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Advice for a Valentine

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A Monday morning in February doesn’t exactly feel like the time for romance, but here is Valentine’s Day anyway, brought to us by a strange convergence between the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia and the energetic promotion of modern greeting card companies. Once again, it will be a strangely muffled celebration, with COVID anxieties, and shortages of flowers, cards and hugs, all of which we need now more than ever. But perhaps it doesn’t matter because Valentine’s Day, like just about everything else, has gone electronic. It began as part of a 19th-century courtship ritual that could extend for months, or even years of more-or-less delicious uncertainty. But the dating market is now a true market, like Amazon with a vast selection and quick delivery.

This has turned Valentine’s Day into a public spectacle rather than a private affair. The whole world wants to have a say in your love life, and they do. I call them the love professionals. In the past only the mothers of young women gave this kind of advice, passing on their hard-earned wisdom and warnings to their overexcited daughters. Boys, of course got no advice at all, which explains a lot. Now romantic advice has been professionalized and democratized through the internet. No amateur can be trusted with strong emotions anymore. Love, which was once such a private thing, has become the target of a whole therapeutic industry. Suddenly across a crowded room we see teams of psychologists, self-help writers and advice columnists, bloggers and self-appointed social media experts, all of whom have somehow divined the secrets of romance that everyone else has missed.

Here are just a few of the things that experts have proposed to make a man’s Valentine’s Day more romantically productive:

Go offline for the day, and concentrate on your beloved (who will almost certainly be online all day); cook a romantic meal, recipe provided; cure bad breath with a special mouthwash; plan a getaway to some quiet romantic spot like Kiev or Kabul; memorize 20 romantic lines to say to her over dinner, which assumes that your short term memory hasn’t gone the way mine has; pay compliments; do something useful in the house, if you can think of anything; tell her why you love her (a list of a hundred more or less plausible reasons was provided by this expert).

One such romance adviser even claimed that the secret to attracting love is to love yourself more, which seems to me the exact opposite of the truth. A well-balanced person likes him or herself, more or less, the way you might like a good book or an agreeable dog — with reservations and without extravagance. People who love themselves obviously have bad judgement and should be avoided at all costs.

When it comes to making romance last, instead of fizzling out like a cheap firework on February 15, the love professionals tend to be more practical. We are warned not to jump into any serious relationship until we have the right money match. In other words, are you rich enough for her, and is she rich enough for you? This takes us right back to the hard-headed matchmakers of Jane Austen’s time. We are also advised to give time to love, to be supportive, to make plans for the future together, and talk to your partner instead of to the cat. I would never have thought of that. For the rest of the day the cat can talk to himself.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.