Valentine’s Day. A named date to conjure with. A day that used, in my adolescent years, to fill me with a heightened sense of the drama of my loneliness (yes, I know…). When I was growing up it wasn’t remotely cool to admit to liking a girl who wore glasses, so if anyone did like me, I remained unaware of it. Not even a mystery Valentine to show for it; suppose someone found out and laughed at them? Or suppose <dramatic pause> no one liked me, and I was doomed to live out my lonely days, forever alone? Oh the pathos. Quelle dommage. I got a boyfriend when I was 17. I got contact lenses briefly when I was 19. It didn’t take many years to learn that Valentine’s Day was an anticlimactic damp squib. I blame the boy that I was with. Yes, that’s it; it’s all his fault that my expectations of the hope of high romance were dashed. Our first year together he gave me a single red rose. It was beautiful, and I treasured it until it disintegrated. The following year, he gave me a plastic one with the suggestion that I should get this out to display each and every February. I didn’t show it – though I really should have – but my heart began to break in earnest from that day onwards. But that’s enough of that. It was a lifetime ago, and everything is quite different now, including me – although I do still wear glasses.
My point – if I have one – is that writing about love is potentially tricky. How to draw the line between fervent feelings and hyperbole, without tumbling over the tipping point from the sublime to the ridiculous? I take my hat off to those novelists – romantic or otherwise – who have so succesfully anatomised the experience of falling in love, being in love, and loving; those moments of identification, simple, yet oddly profound, because of the resonance of recognition, ‘I too have felt this way‘. Because writing about love is a delicate thing. Love is like a butterfly, the song that accompanied Rhea’s tribulations in her Cheltenham suburb, is spot on in its lilting bitter poignance. But beware, over do it and the poignant becomes the merely maudlin.
Sometimes, I think I can do it. Sometimes I know that I can’t. Sometimes, when the word mist descends, and my fingers fly over the keyboard while my muse is soaring and diving in my head, I’m fooled into thinking that I’m getting away with it.
And then the rereading, of words that sometimes point in the right direction, but mostly of words that trip down the path of the saccharine, the outright embarrassing, the laughter-inducing cringe, and the harmlessly anodyne. Thank goodness I know enough of myself to appreciate that the romance novel is not my genre, but mostly, thank goodness for editing!
So I hope you all have a lovely Valentine’s Day, whether in love or out of it; that strange celebration of affection that grew out of a poem for a young king’s betrothal. Chaucer, and the court he occasionally served, cannot have foreseen the panoply of ribbons and flowers and chocolates and cardboard that are supposedly necessary to gild those favoured in love. Tragically (indulging in a little harmless hyperbole) I have already given up chocolate until Easter, well in advance of Lent. And right now I’d cheerfully commit a small misdemeanor for a large bag of Maltesers…
NB: My husband is quite lovely, and so Valentine’s Day has been reclaimed as something quietly special, between the two of us.