Flailing in a sea of hearts and roses, Caro Giles reframes the idea of romantic love and learns to celebrate herself for Valentine’s Day.
Words: Caro Giles / Images: Shutterstock
For me, February is inextricably linked to Valentine’s Day, and the loss, many years ago, of someone I loved. It is a bittersweet day that reminds me of an absence, coloured with red hearts that adorn shop windows and supermarket aisles, and it has the ability to exclude those of us who are alone.
The person I lost on Valentine’s Day was not a partner, it was someone I grew up with. Someone whose face I see in pictures of my childhood. Someone who left far too soon. I have never really viewed Valentine’s Day in the same way since.
It is fair to say that I am mainly happier, and certainly healthier, on my own than I have ever been with a partner. That is not to say that I don’t wish to meet someone kind and funny who makes my heart leap – I haven’t sworn off love for good.
But it is to recognise that the ultimate goal, as promoted by the modern, commercial Valentine’s Day, shouldn’t be romance. I come at this topic from the very specific angle of someone who has experienced a difficult and painful divorce, and you might think this makes me a poor person to muse on the value of love – but it has been important for me to find value in another way of life.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of women not living in a couple, who have never married, is rising in every age range under 70, and the average divorce rate in the UK is hovering around 42 per cent.
It is no longer the norm to find a partner for life – though I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling wistful about this concept. Is it time to reframe how we view 14 February? Valentine’s Day was first linked to romantic love in the 14th century, and by the early 19th century it had become fashionable to send cards. But it is also linked to the arrival of spring.
In Slovenia, Saint Valentine or Zdravko, was a saint of spring and good health, as well as a patron of beekeepers and pilgrims. During this post-Christmas fug, when the nights stretch stubbornly long and sun on skin is a rare delight, it feels hopeful to repurpose Valentine’s Day as we wait for the light to return.
Traditionally, it is not until the equinox towards the end of March that the prospect of spring feels realistic. But at the moment, when the world feels like such a dark place – politically as well as literally – I am clinging to every opportunity to shine a light. My love of candles is well recorded, and this winter I have lit more than ever.
Every morning, I sit at my desk and watch a flame flicker while I write. I have decorated jam jars with my littlest daughters, who cut out the letters for ‘peace’ and stuck them onto the glass, which now glows blue while we eat breakfast each morning.
I love the emptiness that accompanies the dismantling of Christmas decorations, but this year it has felt more important than ever to retain some of the magic. Stars we have folded from paper and hung from doorways will remain, and of course the candles will burn.
For those of you who are in romantic relationships, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate that love, but perhaps it is also a chance to celebrate yourself. If I have learned anything from the grimness of divorce, it is that I must hold on to who I am, not lose sight of myself and what I am capable of.
And if we consider another purpose of this day, the one that tells us spring is on its way, it is also an opportunity to think about fresh starts. If the concept of New Year’s resolutions leaves you cold, here is another chance to reset and look towards the light.
On Valentine’s Day, I’ll probably head to the beach. The sky might be heavy with cloud, or if I’m lucky it will be bleached out with the glow of a low wintery sun. Shards of shell underfoot will remind me how fragile it all is – our broken world, my heart, this precious life.
It is a time to remember. To remember the person I loved, but also to remember who I am, and how far I have come. The act of becoming single came at a huge cost; it felt like my world was breaking into a million pieces, shattering into something irrevocable, but the glue of time has shown me that those pieces can be stuck back together to create something messy but authentic. Perhaps I needed to break in order to mend.
Caro’s memoir, Twelve Moons: A Year Under a Shared Sky (Harper North, £9.99) is out now
Read more: How to nurture lasting love: Dossier special