I honestly don't know how I thought I could get away with it. It did seem to be going well, but with hindsight I suppose I should admit I was in denial. This morning I had just about convinced myself that I wouldn't feel at all single this valentines day.
It was going to Tesco's that pushed me over the edge. I was fine, I really was. I was going to get away with it. But on the way from returning a DVD to Blockbuster, I had a sudden urge to get the new Toilet Brush that I need. I don't know why I go to Blockbuster. There's a perfectly good video shop in town and I should make more effort to support local business. Blockbuster is shinier and it's easier to park, although you end up having to go half a mile round the one-way system in order to avoid the oncoming traffic.
So I get to Tesco, humming a happy single-guy song, and I'm greeted with a mountain of flowers and pink signs. I shrug off the "Greet your loved one on Valentine's Day" and "Let that special someone know you care" slogans as marketing wank and continue on my way. Somehow the sentiment is diluted by the commercialism of it all, and my imagined immunity to the latter blissfully shields me from the former.
No, it wasn't the flowers or the cards, it was the chocolates. Confronted by shelf upon shelf of heart-shaped boxes of Ferrero Rocher I feel the tears welling up somewhere behind my eyes. How could the Ambassador do this to me? I execute a sharp turn in my nippy single-person-sized trolley and stumble blindly into the Tomylove Toblerones. Struggling to maintain my composure, I make it past the 'I love you' Rolo cakes and make it to the Olives section.
It's here that I realise why my sub-conscious self dragged me to the supermarket. I need to buy things to make myself feel better, but it's damn well going to work. It was wonderful. Tesco's had obviously had a delivery of Olives that day and it would have been rude not to take advantage of the smorgasbord (I love using that word, did I spell it right?) of varieties and flavours they had to offer.
Three jars of Olives later I remember that I'd promised myself two new baking trays after accidentally leaving the grill on and burning the non-stick coating off of my last one. Hurrah!! On the same theme, a Russell Hobbs food steamer catches my eye. Again, I'd managed to destroy my last one, this time by not filling it up with water, and only noticing when the kitchen was filled with the acrid stench of burning plastic. This one has an automatic cut-off, and the element looks more intelligently designed, so I buy it without hesitation.
I'm currently writing a song about being shallow. It's a girl singing, but it works for anyone. Each verse is about how a different thing in her life has gone terribly wrong, but it's ok because to make up for it she's treated herself to a random and meaningless luxury. For example, "My boyfriend dumped me, left me all alone, went to the Link, got me a new phone" "Lost my job, la la la (something that rhymes with chocolate), so I bought myself lots of chocolate". Needs work, but the idea is clearly golden. Don't think it's been done.
As I leave the Kitchenware department I notice a pretty girl with her bloke, looking at oven mittens. I'm about to mentally send them to hell for daring to be together, when I realise I know her. Not having seen her for three years I decide I can't face the usual tragic catch-up conversation and dive into the bakery, picking up a bag of freshly baked double chocolate chunk cookies. I don't know why I bought these, because the last ones I bought tasted burnt, and munching on one as I type this, these are not much better. I also buy a Tesco's Finest Pizza, and beaucoup de Fruit Juice and Smoothies. As I trundle back from getting cocktail sticks (for the Olives) I fondly recall memories of fancying the oven mitten girl when I was fifteen and unjustly assuming the feelings weren't reciprocated. By the time I found out she was interested it was too late, and all that happened was a feeble tongueless kiss and halfhearted grope after an Air Cadets party (well, I was only fifteen... sixteen, max). It couldn't be that bad to say hi, could it? I drift back towards that end of the supermarket, but don't find her. I do remember that I need a new toilet brush, so I treat myself to the most expensive one they had. Made of special plastic that kills bacteria. Cool. Maybe one day they'll invent one that dissolves the little flecks of poo that resiliently stick to the end of the bristles.
It's just occurred to me that this is becoming incredibly long and increasingly pointless. If you've read this far you must be feeling even more pathetic than I am today. If this is the case, please email and say because it would make me feel infinitely better. Now that you've got this far, I can assure you that there is a point later on, a definite, insightful and controversial conclusion for you to look, or more likely, skip, forward to.
I loop round the bakery but the oven mitts girl isn't there, and I curse myself for not saying hello. It's *always* nice to see people after how ever many years. I stop for a second and simultaneously recount my shopping list under my breath, and wonder how I can possibly be single. Who could possibly not be attracted to this healthy, intelligent, fairly well off young man as he stands alone in an aisle in Tesco's muttering "fruit juice, baking trays, olives, pizza, steamer, VEG!".
About turn and there she is, standing right in front of the pre-packed bags of brocolli, caulliflower and carrot. Suddenly I realise how earth-shatteringly painful reunions like this can be, and I falter for a moment. Then the New, assertive, Me kicks in and hurls himself towards her.
