Am I wasting my valuable independence with the wrong person? Have I created less art because of the time I have spent performing emotional labour for a partner? Why does he always hang my towel up wrong? These are the kind of questions you find yourself asking in a relationship.
While concerns about the person you’re boning two to four times a week can appear at any time, the issues become pertinent on that one day of the year when everything in your relationship must combust under pressure, otherwise known as: Valentine’s Day. On February 14, when you’re asked to scrutinise your own presence, independence, affections, and interest in flowers, who’s to say what’s terrible? Sitting in a PizzaExpress, trying not to focus on the couple next to you arguing about whether Nduja is a salami or sausage or sitting alone at home charging your vibrator and watching Come Dine with Me re-runs? Is perpetual companionship really that rewarding, or is existential loneliness more terrifying? Who’s to say?
Well, me, actually. In order to solve this quandary, this pressing issue facing literally every human on the planet this February, I decided to compare the two: an archetypal Valentine’s Day meal out with my bf and a solo evening in the company of a five quid bottle of wine and some Tesco chocolate. Would love, romance, and questionably sourced bluefin tuna be the best way to spend a commercialised holiday centred around monetising affection? Or would time spent alone as I contemplate the likelihood of ever having sex with James Blake be a better way to pass the romantic evening?
Valentine’s Day Alone
Just the inside of my head and a BBC documentary about stalkers for company. Nothing could go wrong.
To begin my analysis of a stereotypical evening while single on Valentine’s Day, I sit in my living room feeling hungry and sad, which seems apt. My menu du jour—if you will—is a Domino’s (stuffed crust), with a side of Lindt chocolates that have been placed in a heart-shaped box and are therefore £2 more expensive than normal. This course is accompanied by a Pinot Grigio from the ASDA region, followed by Ben & Jerry's and a miniature sponge cake on which, in icing, I have written: “4eva alone.” Time for wine.
I’m actually profoundly bad at spending time by myself, so my pre-pizza evening drags. I sit on my sofa, waiting patiently for the Domino’s delivery guy to arrive, glass in hand. To pass the time, I text my friend, who accuses me of taking away writing opportunities from people who actually are spending Valentine's alone. “Jesus,” she writes, “you get emotional support and affection and regular sex. Give someone else the content.”
Suddenly, I hear a knock, and like a dog excited for the return of its owner, I race to the door. Except instead of a dog, I am a human, and instead of my owner, it’s a 13.5-inch Veg-a-Roma pizza.
“Have you heard of Action for Children?” a man, who is not delivering my pizza, says as I open the door holding a glass of wine and wearing my pyjamas at 8 PM. Despite the grave disappointment on my face or having heard me shout “PIZZA’S HERE!” to myself, he launches into a 15-minute pitch about the charity. Midway through this conversation, my actual pizza arrives, and I presume this is enough of a reason for us both to end this terrible interaction.
I am wrong. Watching, sadly, as my pizza starts to cool next to the unopened box of Lindor, it takes another five minutes before I can unclasp the guilty hands of charity-giving from my heart, and suffer the social awkwardness of telling the man that, no, I don’t want to help abandoned children. He then asks if I’m a student and if I’m old enough to donate. I tell him I’m a journalist, and I’m 24.
“Oh,” he says, surprised. “I was going to ask if you were over 21.”
This diptych of anxieties over not giving to charity and being a child delivers the confidence crisis I need to accurately recreate spending Valentine’s alone, so I close the door and return to my lukewarm pizza.
It is Valentine’s Day. I am alone. There is pizza. I am alone. Dealing with this profound solitude in the only way I know how (with TV), I pull up Netflix to watch, of course, The Notebook.
I must confess something. I didn’t actually intend to watch The Notebook in its entirety. I figured I’d get it on, snap a few photos, see enough to get a sense of what it would feel like to spend two hours watching a rom-com on Valentine’s Day, then write about it. It would be fun, I’d get a feel for it, then wander off to watch The Good Place and ring my friend to check she’s not still mad at me for pretending to be single.
With the opening credits of The Notebook rolling, I place my pizza on the floor, and start to pull apart the greasy dough. It’s cold. I stop The Notebook. I re-heat the pizza in the oven. I restart the film, and cover it in garlic and herb sauce. I drink wine. I still don’t stop The Notebook. I finish the pizza in about eight minutes, and yet, I am still watching The Notebook.
