Tuesday 21 May 2019

Romantic Ireland is dead and gone - my eyes are still bleeding from all the soppy Valentine's Day posts

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Stock image

Andrea Smith

St. Valentine was a 3rd Century Roman saint who was was beaten with clubs and stones and then beheaded.

I spotted a few visibly mortified young guys on Wednesday who looked like they might have preferred that fate themselves, over being stuck clutching overpriced bouquets of red roses and tacky, cuddly-toy-and-chocolates combos, while waiting for their dates to arrive.

Like every other occasion, Valentine’s Day in Ireland used to be a half-hearted event, before we went all Disney on it and turned it into a full-scale theatrical production. We Irish weren’t given to public displays of adoration in the past, preferring to be known for our sarcasm, dry wit and ability to spin a good yarn instead.

Gushing outbursts of affection and sentiment were treated with actual horror. We barely tolerated our hands being held in public, and most men needed six pints inside them before they would even do that. Valentine’s cards were anonymous and were usually sent by someone who admired you from afar. Trying to work out who it might be was most of the fun.

That has all changed, and my eyeballs are still bleeding from reading all the soppy posts dedicated to love this week. Public outpourings of affection are mandatory now, because nothing is real any more unless it has a whole Instagram post dedicated to it.

You also know that if half of reception isn’t taken up by a massive bouquet and clutch of red helium balloons for Janet from accounts on February 14, her boyfriend is going to be in the dog house for a long time. Won’t even get as much as a look at her bra for the next month.

Valentine’s Day used to be the preserve of the young and in love, and it consisted of wasting a whole lot of money on padded cards and a rushed meal in a two-hour time slot in a crowded restaurant. Most older people decried it as a commercial rip-off, and your parents may or may not have exchanged a card. If your dad was really sucking up or was trying to climb out of the bad books, a box of Milk Tray might have featured.

With all this showmanship around professing your love this week, I would actually hate to be young again. I’m so glad I’m old and bitter. When I was at school in the 1980s - an all-girls convent school - Valentine’s Day was the preserve of the few glittering teenage beauty queens, who shone out from the rest of us of puberty-ridden creatures who had yet to “grow into” ourselves.

Unlike the perfectly-made-up beauties in school uniforms these days, we were predominantly a crowd of plain Janes. Make up was strictly forbidden at school and hair straighteners hadn’t been invented, so if you happened to hate your red cheeks, freckles, spotty skin, frizzy curls or non-existent eyebrows, there wasn’t a blessed thing you could do about it. As a result, many of us weren't confident around the opposite sex.

We didn’t know what the gym was, and while we were terribly self-conscious about our appearances, like every generation of teenagers, we were also more or less in the same boat. It wasn’t all bad though as we also didn’t have to deal with social media influencers photoshopping their bodies and skin and making us feel even worse about our puppy fat and spots. We might have had a few Mean Girls lording it over the rest of us, but they were very much a minority.

We also tended to hang out with our girlfriends for longer, before boys came crashing onto the scene. My school timed its schedule so that we never encountered the local boys’ school walking to and from school, so unless we had brothers of roughly the same age, boys remained a mystery to many of us right until we graduated. We were shyer too, and the fear of getting pregnant - the worst thing that could happen to you back then - loomed large as a deterrent. A few exotic creatures managed to bag a boy, of course, and we lived vicariously through their gilded lives.

The pressure coming up to Valentine’s Day was immense though, because even if you had never exchanged a single word with a person of the opposite sex of your own age (same-sex relationships didn’t even come into the equation back then), you still harboured a desperate hope that a card from an anonymous admirer would land on the doormat on February 14th.

We may have appeared nonchalant about it, but it was the first question on everyone’s lips and by the end of the first class, we all knew who exactly had received, or didn’t receive, a card. Some people brought them in so we could all pore over them and try to work out the handwriting, and others pretended they had received one at home or the post hadn’t arrived. You could do that then because social media didn’t exist to demand you prove yourself.

I had perfected the art of shrugging, “No, nothing,” like I didn’t care, until I went to the Gaeltacht in Anagaíre in Donegal for a month. To my unbridled joy, there was a ratio of 12 girls to 48 boys there. So even those of us who looked like a donkey’s arse were spoiled for choice as ‘chung fellas’ from Lurgan literally queued up to dance with us at the céilís in the evening.

I ended up dating a nice guy from Wicklow named Des, and although we never saw each other again after we came home from Donegal, we kept in touch for a few months via letter. The following Valentine’s Day, a card arrived from him plus a cassette tape of The Kids from Fame 2. I felt like a lottery winner bringing it into school that day to show the other girls. It was my only time to get a Valentine’s as a teenager - God bless the Gaeltacht.

These days, everyone is in on the act. If people weren’t writing online eulogies to their partners this week, it was mortifyingly soppy posts to their kids, their dogs, and spare us, their ‘galentines’. That one needs to disappear fast because all the effusive tributes to friends and “tribes” were in danger of making my lunch come back up again.

Everyone is a Valentine now, even small children, and the whole thing is a ridiculous, manufactured affair of mawkish sentiment. I couldn’t believe the amount of doting daddies and mammies presenting bewildered small children with roses and cards this week and it made me eyeroll to high heavens. I also found it a bit creepy, to be honest.

Thanks to Instastories, I saw a two-year-old eyeing her single red rose wrapped in cellophane with contempt, and laughed as she dropped it on the ground and trampled on it in her rush to grab the chocolate her father held in his other hand. Single red roses for toddlers? Daddies, for the love of God, cop yourselves on.

People, you are supposed to love your partner and children, that is a given. There is no need to engage in competitive showing-off about it. We believe that you love and are loved without you having to bleed all over Facebook about it.

Couples of Ireland, please catch hold of yourselves. Valentine’s Day would be a whole lot more romantic if you kept your exchanges private and personal and between the two of you.

And we’d be most grateful if you could leave the rest of us, along with your kids, pets and friends - right out of it. Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone? Ah bah, humbug to that.

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