Break out the Prozac, uncork the gin, curse Gillette for the invention of the safety razor; the year’s most wretched day returns. Unless you’re recently post-pubescent, 14th February is not a day to be eagerly anticipated. Even Al Capone found better things to do on St Valentine’s Day than mumble between awkward silences in a packed King’s Road restaurant pretending to possess the same impulses and manners he’d channelled his teenaged lusts through.
Probably the one thing worse than being single on Valentine’s Day is – not being single. It becomes a badge of honour: to prove the unprovable, that not only does desire still burn within you, but its best means of expression is through the clichéd palette of ‘romance’: wine, roses, chocolates, gemstones, pointless surprise gestures and love notes going beyond the customary, “Gt milk on way bk pls. x”.
Of course your affection may be overwhelming, your passion undeniable, but doesn’t the ‘romance’ feel forced, somehow unnatural? Maybe that’s because it is. Romantic love is in fact a relatively recent invention, created at the end of the 11th century in the courts of Aquitaine, Provence, Champagne and Burgundy, by poets eager to promote the status of women and gain the patronage of suddenly powerful queens; left nominally in charge as their kings, dukes and liegelords went a-crusading. This not only ignited the mother of all jihads; it began an extraordinary revolution at home.
Handsome young troubadours moved in, singing songs queens wanted to hear; cathartic tales placing women not on the periphery but in the centre, on a pedestal. Herous saved damsels, knights risked all for a lady’s favour… a far cry from the contracted chattel that their arranged marriages had made them.
And apparently in this chastity-belted hot-love environment, where desire reigned but consummation was feared, the elements of romance were forged: the forbidden naughtiness of sex, the symbolism of gifts, the never certain fumbling between lustful urges and ‘chivalrous’ conduct.
Before these ‘courts of live’, marriages were strictly arranged, brokered, acquisitive affairs. But ‘romance’ expressed mutual trust and would eventually let them take part in a radical new method of spousal selection: courtship. By gradually shifting the power of matrimonial choice from dynasties to individuals, courtship changed the face of Western society. However, it was still social policy designed by poets – somewhat slapdash; all metaphors and symbols, nothing concrete. The romantic rules of engagement were never made explicitly, which is why dating remains a minefield of confusing come-ons and back-offs.
So ask yourself: are you still courting? Or is this valentinian ‘romance’ an empty gesture? The fact is, we probably only know we’re right for each other when we turn off the ‘romance’ to find we can still look at each other without feeling nauseous. So this year free yourself, break the shackles, show love your way not their way – cancel that restaurant booking now.
… Oh and if you do, drop me a line. The decent ones are booked solid and the little lady will murder me if there’s no “candlelit” on Valentine’s night.
Marius Brill’s Making Love, A Conspiracy of the Heart (Black Swan £6.99) is a perfect Valentine present for the disenchanted.via Romance? It’s Unnatural – KensingtonChelseaToday.