Of course she instantly recognises me. We greet each other in tones of mock surprise and I realise she did see me by the bakery. I make mad waving motions towards the guy that's with her. "Is this your new man?" I ask, and she instantly replies with a proud "Yes". I nod and she continues "well, three years". I feel awkward now, and her poor guy is standing there alternately staring at the piles of vegetables and his feet. "So, how long has it been?" I ask, and we agree it's probably been at least three years. She asks me what I'm up to, and I tell her, and she asks me if I've got anyone, and I tell her no. She smiles as if she's won some unheralded competition. I suppose she has. I tell her that it's ok, and point to the trolley full of goodies that I'm spoiling myself with. "I managed to avoid buying a foot spa though", a joke which is lost on her. I grab my veg and eject as politely as possible. One last (silent) mental check through my shopping list I still have the feeling I've forgotten something, but can't work out what it is.
The checkout girl greets me with a cheerful "Are you on your own?", and I'm about to tell her yes, but it's ok because I have three different types of Olives, when I notice a lady hovering ready to help me pack my bags. I let her help, which doesn't get the job done any quicker, but makes sure twice as many plastic bags get used as were needed. God I love the western world.
Driving home, still with the nagging feeling I've forgotten something, I consider previous Valentine's days. I got my first real Valentine's card when I was fourteen, and to this day I still don't know who sent it. It was hand-delivered, and I clearly remember the clatter of the letterbox as it arrived, and the patter of retreating feet. I was watching TV, probably watching something like The Mysterious Cities of Gold and eating my usual after-school snack of Toast, Cheese and huge globs of Nutella. It did cross my mind that it could be a valentine, but my teenage self-esteem was so low that I didn't bother to jump up to catch the sender. It was pink, with hearts made of rolled up paper stuck to the front. Ten years later I've still got it, somewhere.
I always seemed to either send no valentines at all, or about six. One of the more memorable was stuffed into the recipients bag outside the library. I then went in and sat at a table with her, and she told me she hoped she didn't get any valentines and if she did she'd tear them up because valentines day was so commercialised. (btw, I may decide to forward this to her, so: yes, it's you. hi) One of the other five recipients that year was gracious enough to thank me for the card I sent her, in front of her boyfriend.
If you've ever wondered who it is that buys the ridiculously over-sized cards you see in Clinton's, it's me. Only cards of that scale were sufficient to convey my feelings for my one serious girlfriend at university. We got together two days after Valentines Day 1997, and because at the start of 1999 she'd become a lesbian and was sleeping with one of my friends, we only had Valentines Day 1998 as a couple. That week they ran Rag Blind Date, and so she didn't feel left out, we pretended to be each other's blind date. In case you don't know, the girls get together with their friends, choose a pub, and are set up with random guys from elsewhere in the university. I turned up late, and because all the other couples were talking together and otherwise ignoring us, we just sat and snogged all night.
The next year I got a very sweet card in my pigeonhole. I vowed to track down the sender, to prove that it was from a friend hoping to make me feel better because my ex-girlfriend had turned to the dark side. Of course I was secretly hoping that it was at least half-serious, and went round thanking all the girls I knew for their card until one of them replied with "that's ok!". Unfortunately she did this in front of several of my friends who saw it as their duty to spend the next month reminding me of the disappointed look on my face.
I know I'm not the only one. It's no coincidence that many couples I know, my vag-etarian ex and I included, get together shortly after Valentines day. All around the world right now there are people spending the next couple of days miserable because they are not conforming to society's accepted norm of couple-dom.
The thing is, I think I've recently realised something fairly pivotal that's a major contributing factor to the single status of myself and many others;
Men have evolved, women's tastes haven't.
At this point, if you're half of a happy couple, or a die-hard romantic, you should probably not bother reading any further. It's really true though.
Historically, man has clubbed his favourite woman, or even women, over the head and dragged her back to his cave. This kind of behaviour is no longer acceptable and most men don't tend to carry clubs and don't generally live in caves. At some point down the line, Eve found she (figuratively speaking) had the balls to stand up to Adam and to deny him nookie if he didn't tone his masculine instincts down a bit.
Adam meanwhile found that if he sat down and listened, Eve sometimes did have some interesting things to say. Eve took such tremendous pains to convince Adam that she did have uses outside the kitchen and the bedroom, that the flip side to the coin that gave Eve the same rights and responsibilities as Adam has been forgotten.
As Eve learns to think like Adam, as she learns to drive trains, manage businesses, fight wars and run countries, so too Adam learns to think like Eve. In fact, the first point at which Adam started to think like Eve was when he began to let her do all these things.
Few people would disagree that sexual discrimination is an evil that deserves to be eradicated from any civilised country. But while it's important to ensure we don't discriminate against half of our population, we mustn't forget that Adam and Eve were made different for a reason.
