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What Happened To The Innocence Of Valentine's?
My heart sank as I walked into a local greeting card and stationery shop chock-a-block with tacky St Valentine's paraphernalia. It wasn't so much the brash boldness of it all as the occasional humorous Valentine card is harmless. Many shy lovers use humour to make their point. And it wasn't the overly sentimental or silly merchandise that irked. Because the most jaded partner might need a light-hearted gift to elbow them out of a romantic rut. No, what troubled me was so much of it was aimed at teenagers and even the so-called "tweenies" - those aged 10, 11 and 12 years.
There were sorry little plastic creatures – mainly bears and puppies - with gimmicky messages of love slung across their chests. Huge, sad eyes a pre-requisite. Is all love so sad? Soft toys carrying messages of "first" or "only love" featured highly, all childish and soppy. Far worse offenders were items with sexually suggestive messages apparently marketed at the young. The plastic photo frames inscribed with "horny little devil" one of the worst culprits.
This is a far cry from the way Valentine's was treated in my youth. From age 12 we were allowed to give Valentine's cards to other pupils at school. What expectation and intrigue that year! The art teacher provided a selection of craft items for those who wanted to design their first cards celebrating puppy love. With little hearts pounding we'd sneakily place cards on the desks of those we fancied. The charade of making them anonymous heightened our youthful excitement. Because it was a thinly veiled charade, most fledgling love was patently obvious – turning crimson when a particular pupil pushed past you a common give-away. Whispers circulated about who had slipped a card on to which desk. It was exciting to guess who had a crush. And the big question - was the feeling returned?
That year my heart secretly belonged to a boy named Robbie. I hoped and prayed he'd make me a card. My dreams came true on receiving a big red heart cut out of heavy card that simply said "To Pam, from Robbie". Such was the innocence he didn't even sign it with "love". Nor follow it up with anything like actually talking to me. At 12 we simply smiled shyly across the classroom. But the big surprise - scoring me many social points - he also gave me a multi-pack of Polo mints all wrapped up. The girls stood round and cooed over my Valentine's treasure trove. To think the humble Polo could raise you to dizzying heights!
Those innocent days are long gone and you might think any celebration of Valentine's aimed at the young - or even older lovers - is far too commercial an undertaking. I'm sure St Valentine with his sad story of unrequited love would agree. He'd be terribly disappointed that young, puppy love should be so shrewdly manipulated. His famous card - the first love card of its kind - to his jailer's blind daughter in AD 269 was nothing of the type presently on offer. The story has it he died as she opened it, while she recovered her sight at that moment. Real sigh-inducing romanticism is non-existent for today's youth.
When it comes to our children I object to manufacturers targeting their pocket money - and their hearts - with an onslaught of must-have junk to prove their self-worth. The message they promote is as plastic as the gear - 'you'll win that special person's attention with our plastic, love-struck puppy'. I object even more to parents allowing their youngsters to try to buy puppy love with this trash.
Why not encourage a return to Valentine innocence? If your teen or ‘tween’ isn't interested in the day obviously don't foist it on them. But if they are, discourage them wasting pocket money on St Valentine's tack. Instead encourage them to send innocent and - get the smelling salts ready – possibly hand-made cards to their first special friend. After all, learning to express your interest and affection is healthy. It's the shy teens that are least happy during these tumultuous years when all around them are learning about love and relationships.
I'm not a complete Valentine's killjoy. When it comes to adults, as a relationship expert I think a Valentine's-and-beyond approach is helpful. Valentine's itself can rekindle a sense of fun and love to be continued all year round helping to nurture your relationship. Use Valentine's to celebrate new love, revive a flagging love, and generally make the person you love feel special. But don't leave your efforts to this day alone. Flowers, delicious chocolates, candlelit dinners and champers will warm heart s on February 14th - and any day for that matter.
Published in The Express Newspaper
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