From my teens until my mid-20s, I looked forward to the post on this day like no other day in the year. But unlike my first year in school, when I got loads of cards, by the time my teens passed, Valentine's cards had ceased to be a feature. But still, for many years after, every St Valentine's Day, I wished and hoped for some secret, noble and true love to be revealed. But it didn't happen, and as the years passed, so too did the hope for true romance.
What I find even sadder than my loss of faith in romance is how many gorgeous, wonderful, warm, interesting, kind, affectionate people I know who are single -- and wish they weren't. They have been so for years and secretly they expect to stay that way for the next couple of years. They are quietly, intensely sad about the situation. Suffering, in fact. They yearn for a relationship, they even think they are open to the possibility of one -- but they just don't meet people.
They are right to think nothing is going to change on the relationship front -- because to create one they have to change the way they behave, and many are unwilling to do that. Fear is one reason not to change, but I think not knowing what action to take is an even bigger one.
And though they don't know it, forming a relationship is not really the priority in their lives they say it is. Until that focus changes, their lack of love life won't either.
Think about it. When we were teenagers, we were as nature designed us, walking bundles of sexual hormones looking for an outlet -- a mate -- to upload our DNA and keep the species going.
As youngsters, our flesh was pink and full of vitality, our hair was still there and had a colour and we didn't hear anything anybody ever said to us because we were absorbed in our own insecurities, so it didn't matter if we agreed with what a potential mate was saying to us because we never actually listened. We just wanted to get sweaty with the one we fancied, regardless of politics, earnings, or character. We didn't need skill or finesse. The drive to propagate the species did it all for us. It was our principal drive. So meeting, mating and relating was easier.
But come the 20s, come responsibility in the form of work. And our drive switches from thinking about getting sweaty to thinking about getting up in the morning for work. Those who have relationships established by their 20s are OK -- their partner keeps that aspect of their soul alive. But generally, ambition becomes the principal desire; it, at least, is kind of controllable. And snogging, or a relationship as it starts to be called, takes a back seat in our attention. Supposedly temporarily.
But those not in relationships tend to slide into forgetting the other, seemingly baser and less illustrious need. And without being really noticed, or acknowledged, that part of them quietly fades away, losing its youthful glow and that way of trusting in nature that all will be well.
The yearning for love, relationship and intimacy never does truly go away but, as time goes by, in creeps a sense of no longer being deserving and worthy of it. Who of us puts huge effort into an area in which we feel weak? Not many. And so we stop working at being attractive, interested and focused and then we lose our confidence in how to be all those things.
But if you want a thing badly enough, you have to go after it with single-minded determination. We will do it for our career, and for our health, but for our romantic selves . . . ?
The great irony is that a relationship would probably improve your work and health because you are being validated by an other -- someone who loves you. Your self-esteem would go up and you would become a more rounded and, hopefully, content person.
Many friends of mine, men and women, describe how they spent their 20s being easy about making a couple, but by their 30s they had become anxious and near desperate. By their 40s, they felt it was all over and they started grieving the loss.
By their 50s, many people have given up on ever having a relationship and instead take up a hobby such as travelling, or eating out -- and getting fat, further compounding their already rocky self-confidence.
And all the time, the sadness remains and the feeling that they are alone and lonely expands. They regret that they never got to share themselves with anyone and have their lives invested in and witnessed by another, never shared in their partner's life and experiences, never created together something all new, never had a partner to explore life with.
Dr Maurice Lauroc of Motivation Weight Management, an expert on weight loss, believes sex and relationship issues are often at the root of people's weight problems. But who do you know who will tell you your weight gain is actually about your loneliness and help you out of that rut?
Such sadness about the lack of a romantic relationship is a regular presence in the problem page of our relationships columnist, Patricia Redlich. She, at least, allows people to air their grief and anxieties. But she is the only voice I hear discussing such issues.
I find it bizarre that our society finds it easy to talk about sex in explicit detail, while talking about something truly intimate, soft
and revealing -- the desire for love and romance in relationship -- has practically become a taboo. You can read in Cosmo about how to give a blow job but not about how to create something longer lasting and real. Even in bookstores, romantic fiction is badly treated, stuffed into a back corner out of sight, while porn is at the front of the shop and in your face.
We in Ireland have an issue with love, with respecting it and being responsible for the creation of it and the maintenance of it. I recently met a lovely young Asian couple whose parents had arranged their marriage; and it was a very successful one. Coming from a world where matchmaking is common, they find it hard to understand how we manage to create relationships. Who is thinking on our behalf about suitability of character, family experience, outlook and potential, they asked me? Because, when it comes to romance, they know and we know that in the throes of infatuation/lust/love the practical and essential considerations are ignored. We prefer to be irresponsible than conscious. For some inexplicable reason, we are embarrassed by our desire for relationship and marriage, the basis of stability and health in any society.
