Okay, it’s confession time.
I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, I don’t like Downton Abbey, and I’ve never listened to an episode of The Archers.
And, here’s the killer blow: I’ve never had a date on Valentine’s Day. No, not one. Ever. I almost had one when I was 16, when my 21 year old boyfriend bought me a huge satin card, but the evening came to nothing because I finished with him when he seemed about to propose.
My disastrous love life in the subsequent 41 years might well have been my punishment for that fateful non-romantic day. Surely Cupid couldn’t be that cruel? If he is, it means he’s been operating not with a bow and arrow but a veritable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. All aimed at me.
I feel about Valentine’s Day the way Scrooge felt about Christmas. Bah humbug, I scream, when yet another card from Interflora pops through my door, asking me to send flowers to my loved one. Bah humbug to the red hearts, ribbons and grinning teddy bears in every shop window. And especially Bah humbug to the paella or the Chateaubriand “for two” (that restaurants bizarrely insist upon, making singletons feel alone on every other day of the year, too).
Like Scrooge and the visitations from his Christmas ghosts, this is the time of year when I am visited by the Ghosts of Men Past, the Ghosts of Men Present, and the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come.
Where do I begin with the Past? The older man who ruined 30 years of my life (and counting) and whose shadow still looms in an unconscious damaged by what I now know to be a disturbed and disturbing predator?
The broadcaster on a diet, who brought his Lean Cuisine for supper but decided to eat my food as well (no surprise he never lost any weight)? The journalist who was going to leave his girlfriend for me but decided to give it three months “so that she can lose enough weight to be attractive enough to meet someone else” (yes, at that point, I decided he wasn’t for me, after all).
My Australian Hungarian Jewish dentist who said “I’m falling for you in a big way”, then came out in a facial rash and dumped me? The ginger, boring graphic designer who once bought Bollinger for women he fancied at another table (on my tab) and left me for a nurse (that’s all over, too, and his life’s a mess. Karma)? The Liverpudlian who claimed to be in the SAS based in Hereford and robbed me (How was I to know? He had a one-way rail ticket from Hereford to London; that seemed good enough evidence for me)?
The Ghosts of Men Present don’t fare much better: the journalist I started seeing 30 years ago and still have the hots for (it’s just a pity his hots extended to so many other women); a writer in the US who promised “I’ll take you to a wonderful place and treat you to the best meal you’ve ever had”, which quickly became “Shall I pick up a salad and bring it to your apartment?”
My crush on yet another man I can’t have (married, and wouldn’t want me even if he were single). And, would you believe it, the graphic designer, who contacted me after 15 years, bemoaning his now terrible life on the grounds that I might “understand”.
Small wonder that I’m not optimistic about the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. But that’s the thing about love: its inherent optimism continues to survive its own history, no matter how bad it might have been. It’s emotional childbirth: it might be tough when you’re going through it, but the memory of what love might be again resurrects itself and is what keeps us going.
At the end of every relationship, I always say: “I won’t make that mistake again.” I may not, but, being human, I’ll just make different mistakes.
And I’ve learnt from most of those mistakes. I say no to salads when I’m expecting Chateaubriand for two at the Ritz; I don’t lend men money; I also no longer believe anything that comes out of their mouths. Men are rotten liars, and I’ve learnt to trust my gut, which is what I should have done years ago. But hey, ho, hindsight and all that.
This, alas, is the problem with the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come. The Past is a wasteland of distrust and pain; the Present would be that, if I were not finding it all so hilarious; the Future, despite the survival of good memories, is inevitably tainted with everything that has gone before. Suspicion, doubt and insecurity are inseparable triplets.
But I love my life. I am surrounded by wonderful family and friends and there is never I day I wake up when I don’t love my work. I have always known I was a writer, and being what I actually am, rather than harbouring fantasies about what I wanted to be, is a blessing every day.
The Ghosts of Men Past have gone; the Ghosts of Men Yet to Come are unknown (just as well; who knows what monsters are lurking in the shadows). The present is all we really have, or can ever hope for. So we might as well live it and enjoy it while we can.
So, Happy Valentine’s Day to me.
Now, where’s that Chateaubriand?