By Iulia Gheorghe
It was the 14th of February 2003 and there he stood, tall and looking sheepishly at the door of my grandparents’ house with a fleecy, heart-shaped stuffed toy. I don’t remember what I said or what he said, but I do remember that I absolutely hated the toy, the gesture, the look on his face as if he cared or wanted me to care, this entire situation: he was my boyfriend and had to pretend that I was into him. In that very moment, I was doing it only to show off as any 13 years old adolescent with pimples and chubby checks would do (except those lean, porcelain-skinned girls who knew nothing about the guilty pleasure of extracting blackheads and eating Nutella sandwiches while your parents are sleeping).
However, even if his wet kisses didn’t make me shiver of pleasure, I was glad he was my boyfriend. He was 17 and I could brag about being in a couple to my mates who had never been kissed before (though they were mimicking it in the mirror).
On top of that, the plush heart had a strong scent. I think he poured a bottle of Axe after-shave on it. Years after and you could still feel that spicy sweetish fragrance! My mother laughed when she saw it, maybe because she knew how much I disliked everything corny back then. I was listening to Eminem and Metallica and reading Cioran, for God's sake.
From that moment on Valentine’s Day meant for me: a cheesy present from some doofus guy who I pretended to like because of peer pressure and hormones going crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate romantic people. Somehow, I turned into a romantic myself. I believe in serendipitous coups de foudre. I happen to enjoy watching “Me before you” kind of films. One of my favourite albums is Nick Cave’s “Murder Ballads”, dark romanticism of course, but yet so sentimental - just think about “Henry Lee” or “Where The Wild Roses Grow”. I will forever cheer happy-endings. But the idea of inventing a day to celebrate all that, I simply don’t find it very appealing.
There is, of course, the typical Valentine’s Day grinch who fights it because of consumerism. Others hate it because they are absolute cynics; some are submerged by a wave of anti-Americanism. I tried to figure out in which group I could fit. At the end of the day, I was neither a cynic, nor an anti-American and I loved Christmas, which is a pretty consumerist holiday, too. I also love Easter and anniversaries, Mardi Gras and I didn’t hate Halloween. Why I was against Valentine’s Day then?
I found the answer in the reason why I celebrated all those other festive moments: conviviality. All holidays, except Valentine’s Day, are animated by a reunion spirit: we find ourselves together again, a glass in one hand, circling a dinner table, snatches of conversation, catching up, sharing a meal. Laughing at, then getting annoyed by the remarks of a tipsy uncle or severe mother. Feeling overwhelmed and blessed by our friends’ presence. That sensation of being part of a community, free to misbehave, because hey, everyone does it. There is no perfect family or perfect group of friends.
On the other hand, Valentine’s day is about two people who should strive to be a perfect couple, at least for 24 hours. There is nothing wrong in sharing a chocolate cake and walk hand-in-hand in the name of love, but it feels a little oppressive to do it on a particular day because you have to celebrate the idea of one kind of love, while we all know that there are a hoard of types of love. Everyone should be invited at the love party.
And probably, why Valentine’s Day pisses me off the most, is because it seems a little bit like an insult to my emotional intelligence. Firstly, I strive for more than “a cute moment”. Secondly, I clearly don’t want marketing “storytell” romance. I've been in a couple for eight years now and I know for sure that the steadiness of that intense feeling was not built on rose petals and Axe-scented plush hearts.
However, if you meet at a party, I’m not sure I will tell you all that if you ask me about how I celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s such a long story, isn’t it? I would probably prefer quoting André Aciman’s wise words: “Whoever said the soul and the body met in the pineal gland was a fool. It's the asshole, stupid.”
by Iulia Gheorghe
When the category « No sex and the city » was still in our brain’s belly, I was discussing with Diana about the most fervent subjects related to love life (and its demons) that we could explore. She gave me a lot of examples about the joys and sorrows of dating in the bustling city of London and she has a lot of stories to tell that I’m more than eager to devour.
"And now we're giving you the look-look"
As far as I’m concerned, dating is not exactly my niche. In fact, I’m out of the dating world since 2011. There was no Tinder back then, I had a flip phone and no strobing for my wedding make-up. Nobody knew what boho chic weddings were. I’ve never thought for a second about the color of the table runners or placemats. The flower bouquet was more expensive than the dress. The boy wore a Zara suit and the fanciest and corniest thing that we had at the ceremony was a chocolate fountain where children got sticky moustaches and fudgy fingerprints. I was 21, he was four years older and when I popped the news, almost everyone (except my grandmother, for whom founding a family is figuring out the meaning of life – insert rolling eyes here - ) gave me THE look. That peculiar look, acid like a rusty blade. It came in all forms:
The “you are too young to get married” look.
The "marriage is not for cool people” look.
The “will you become a desperate housewife?” look.
And my favorite one, the “statistics show that people who get married young get divorced sooner” look. Statistics also show that you have 1 in 10 chances to die from heart disease, 1 in 608 to suffocate to death, but only 1 in 45 808 to be killed by a foreign-born terrorist. Now turn on the TV or eavesdrop on a conversation in a café. The same people who will serve you the “statistics” argument for not getting married young are hysterically ignoring the odds on how they will kick the bucket.
Even the “Join the married people's side” look was creepy: I definitely wasn’t (and will never be) ready to enter the club of joint Facebook accounts. (Plus, sharing one account with somebody else is against Facebook terms. All those cute couples’ accounts are basically illegal).
Married or single, be ready to mingle
Of course my decision was written in stone. Dear younger me, you should have encouraged everybody to take a crash course in astrology. As a Taurus, I don’t take life lightly, but when I take a decision, I stand by it with all my heart and horns.
The most difficult thing to accept, though, was that “The look” came also from the people I cared about. I could understand their confusion, because I was always shouting out loud that I didn’t want to get married at all. And when I changed my mind, I was angry at me for contradicting myself and at them, for not fully believing that this decision wouldn’t change their friend. However, if we had switched places, I would have probably marriage-shamed them too, so finally that was a crucial lesson for me to learn in my twenties.
Years have gone by and approaching 30, now I get the other look when people hear that I’m married. The one full of relief. The one of “lucky you”. As our identities are solely dictated by our civil status! One of the girls in my language course told me she was going for a one-year world trip and while I was applauding her master plan, she added : “If not now, then when? After that, maybe I will finally find a man and have children and it will be too late to travel. I am 27, the clock is ticking. I often ask myself: when I will find him???”
No girl, it is never too late to discover the world. And love doesn’t wait behind the corner for your signal. It can come at 27 or at 80, so stop self-single-shaming yourself. I don’t know whose clock is ticking; do you really hear it or do you only hear society screaming that the clock should be ticking?
We can find a soulmate or we can be our own soulmate or both and who the hell cares about details when you step into love (any kind) as in a trip to Coney Island (never been, only in my imagination), pushing a stroller full of respectable feelings (hi there gratitude, honesty, acceptance) and gulping on a slurpee. Marriage can be like that. Being single can be like that. At the end of the day, we all have something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue in our luggage. Sometimes, it's a goddamn heavy suitcase. Other times, the suitcase turns into a teeny-tiny clutch bag, just like Cinderella's pumpkin that turned into a magnificent carriage.