Fast forward two hours, I’m crying my eyes out, sitting on the floor with an empty pizza box, half a bottle of wine deep, with ice cream on my face. I am surrounded by chocolate wrappers. This film is art. I have never felt this deeply before. I have eaten so much chocolate. Somehow, through this sadness, I am happy. I feel at one. I eat another chocolate. I pour myself another glass of wine. This is great.
Valentine’s Day with My Boyfriend Which, If He is Reading This, was Definitely Better Than the Above Just Stop Reading Now OK.
For this leg on my journey, I needed to pick the perfect venue. It needed to be fancy, stressful, and average. Somewhere that an account manager would book after reading about it in aTime Out list of the “Best Places to Go on Valentine's Day” from 2013 or a place you could name drop to your Ma and she’d go, “Ooh, lovely, I think Dave and Margaret’s daughter went there last year.” Somewhere like Nobu Hotel Shoreditch.
Nobu, if you haven’t heard of it, was started by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa in 1993 in Los Angeles. With over 40 locations worldwide, the restaurant is both exclusive and generic. It is co-owned by Robert De Niro, frequented by the Kardashians, and sometimes, members of Girls Aloud. It serves dishes like unagi ceviche, bluefin tuna tataki with ponzu and wasabi salsa, and Wagyu beef tacos, and when I arrive, is filled with white men in blue shirts. There is no one here who isn’t a white man in a blue shirt.
My boyfriend and I are seated at the sushi bar, overlooking bankers, business meetings, and tourists who look totally out of their depth in the main dining area. Our menu for the evening is the omakase, a multi-course tasting menu picked by the chef and paired with cocktails and wine. It is extremely fancy. The pressure to argue and ruin this evening is almost too much to bear.
Things start off well, despite the fact that earlier in the day, I heard some extremely stressful news about my job. Considering it’s a Monday night, I decide that the accurate response to this is to get shit-faced on the complimentary cocktails and bottle of wine. Why spend an evening with a loved one coherently discussing interests, politics, or whether a pre-mixed soy sauce and wasabi condiment could make millions, when instead you could teeter on the edge of fighting about whether they’re checking BBC Sports on their phone because booze makes you lairy?
Nobu gets busier, and we make our way through a menu of delicious miso black cod, nigiri and pan-fried salmon, and lots of wine. Despite the free booze, it’s all going far too swimmingly. Should I … just have a fight to create some exciting content? If I nearly broke up with my boyfriend tonight, it would make a good article. I would lose someone I love but imagine the retweets. Imagine.
Half-way through the meal, my boyfriend notices someone sitting behind me.
“There is a famous person here,” he whispers, and I surreptitiously turn to spot the Nobu celeb of the evening. Please be Kanye, I think. Please.
“Who is it?” I say, twisting around.
This is the most exciting thing that’s happened to us all night.
“It’s the one from The X Factor,” he says.
It is, in fact, Alesha Dixon, from Strictly Come Dancing or, more importantly, Mis-teeq. She is, distinctly, not Kanye. I eat more sushi to disguise my disappointment, and talk to the chef about his life while he helps me change the settings on my DSLR camera to take photos of the final courses. There’s a salmon and mushroom dish, a miso soup, and to finish off, a stupidly gooey dark chocolate fondant dessert with imperial matcha ice cream. At this point, I’m sort of poking at the dessert with a spoon, having finished my second cocktail and the bottle of wine. “Are you OK?” my boyfriend asks as I dangerously dismount the stool to go to the loo. I nearly walk straight into a table of white men in blue shirts. Alesha Dixon leaves and I consider stealing her leftover flute of Champagne. My boyfriend persuades me not to.
Obviously, spotting Alesha Dixon would easily mark our date as the frontrunner in my Valentine’s Day experiment, but was happiness, companionship, and B-list celebs really the best way to spend the most romantic day of the year? Was coupledom on this horrible, soul-destroying holiday really the only alternative for feeling fulfilled and happy? On my evening alone, I got to eat lots of pizza, watch a banging movie, and almost fall asleep with three Lindor wedged between me and the sofa. But it also made me conceptualise a future of loneliness and the expanse of nothingness in death. It’s a real toss-up.
But maybe the whole thing is terrible. Even with wine, expensive sushi, Alesha Dixon, chocolate, films, cocktails, a cake that I wrote an ironic slogan on, and a constant stream of love and support; Valentine’s Day can force any well-balanced human into pure insecurity and lunacy, until they are screaming at their boyfriend at 1 AM for not putting their phone on charge in a loving enough way.
Happy Valentine’s Day!!!