Why I'm Not Spending Valentine's Day With My Partner - And Neither Should You
It's 14th February 2012 and I'm in the final year of university.
When he finally suggests we mark the occasion with a casual Starbucks afternoon date, I can't decide whether I'm relieved or disappointed.
Sure, a bunch of peonies the size of my head would have been a bit much. But to my 22-year-old self, Valentine's was synonymous with candlelit dinners, cards and scattered rose petals - so his offer of a lukewarm latte left me feeling I was somehow unworthy of such extravagant displays of affection.
In hindsight, my reaction was ridiculous. But the sad truth is, I'd been taught to view romantic gestures as a marker of self-worth.
It all began back at school, where the annual tradition of sending flowers to your secret crush served as a sort of social currency. While some girls' desks were piled high with red carnations, tethered to carefully-scribbled heart-shaped notes, others lay conspicuously bare - a reminder, if it was needed, that absolutely no one fancied you.
Teenage romance is a powerful force, and such was the pressure to pull out all the stops for Valentine's that my first boyfriend decided to shoplift a bottle of Burberry London before presenting it to me in a dubious act of chivalry.
It was a pretty reckless stunt - not to mention cheap - but I won't pretend I wasn't flattered. And, once I'd ripped off the security tag and got my first whiff of patchouli and sandalwood, 15-year-old me felt loved, special and important.
I'm not alone in getting swept up in the Valentine's myth. One friend is still traumatised by the memory of turning up to a cinema date nothing but a 'sexy' corset and stockings underneath her coat, only to find herself sitting through a two-hour movie in agony as the polyester stitching chafed against her skin.
Meanwhile, restaurants across the UK are enforcing 'no-PDA zones' and a new study from dating app Happn suggests 70 per cent of Brits see Valentine's Day as a 'waste of money'.
Indeed, recent research from Tequila Rose reveals one in three millennial women (32 per cent) would rather spend the special day with their girlfriends.
Back to Valentine's Day 2012. Caffeine fuelled and feeling slightly indignant, I made alternative dinner plans with my friends and we strutted from our student digs into town like a low-budget version of Sex and the City.
As we wove through the snow-covered streets of Leicester, past the couples queuing round the block to get a last-minute spot at Nando's, it dawned on me that an evening spent cackling over cheap wine at Bella Italia with my mates was the best date I could have asked for.
When I met my now-fiancé, we too fell into the Valentine's trap. Overcrowded restaurants and red lipstick on a Tuesday? Check. M&S meal deals? Check. Highly flammable Ann Summers lingerie? Check check.
Eventually, we came to our senses and realised that forced romance is possibly the least sexy way to spend an evening with the person you love.
So we dropped the pretence and stopped blocking out 14th February on our calendars. We agreed not to waste our hard-earned cash on overpriced set menus and made plans with our friends instead.
Yes, it's infinitely more fun than a stuffy candlelit dinner. But it's also a reminder to your single friends that they're just as important to you (if not - whisper it - more important) than your significant other.
Looking back, the year I spent Valentine's with two of my best friends in a bar, ploughing through a basket of bread and downing prosecco, remains one of the most romantic evenings of my life.
And yes, we felt pretty smug as we watched the bored-looking couples sat around us, some scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, others forcing their boyfriends to take #candid photos of them fondling their oversized bouquets. I'd highly recommend it as a pick-me-up if you're having a shit week.
My advice this year? Do yourself a favour and ditch the schmaltzy Valentine's scene. Whether you're single, coupled up or somewhere in between, you can't beat an evening spent laughing over smear tests, strapless bras and Love Island as you blitz through two-for-one cocktails.
Leave your partner at home. They'll probably thank you.
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