x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Men just cannot win on Valentine's Day. Isn't it great?

Before meeting Mr T and then marrying him, I was the quintessential single girl, raging against Valentine's Day and its sappy Hallmark nonsense.

Valentine's Day. The one day in the year that can depress absolutely everyone, regardless of status. Whether married, paired, single or indifferent, February 14 holds the promise of being an epic let-down, no matter what has gone into the planning. The day is weighed down with expectations that are too high, pressure that is too palpable and expenses that are too absurd to be anything but a disappointment waiting to happen.

Before meeting Mr T and then marrying him, I was the quintessential single girl, raging against Valentine's Day and its sappy Hallmark nonsense.

I took part in many an anti-Valentine's evening out with all my single friends, where we patted ourselves on the back for not caring about a commercial feast most likely created to generate some spending power during the bleakest month of the year.

Who needs flowers? They die anyway. Sweets? Chocolates? They rot the teeth, and I'd much prefer a bag of chips. Stuffed teddy-bears clutching flannel hearts? Dust-ridden and embarrassing for anyone above the age of three. Flamboyant displays of love and affection? Tacky, really.

Then Mr T came along and turned my world upside down on a hot September evening. By the time February rolled round, I was holding my breath, wondering what it would be like to experience a Valentine's Day with the real deal.

But I wasn't going to let him know that I cared, obviously. I went on and on about how "Valentine's Day is for desperate people, I don't care about it at all" and "I never celebrate Valentine's Day, it's such a silly non-holiday, please don't bother, I'm not expecting anything and I'd rather we be cool and ignore it". Lies, all empty lies, all directed at myself.

Because when Valentine's Day did roll around and he treated it just like any other day, I was shocked by the lump in my throat, by the pain in my chest, by the disappointment coursing through me. I wanted him to ignore my bravado and dazzle me, and I didn't even know it.

That first Valentine's Day, I came to several realisations that I decided to share with Mr T immediately, and that have since made our Februaries a lot easier to navigate. Consider this a February 14 Survival Guide:

a) Men, no matter how in tune they may be with you, your needs and your thoughts, cannot, I repeat, cannot, read your mind, figure out hidden desires that you yourself were not even aware of, nor in any way, shape or form exhibit psychic abilities. So if you want him to do something right, DROP HINTS.

b) No matter how much you say you're NOT into flowers, because they die, because they're overrated and cliché and overpriced, despite all that, you're going to get the best rush of your life when you receive an unexpected bouquet, so suck it up and stop pretending.

c) No matter how adamant you are that you don't care about dressing up and going out for dinner, you still want him to surprise you with reservations to somewhere nice and classy. Even when you put up a fight about how you'll be spending three times as much on February 14 than you would on February 13 or 15, for the same meal. Who cares? Secretly, you want him to fork over that cash.

d) An e-card will never, ever cut it. Make sure he knows that.

e) We have all bought into the consumerism of Valentine's Day, regardless of how highly we think of ourselves, or how much we pretend we're above it, or how much we deny it. Acknowledge that.

f) I'm just a typical girl. No point in pretending otherwise. Which automatically means, I like to be spoiled. Not often, not all the time, not like that. Once in a blue moon is enough. If you're the same, own up to it.

g) Don't bother buying your guy a gift for Valentine's Day, even if you did it as a back up plan in case he got you something and you didn't want to be empty-handed. The official rule is this: girls never have to buy guys anything for Valentine's. Girls get to sit back and be pampered by guys on February 14. Officially.

h) If Valentine's Day goes badly, it's basically all your fault, because you set yourself up for this, you welcomed the possibility of disappointment into your life, you had pathetic expectations and you sent out all the wrong signals. Say this to yourself several times ahead of the day, in preparation.

And finally,

i) Valentine's Day always, always goes badly. There is way too much hidden expectation for it to be anything else, so if you're being honest, the guy is doomed if he does, and doomed if he doesn't.

Expect that it will take a while for your guy to come around to your way of thinking about this blasted day. During our first year of marriage, we were in Paris for Valentine's Day, which, for some reason, Mr T thought was enough of a cool thing that he didn't need to plan anything.

Every time a street urchin chased us and asked Monsieur if he'd like to buy a flower for Madame, and Mr T turned to me to ask me if I would like a flower, I had to clasp my hands together so I wouldn't punch him. He still didn't know not to ask, and just do, or in this case, buy.

Last year was a little better. OK, it was a lot better; he covered all his bases by checking every clichéd Valentine's gift in the book: roses, mushy card, jewellery from Tiffany's, a voucher for a massage and a lovely, leisurely lunch at a new restaurant.

He did an exemplary job, and yet, it still felt lacking. It still felt he didn't know exactly what to do, so he played it safe by doing it all.

Which is why Valentine's Day is hard for all concerned, and, if we're being honest, most especially for the guys.

The bottom line is: there's just no way of getting it right.




Hala Khalaf is the deputy Arts & Life editor at The National