Years ago, the one and only time I met Michelle Rocca, we chatted for ages, discussing relationships. I think she was just finishing her psychology degree at the time. She said to me: "Constance, have you ever noticed that the first thought you have about a person who you then become involved with, becomes the issue that haunts you in that relationship?"
That first thought comes from your inner guide or critic, who tells you that the person's nose will annoy you, or that they are pedantic, or feckless, a worrier, frigid, a selfish lover, whatever. But you choose to ignore your inner wisdom because your ego says: "I want them."
Michelle introduced me to the work of an American spiritual teacher called Shakti Gawain, a woman who has done great work on relationships as mirrors. Gawain holds that often the reason we choose a person is because something about them is the same as a part of us that we have problems with. In embracing that person, forming a relationship with them, we are trying to explore our problem and come to love ourselves better.
So, say you are quiet and worry about money and you fancy the pants off someone who is extrovert and easy-going. That is because subconsciously, you want to be like that person. You get involved with them in the subconscious, idealistic hope that to do so will help you to be easier in yourself.
But after the first flush of enthusiasm for your project -- generally, passion lasts between three and nine months -- you revert to habit and start to reject that part of yourself you had hoped to nurture, because you find the challenge too difficult. Thus, the relationship flounders. If you marry them or become pregnant in that period, then you will be stuck with them for many years to come, all due to the idealistic effort of your subconscious to try to improve your relationship with your essential self.
Some people think this all sounds too mad, too far-fetched, and too much like hard work. They would rather stay unconscious about themselves, keeping their head in the sand, than own up to their patterns and tendencies. So they go one of two routes; they keep forming messy, unsuccessful relationships, or they abstain.
A while back, I remember a man commenting to me that he stopped dating women his own age, in their 40s, because he found they were full of anger, often with past partners, and projected it onto him.
I think he is right about this. I remember doing it myself and it was a contributing factor in wrecking a relationship I really wanted. I did it because I still wasn't owning up to the role I had played in my previous, failed relationship: the mistakes I had made, the compromises that were too many steps too far for me to keep respecting myself, and the subsequent loss of self.
When I saw what my baggage had done to the next relationship, that stopped me in my tracks. I realised I had to resolve my past.
So what I am saying is, you have to own up to who you are and what you are and what you did, to move out of your rut and into the next, better, phase of your life.
An alternative route in learning how to deal with your relationship issues would be to attend a course run by Elizabeth Schnugh of The Institute for the Study of Man. First held in October 2009, that course was so successful that the organiser, Patrick Power, was asked to arrange another and it will take place at the Clonea Strand Hotel, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, April 23-25.
The course is aimed at raising people's self-awareness and self-esteem, and teaches them how to change feelings of futility and hopelessness in, and about, relationships.
Patrick Power is someone who has devoted himself to the path of self-awareness and the mystery of our own beingness through spirit. Schnugh, who comes from South Africa, was financial director of Gilbey Distillers for many years before she rerouted her career entirely, via her Toltec spiritual studies, into a more enabling one, assisting people in their relationships.
According to Power: "What brings Elizabeth most joy is to help people to help themselves. In the course, she is sharp at feeling what is going on, seeing when people are struggling and helping them through it."
The first time around, the course was mainly attended by couples, but it is in fact for all -- singles, couples, gay, straight.
Power is an osteopath and healer, based in Dungarvan. His ethos is that he tries to teach people tools to use to help themselves.
"Unless people can find warmth in their own relationship with their self, they will always struggle in their relationship with others," he says. "This workshop is for people who are having problems with their relationships, be it work, or personal, or with the self. It is about giving you tools and knowledge about yourself to help you change your past into your history and not keep creating the mistakes you have made before.
"Most people get attached to the body and the material, when really it is the spirit and the emotions that need to evolve and that is the purpose of life," he continues. "We all need to evolve for the world to evolve."
While this course will appeal to those who are ready and willing to open up in a different way, I can anticipate that some of you are recoiling from such spiritual talk. You don't want to go into the touchy-feely stuff, you just want to learn how to correct the rut you are in.
If you have been out of the dating scene for a a long time, you say, how do you get yourself back in there? Go out to bars and try to chat people up?
Most of us shudder at that notion for various reasons -- the messiness of the drinking scene; the arbitrary nature of succeeding in meeting your sort of person; the time-consuming and most likely futile effort of it; and, lastly, because we are too tired to focus the kind of systematic energy it would require over time to actually meet someone right for us.
But what if you never had the skills necessary to go out, search and flirt? The confidence to walk up to a stranger and chat them up, or be chatted up? It really does seem easier to just pass through life, stay single and die quietly, doesn't it? For all the perceived promiscuity of modern Ireland -- which I believe is the behaviour of a minority -- many people actually do not have the confidence to put themselves out there. The possibility of further rejection overshadows the dreams that may be gained.
