Sex musings at midnight

Here’s a question for you: How important is sex?

I don’t mean how important it is to a healthy relationship. Sex is a vital part of any relationship, and usually when a couple has a poor sex life, you can tell after hanging out with them for about 20 minutes. The air’s a little thicker, more dense, there’s a certain level of tension… and people keep accidentally crushing wine glasses in their hand. Here’s a tip for fellow people-watchers: When a woman walks across the room and punches her boyfriend in the face, their sex life is not working. Or, perhaps, it has reached a level that you and I just don’t want to think about.

I’m speaking more specifically of the amount of sex we individually need. How important is it to us? Is it all relative?

Let’s take two people, for example:

One is a female friend of mine. She lost her virginity when she was about 16. She is pretty, smart, sociable, and is a serial monogamist. No matter what, she always has a boyfriend — I’ve never known her to be single. Then, about six months ago, she had a long-term relationship end and, in a first for her, there was no one else waiting in the wings. She’s hardly the type of girl to sleep around or just pick up guys at clubs so, suddenly, something that was a regular part of her life just ended. She’s now gone six months without sex. According to her, the longest she’d gone without sex until this six-month hiatus was 32 days. Imagine that: something that had just been a part of your life… just gone. Emotional attachments aside, when something you’ve lived with on a reliable basis since you were 16 is taken away suddenly, that’s a definitive change. (Of course, I know the guy she was just dating quite well and… let’s just say that I doubt she’s missing too much.)

The other is a male friend. Whatever the opposite of a serial monogamist is, that’s what he is. Dates? Ha! He never dates. Ever. He went on a few dates with one girl and never even got her winter coat off. Other than that, zilch. Six months without sex? Try six years. At this point, he’s almost asexual. It’s not that he doesn’t want to have sex; it’s just that he’s got used to not getting any. He doesn’t even really think about it that much anymore (though when the 40 Days, 40 Nights movie first came out, he did bash his head against a wall repeatedly for about a week and a half). He doesn’t even try to go after girls anymore. What’s the point? Sex is something on the Internet or late-night telly, a spectator sport far more than a participatory one. Someday he’ll have sex again, I’m sure. But at this point, there’s no rush.

Which person would you rather be? Neither is having sex right now. Both are human beings, and both need it. But the girl is having a far more difficult time with it than the guy. He’s accepted his lot. To put this another way, paraphrasing: Is it better to have had some play and lost it, than to have never had any play at all?

Another friend is getting married later this year. From all accounts, he seems to have a happy, moderately healthy sex life. Nothing to complain about. But, like all relationships, sometimes circumstances dictate performance. Occasionally, he’ll go a week or two without having sex. No big deal when he was a single guy; essentially, his life was just a continuous string of a week or two without sex. But now, when that week or two takes place with a hot girl sleeping next to you, and you start to itch and squirm, suddenly a week seems a lot longer.

I spoke with him about this some months ago. Specifically, I spoke about a little, um, dry spell I was going through myself. He looked at me like I’d just peed in my pants: “Man, stop being a dickhead! No sex for how long? Seriously man, there was a point a few years ago I was tempted to screw the dog!” (Trust me, that’s not an image you want in your head at midnight!)

But he’s right. I suppose my major neuroticism about sex and relationships is that while I know some women might find me attractive, sexy even, I often can’t quite figure it out myself. (Well, other than the minor man-boobs!) Do I think about this more when I’m in a relationship, or when I’m not? I figure I’m probably the worst at the start of a new relationship. If I go without sex for a while, I can pretty much just convince myself that it’s only because I haven’t found the right woman yet. But put a woman in my bed every night for a week and, until I get used to it, I’m convinced she’s really dreaming of the guy in the kebab shop up the street, the one with the mole shaped like a penis on his cheek. She wishes she were in bed with him right now; I just know it!

And what is it we really get out of sex anyway? Is it strictly orgasm? If so, there are some guys (and girls) who have the most functional relationship I know with their shower heads. Shit, the shower doesn’t even mind if they bring in pictures of other girls! Or do we just need the closeness? Or, lo, could it be, that we have sex because we’re actually in love? How much less is it when we’re not? And, after six years without sex, does it even matter?

I think we have the best sex when we’re in love, because we’ve got the other person more or less figured out, and because it’s a legitimate sharing process. But then this logic makes me think that a good wank can trump sex, and I don’t really believe that. Do I…? Whoa! Perhaps I should just get off this logic train!

Of course, ideally, someone is just single, without commitments, and still having sex on a regular basis, with no ebbs and flows — just something new all the time. I don’t think those people actually exist though. Well… maybe in the Premier League…

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The looking glass

Look at yourself right now. Seriously, drop what you’re doing, take off your headphones, get off the computer and walk to a mirror. It won’t take too long. Take a good look. Do you like what you see?

