What Working in Hospitality Taught Me about Valentine’s Day

Couples in happy, functional, spoony relationships don't give a shit about Valentines.

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14 February 2019, 8:00am

This story was originally published in 2015.

Valentine's day can be distressing when you don't have a person to have regular sex and eat eggs with. But years of working in hospitality has brought a handful of comforts and lessons about this often shitty 24-hours. Firstly couples in happy, functional, spoony relationships don't give a shit about Valentine's. They spend the day like they would any other: head to their local cafe, read the newspaper, chat comfortably, ignore each other a bit, share their gluten free bircher and poached eggs on toast. They're easy to watch and occasionally forget to fetch a coffee for—true love is largely invisible.

These guys don't stare into each other's eyes over long blacks or hold hands under the table. Honestly any couple doing that shit always comes across as a bit false anyway. Like someone is trying to make up for a recent misdemeanor or possibly hiding a current one. To your experienced waitress, this behavior reeks of insecurity. Trying to convince everyone in a bustling cafe how in love you are is lame and desperate. These Valentine's punters can be both hard to watch or weirdly enjoyable depending on your current Facebook status.

But mostly, despite the supermarket promotions that suggest otherwise, it never really feels like anyone is having an amazing time on these dates. Happy or not, most couples that come in make it look like such an obligation. They're slightly annoyed, strained, and awkward; uncomfortable under the pressure of all the expectations of romance the day is meant to inspire. When they leave I wonder if they're thinking of the painful inadequacies of their relationship and partner.

Not dissimilar to New Years Eve, Valentine's day sets up a bullshit expectation for many and leaves most feeling dissatisfied. That's universally true, whether you're in a relationship or not.

But the best experience of Valentine's day shifts were when I hung up my apron and trecked over to one of my night jobs in bars around Melbourne. Last year I was going through my own break-up and spent the evening working at a popular Brunswick music venue. At first I was dreading serving up cocktails to loved-up couples, but my cafe experiences seemed to echo here too.

While on a routine bathroom inspection I found a girl hunched over in the cubicle, sobbing while violently vomiting into and around the toilet bowl. She was partially cloaked by a few girlfriends, crammed into the tight vomit smelling space, holding her hair back and consoling her over "why he hadn't called on Valentine's day".

The sight was miserable enough without the annoyance that I was going to have to clean up the mess. But despite the knowledge I was going to have to mop up some chick's lunch, it did make me instantly forget my crumpled heart. Face-to-make-up-smeared-face with the disappointment of the day I felt content with not having a partner to plaster all my disappointments onto.

Another year I'd had another similar, although less gross, experience. Leaving a bar after finishing and early morning close shift, I found a woman holding a phone and hysterically screaming at a man who I presumed was her partner. She'd found romantic texts he'd sent that day to another woman. She was right up in his face yelling, "IT'S FUCKING VALENTINE'S DAY, VALENTINE'S DAY!" It never occurred to me how much more stressful the day would be if you were a cheater, trying to fulfil expectations twice. Although I did wonder as I rode home if it would have been any less painful for this woman to find out about the betrayal on some other day?

So finally my advice, scraped together over years of serving happy and unhappy couples, as well as distraught singles, is this. If you're single this year, or maybe feeling a little deflated in a relationship, do yourself a favor and head to the nearest bar, cafe, or restaurant. Take a look around and note how many people actually look The Bachelor happy to be sitting next each other. Or even better, if you're in a relationship, do all the hardworking hospitality staff a favor and make your own eggs and single-origin filter coffee at home.

Happy Valentine's day everybody.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.