Being single and living alone often renders even the most successful career people susceptible to feelings of isolation, being invisible, rusty at social skills and very unconfident when it comes to dating and attracting. Which is why I believe people such as Lauren Frances are going to feature more and more on our radar, not as a novelty, but as an need.
Lauren Frances is a love coach. She teaches people how to flirt, how to find true love and how to recognise what they need, and want, in a relationship. And also how to achieve it, all without the assistance of self-help phraseology or fluffy spiritual talk. Originally from New Jersey, she now calls Los Angeles home. Gorgeous, compassionate, flirtatious, witty, and above all clear visioned and with clear opinions, she is revolutionising mating in America. Though she can conjure up smartass, jingoistic phrases as well as any of the self-help merchants out there, Frances is much more than that.
Back in the Nineties, when she was in her early 30s, she wrote a book called Dating, Mating and Manhandling. It was turned down by every publisher she approached, all of them represented by male editors who made no bones about saying to her: "We don't understand your book." Had they been women, she believes, they would have got it instantly.
A few years later, when she was dating Simpsons creator Matt Groening, he said to her: "You're funny; you should write a book." She said: "I did!" He read it and couldn't believe nobody had taken it up.
Encouraged by Groening, Frances tried again to find a publisher. This time, the book was understood: this time, women were in the editors' chairs. This time, she sold it. Now she works as a one-to-one love coach to Hollywood celebrities, as well as ordinary men and women. She runs online courses and web seminars and has just completed a pilot show about her dating and mating beliefs.
Her book was borne of her own experiences, and of helping her friends with dating. Unlike most self-help books, which are full of nice, well-intentioned advice, Dating, Mating and Manhandling is a highly practical, no-nonsense, funny, man-respecting-yet-playful manual for women who have forgotten, or never knew, how to flirt, date and mate.
Last year, I heard Lauren Frances talk in an online seminar and she blew my mind with her clarity of vision and grounded, seriously helpful advice. I decided to meet her in person to see was she really as genuine as she sounded, or if she was just another self-promoting self-help guru out to make a lot of money from other people's vulnerabilities. She was organising a makeover weekend in New York for some clients of hers, taking them through the process of coming out of the closet of isolation and into a whole new life.
There, in Fitzpatrick hotel on Lexington Avenue, I bumped into John Fitzpatrick who, when he heard why I was in New York, told me about dating events run in his Fitzpatrick's Manhattan hotel which have already resulted in two marriages and several couples. He told me that in his business he sees all the time people's desire for and need for help in romance, hence his creation of a very romantic honeymoon suite and lots of Valentine events in his hotels. (By this time I was becoming a Lauren Frances zealot, so John scampered away in case I tried to bring him to one of her meetings!)
Lauren Frances, I am glad to report, is the real deal. She is passionate about what she does, she loves her clients and she truly wants to see them find happiness. It was amazing to witness that group of 13 women in New York, aged 34-64, teachers and lawyers and CEOs, who were physically gorgeous but who had lost sight of themselves, emerging over the weekend from low self-esteem and hardness to fresh-faced girliness and optimism.
Back in the Nineties, Frances was an event manger in Hollywood, the orchestrator of huge parties and launches, a career she loved. She told me she used to meet loads of wonderful people who were single, well educated, well off, and powerful but who could not get a date and, amazingly, lacked confidence to change their status.
They often confided in her and she soon found herself coaching them and being successful in her endeavours -- her website has a stellar list of testimonials. And her friends kept saying: "You never have a problem finding guys; will you help me?"
Attracting guys was never a problem for Lauren -- she had not one, but three boyfriends at age four. She teaches women how to move out of the detrimental world of Hans Christian Andersen passive mythology into a passionate reality where all women can be man-magnets like her. She coaches men in finding what they want from a relationship and in how to ask for it, rather than feel the need to barter, or buy it.
Unlike other so-called dating gurus who seem to have a 'catch it, fuck it, and kill it' attitude to the opposite sex, Frances is respectful of both sexes and she talks bluntly, as well as humourously, about both. No wonder men like her so much -- she is witty, sexy and fair. Women admire her because she is what she espouses -- gorgeous, sexy, happy in herself, powerful, attractive and attracting.
The essential premise of Frances's work is that men are better shoppers of partners than women. They know what they want, be it casual sex, a girlfriend or a wife, and they look only for that.
Women, however, have a tendency to not know what it is that they are looking for, and they are reluctant to become self-aware when it comes to love and relationships. When women meet men, they are so caught up in the 'does he like me?' stuff that they aren't actually listening to what men are saying to them -- which is 'I want sex/girlfriend/wife' -- until it is too late, they are involved, and they are in the wrong place, wasting years of their lives with men who only wanted to date, when the women wanted to get married.