Sure, you’ve got stuff you don’t like about yourself. You weren’t as nice to that one person as you should have been, it didn’t end well, you could have been more honest or upfront or whatever you weren’t doing. You don’t call your family enough. Sometimes, rather than give your best effort at work, you just kind of zone out and hope that nobody notices you’re not working today, at all. You’re grumpy in the mornings. We all have those things. We all have our flaws.

But you think you mean well, don’t you? I mean, you don’t look in the mirror and hate everything you see in those eyes, do you? You have moments of kindness, you have a good heart, you’re just trying to get along and go along. Somebody out there loves you, right? Somebody is rooting for you. Somebody sees the goodness, the generosity, the compassion. Somebody is on your side.

How does it feel when you look into that mirror? Do you have to look away? How long can you keep the gaze?

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I hate fighting with people. I mean, it’s unavoidable sometimes and you just have to, but I can’t stand it. In the movies and on television, when people argue, they speak with one mind, the mind of whoever wrote the words in their mouths, and their arguments are opposite sides of the same coin. They are arguing to come to a common understanding. I believe this. Yes, but I believe this. I support my viewpoint with this piece of anecdotal evidence. I contrast that with this piece. Perhaps you are right. But perhaps I am right. I see your side, and I appreciate that you see mine. I am glad this discourse has occurred. I agree. Let us hug!

Real-life fights are nothing like this. They are messy, chaotic, confused and senseless. They are a tennis match with no lines, boundaries or net. They follow no logic or storyline. They simply involve two people attempting to refute the last statement their opponent made. Punch, counterpunch, punch, with no hope for a knockout. There is no absolution, or mutual understanding. In real life, people are not characters invented by a writer who wants them each to be happy. In real life, each person has their own agenda, created by their own background, values and prejudices. One arguer cannot see another arguer’s position because they are not that person; it’s a game of frustration and one-upmanship. Not only can one person not understand what the other person is thinking, they also can’t understand why they don’t see the situation exactly the way they do. What’s wrong with them?!

They get nasty, and they careen off-track repeatedly, to the point that, by the end, no one remembers what the argument was about in the first place. Not that it matters. In the end, the journey itself has become the battle. In the heat of argumental warfare, most of the damage is done during the argument, not before. Nothing is settled; everything just gets worse. Fighting always bring out the worst in us. And for what? For nothing.

I don’t like myself when I’m arguing either. My voice becomes higher-pitched, like a broadcaster announcing a goal that cost his team the game. I wear my exasperation on my sleeve; the more I talk, the less I want to. I become whiny and petulant. I can’t help it. I hate fights. Most people, when they’re arguing, are attempting to get the other person to understand why they are right and the other person is wrong. I may start off that way too but, in the end, I am just attempting to end the fight as quickly as possible, with minimal bloodletting. These two techniques do not mesh well. I either come across as the spineless half who just lets himself be walked over for the sake of brevity or “peace”, or I just walk away, angry and exasperated, which only makes things worse.

And there is no referee. Imagine a football match with no scoreboard, no overriding authority and no rules: That’s what arguments are like. The only people who can bring about an end to the battle are the participants, which is a recipe for trouble, every time. By the end of the game, half the players are paralysed, the score is still nil-nil and not a second has gone off the clock.

In Annie Hall’s best moment, Woody Allen, after watching a guy behind him in a cinema queue prattle on to his companion about the merits of social commentator Marshall McLuhan, brings out Marshall McLuhan himself to set the record straight. After he does, Woody looks at the camera. “If only life were like this.” Exactly.

But it isn’t. And the battles will always go on.

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Look back at that mirror. At some point in your life, someone has hated that face. Someone has seen in it everything they find wrong with the world. They can’t get inside your head, they can’t see that you mean WELL! That you want everything to be OK!

And you can’t get inside theirs. You can’t understand why they hate that face. You can’t understand why, sometimes, they can’t understand that they’re the one who is wrong.

Every time you take a look, that face appears older. This is how that happens.

And yet, and yet… you probably can’t see how that face can be loved, either. You are too close to it. But that’s the other side, isn’t it? Just like only you can understand how you are feeling, what you’re trying to get across, who you’re trying to be… aren’t you the only one who can never understand what it means to love that face too? Isn’t that worth being hated sometimes? Don’t they go together? Isn’t it better than the face inspiring nothing but antipathy?

Of course it is. So look closer. Take a good look. Now smile. Good. It’ll be all right. It has to be…

El: A Love Story

Written March 7, 2011

This is a story about my friend Elena.