As Adam gets in touch with his feminine side, he runs the risk of shedding the qualities that Eve found so damned attractive about him in the first place.
This is really happening. Eve tolerates Adams forays into cooking, cleaning, and bringing up children, but in response to him becoming more aware of both of their feelings, she makes him into a girlfriend, not a lover. The moment Adam asks Eve 'What do you want to do?' he's turned from a walking erection into a flacid and compliant wimp.
Eve might shout and scream at Adam and label him testosterone-poisoned when he responds to situations aggressively, but a part of her is secretly and irresistably turned on by this behaviour. Sensitive, new-age Adam listens to Eve's complaint and starts to see things her way. Maybe he should act with more restraint, maybe he should take more note of other people's feelings, maybe he should act more like Eve. Thus Eve's desire for Adam wanes, and so she finds herself less motivated to express this desire with sex, which becomes instead a controlling leash around Adam's neck.
Either that, or Eve leaves Adam and goes looking for Bob, who turns out either to be too like old Adam for Eve to tame, or too like new Adam for her to interest him. I think I've over-stretched the metaphor with Bob, so I'm going to try and wrap this up.
Perhaps I'm just bitter because I'm single on Valentine's day, or because I was one of the smaller and quieter students at school, or because women just don't seem to find *me* attractive. But actually, I'm still asshole and arrogant enough to think that I'm right about this.
I had an important realisation a few months ago, that attraction has much less to do with looks, intelligence, riches, or any of the things we might usually attribute it to than we think it does, and much more to do with how you make the other person _feel_.
I was brought up to respect women and listen to them and not pressure them and be polite, and told that this would one day bring me the woman of my dreams. This is of course a cruel lie, invented by a naive and idealistic Eve, and accepted as gospel truth by Adam as he discovers his Eve within. Of course this attitude *did* bring one woman of note (aside from the brief encounters with women who were desperate or somehow mistook me for the old Adam I'm now looking to rediscover), and she had the mind to fall in love with my inner Eve and the body to accept my outer Adam.
The trouble is, new Adam just doesn't make Eve feel like a woman. He's got into the habit of suppressing his instinctive behaviour that rocked her world so. Where he would have boldly approached an attractive Eve who caught his eye, now he worries that she won't be interested, not realising that Eve finds boldness interesting and attractive. When he does talk to Eve, he's so uncomfortable when she holds his gaze that he looks at the floor, which means that *he's* not holding *her* gaze so she looks elsewhere. He's so wrapped up in listening to her, that he forgets to mention all the things he does that make him a man, and that would engage her interest.
Desperate and frustrated, Adam asks Eve out for a date, so he can spend a whole evening failing to arouse her interest. The more Adam wants Eve, the more fearful he becomes that somehow he'll offend her, so instead of taking charge, instead of leading Eve like she wants to be led, he asks her what she wants to do. Eve tells him she doesn't mind, because she still hasn't quite gotten the hang of making decisions yet, and Adam assumes that he's supposed to gently nudge her until she makes one. Of course there is no Bob, and Eve is just as desperate and frustrated as Adam, so they go on their date, and Eve pays for herself to ensure that Adam is utterly redundant.
Adam might as well pull out a guillotine and chop his balls off. At the end of the date he suddenly goes for a goodnight kiss, and Eve blows him off (not in the good way). Touching and kissing is one of the major weapons old Adam had at his disposal to attract Eve to him and bind her to him, but up until now he's been too frightened and withdrawn to touch her - Eve needs the touching to start gradually, but this comes as an unwelcome surprise, because Adam has up until now suppressed his sexuality for fear of scaring Eve away.
This pattern really is being played out over and over again by many different people. Watch Blind Date sometime; twice in the last month or so they've shown girls who have specifically said they don't want a 'nice guy'. Eve hasn't changed, she wants a man who will 'challenge her' and 'keep her on her toes'. So she chooses Number 2, who had the most cockily scripted answers, and he's so gorgeous she can't stop grinning as they walk off the stage. Then the next week she complains that he was wet and didn't take the hint when she made it clear she wasn't interested.
What hope then, for Adam and Eve? Will Adam regain his testosterone-fuelled ways or will Eve realise that she loves the monster she's created?
Most men of course are somewhere in between the old, club-round-the-back-of-the-head Adam and new, stuck-outside-in-the-rain-with-a-bunch-of-flowers Adam. There are women who genuinely appreciate the new, sensitive Adam who's willing to do the ironing, and there are women who will always throw themselves at old Adam no matter how much he cheats and lies and beats her.
Me? I have every faith that one day new Adam will be appreciated as much as he deserves. In the meantime, I'm going to buy the heaviest club I can find.
PS: Veggie Fajitas. I forgot to buy Veggie Fajitas. For lunch tomorrow I'm now stuck with Quiche.
PPS: Now go and read Simon's Love Story for the Naughties.