Frances says women are reluctant to state their needs in case they "frighten off the guy! But that is exactly what they should be doing. He doesn't match what they need and they are wasting their time on him. If they knew what they wanted in the first place, they should hold out for it and the right guy. It's easier to get rid of a guy in date one than in year one."
But instead of listening to that little voice -- the same one Michelle Rocca talked to me about -- women work at what they shouldn't bother with, and waste their time and their lives.
I have long felt that women are grateful for men's attention and this leads them to compromise themselves and their desires -- and mislead men into the bargain.
Frances agrees. She believes that our attention is the most valuable commodity we offer -- not sex -- and that women squander their attention on unworthy choices because of lack of focus, as well as a lack of self-esteem.
"Part of the reason women are single is they are uncomfortable receiving attention," she told me. This is especially true of Irish women, who are confused as to sex, self-worth and desirability. For this we can partly blame the Catholic Church and the feminist movement, which focused on women's rights and downplayed women's arts.
In her work, Frances sets out to get her clients to clarify their needs, secret dreams and ambitions. She looks for their blocks, she tries to help them through them, and she comes up with practical help to seek romance in their lives again -- and not just with a view to marriage. Frances believes we need love and affection on our terms.
While most of us may wish to meet someone through our friends, or something reassuring like that, Frances says that is happening less and less. She sees internet dating sites as the true future of dating. With statistics such as eHarmony's claim that each day, 236 couples in the US marry after meeting on an internet site, you can see how she would have that kind of faith.
A problem, according to Frances, is that most people don't know how to work internet sites properly, that internet dating is misunderstood and suffers from a bad image and that people are embarrassed to put themselves on them.
Until I met Lauren Frances, I had never been on a dating site. I found them scary and somewhat shameful, like porn. Since meeting Frances, I have talked to many single people about internet dating, from multimillionaire entrepreneurial, successful men to proactive, intelligent, women, and most of them recoiled when I suggested they go online dating. So I know my feelings are shared. Some people feel that to have to resort to internet dating it is a sign of desperation. Frances says this is nonsense. She thinks sites are great because so much key information is already there for you to assess -- relationship ambitions, attitude to drink, children, religion, earnings etc. You have the opportunity to assess and sort without wasting time on fact-finding dates.
She believes boundaries are clear on sites and that with some knowledge, which she can give you, you can learn to separate the chancers from the true hearts.
I have many gay friends who hate the gay scene, saying it can be predatory and scary and not at all 'them', and who choose the internet to meet romantic partners. They tell me that it is a lifeline for any gay person who wants to lead a private and healthy life. One pal has met most of his relationships via the web and I have always been impressed by his finds!
Yet, still I hesitated.
When I finally did work up the courage to register on a site and read the profiles of about 30 men, only one guy was openly sleazy, while most were astonishing in their honesty and heartfelt desire for a relationship, outlining who they were and what they were looking for. It was the women who were cagey in stating what they wanted.
Frances has now decided to launch an online course especially for Irish and UK singletons, which will launch in a fortnight. To give people an idea of who she is before they sign up, she is giving two free seminars over the next two weeks, details of which you can find on her website. The course itself will consist of 90-minute coaching sessions, once a week over six weeks, which she hopes to follow with a makeover weekend here like the one she has done in New York (that part won't be cheap, but if you have the cash, it is worth it).
Lauren is also going to do a men's coaching course.
Her online courses are pure gold. Having completed one, my sense of self and self confidence has shot up, even if I still haven't got online properly as yet. But I intend to.
Frances, and her clients I met in New York, showed me that age really is nothing but a number and not a barrier to dating and having fun, and that we meet no one because we can see no one, and that is because we can't actually see ourselves. We don't believe we are able to find and deserving of finding love -- and so we don't. Frances helped me to see how easy a shift it was from being unseeing to seeing.
Frances reminded me of that adage: "what we give out, we get back". I was giving nothing out, be it the desire to meet someone or a faith I was going to. So what happened? I met no one.
But more importantly, Frances has convinced me that living without love is truly sad. And that men believe in romance just as much as women and that it is we who need to believe in the dream we profess to want.
So on this Valentine's Day, though there may not be a surprise card in my letter box, I am not sad, or feeling lonely or like a failure. Having completed Frances's course, I can see that, yes, actually, the world is full of nice, interesting, available men, as Bridget Jones would describe them -- and I can meet them. I am now aware of all the possibility that is out there and I am engaged with it in a proactive way.
It feels like a much happier place to be. I wish it for you, too.
For Elizabeth Schnugh's Relationships course, tel: (058) 42903, or see www.institute-for-the-study-of-man.com