance and sexual relationships. If nothing else, a relationship should be a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. We should not settle for society's expectations of us, but for our own. If you don't feel someone enriches your life and inspires you to do more with it, you are settling for second best.
In conclusion, I don't think many people fall into just one of the aforementioned categories. We all have a romantic side, a naughty side and desires we're not keen to share or act-out with just anyone. I think most people fall into a fourth category - a Jekyll & Hyde type of character that cautiously tests how far they can push boundaries before laying their cards on the table.
The upside to romance in this modern world we live in is that with every relationship we learn what we don't want in the next one and perfect it as we grow older. Occasionally, someone will come along when you least expect it who will inadvertently unleash the romantic beast within you - the one you thought would never get an airing - that's my idea of passion and true love.
It is unrealistic to expect a partner to lay on a surprise romantic meal, rose petals leading to a heavenly candle-lit bath, aromatic essential oils and fresh linen for a sensual massage, or mind-blowing sex every night of the week. It wouldn't be a surprise if you started expecting it, but there's no reason why you can't try to do it often...
...why wait for Valentine's Day?