We met one night I was out with some mates soon after I had moved from London to Surrey. She was Italian, tall, pretty, funny and smart, so she immediately caught our attention. But there was something inherently aloof about her. She seemed to be silently contemplating mysteries we couldn’t even comprehend while we were distracted by girls and football and girls and girls and girls. It was amazing, really, how quickly she incorporated herself into our friend group. One minute, she was the new girl, and before you knew it, before we even realised what was happening, she was hosting parties at her flat and commenting in her accented, withering, sharp-as-tacks way on the screw-ups and failings of our own aspirations. But she did it a way that was kind; like her infamous mother — shit, like everyone’s infamous mothers — although she was a little younger than most of us, she had a way of dressing you down while still letting you know that it was OK, that she still thought you were the bee’s knees.

She was everywhere, and we were all stunned at how easily she joined every single activity — the drinking games, paintballing, the Three-Curve test (don’t ask), you name it — without a modicum of concern for her social standing. She was single-minded and unrepentant; she was one of our group’s close friends because she said she was, and if it took us a while to catch up to her, well, she was willing to wait. And she didn’t have to wait long.

All the guys secretly had crushes on Elena and the girls were so stunned by her ability to rally the troops and become the pack leader, she was near-worshipped. El (she called me Dee), used to love to make fun of me because I was dating, for a spell, a series of women older than I was and she always said if that if I got my act together, there were plenty of ladies closer to my own age who could have potentially been interested. It wasn’t long before she became our ringleader, our soul, our spirit, our conscience. Whatever plans we ever had were always run through Elena. She was an unstoppable force.

Then she started dating Dickhead. To most, he was known as Mario, a name most unsuitable, as far as I was concerned. Dickhead had always seemed to sum him up for me. Mario was three years younger than most of us, a drummer in a band, and the butt of almost all the jokes from the guys. He also took part in competitive cycle races, something that would have been a most impressive athletic achievement were it not for his propensity to shave his legs. We could never figure out why cyclists did that. Was it to reduce wind resistance? Was it to avoid having hair caught in the spokes? It didn’t really matter; it was grist for our insult mill, and we milked it for all it was worth. To us, Mario was a short, dopey, slightly effeminate little wanker. He hadn’t really done anything to deserve such dissection, but we needed no justification. He was just our mental punching bag.

And Mario, no way was he good enough for El. I mean, she was like a foot taller than he was. But before we knew it, before we could even do anything to stop it, they were together. And they stayed together. Year after year, they remained the solid couple, the unbreakable bond. They even survived a semi-breakup, which culminated in a conversation where Elena told Mario that none of her friends liked him, and he said “What about David?” and she delivered the classic line, “Mario… he calls you Dickhead.”

Their relationship continued when Mario had to return to Italy for his job and El and I, who lived only a couple miles apart, remained the best of friends. She tried to set me up with all her single girlfriends, took me to all her fun music parties, even came along to a few of my football games, and talked about how much she missed Mario. We were inseparable. Some people started thinking we were an item, and there was the expected gossip, but we didn’t care.

One afternoon, I was sitting at home, inexplicably depressed, and El called. “I’m bored. Let’s go see a movie.” We decided on The Departed, headed to London and then walked out of the cinema around 9 p.m. The weather was glorious, one of those rare balmy London summer evenings, and we had a meal, a few drinks and then just walked around until about 1 a.m. talking about the past, and our future, and our friends, and what we wanted out of all of this, anyway. We walked and talked, just two old friends, looking at life, totally unprepared for whatever changes might be creeping perilously just over the hills.

In the autumn, Mario returned to London, and I changed jobs, and El and I just didn’t see each other that often anymore. Then she and Mario got married, in a beautiful Catholic ceremony with the whole gang back together again, me standing up there, so proud, newly respectful of Mario, who seemed a lot tougher and smarter and together than I’d noticed before, and I felt like an arsehole, and they were joined in holy matrimony, and I hugged them both, and then they moved back to Italy and El and I only saw each other on her brief visits to London. Then we sort of lost touch a little. It happens and it’s no fun, but that’s life… and then she called me one night right out of the blue.

“Hi Dee, there’s something I have to tell you.” She sounded fine, almost cheery. Could it be? Mario and Elena had been married for over two years now. Their lives were becoming more settled. El would make an incredible mother. Maybe they’d let me be the crazy godfather! I beamed in anticipation of the news.

“I have cancer.” Oh Christ! No! But it was true. Hodgkin’s Disease. She would be going through chemotherapy and surgery and testing and all that horrible stuff that happens to old people, not people like El. I was so stunned that our conversation lasted only about 30 seconds. I wished her good luck, told her I was so, so sorry, then called up a few of the guys, went out and drank until I forgot my name.

Every time I called for the next few months, Mario would answer in a grave tone, and tell me whether El had the energy to talk or not, usually not. I kept abreast of what was going on, but only Mario and Elena, who quite understandably retreated into their own world, could really understand. She wouldn’t be able to have children. She lost all her hair, she was weak, she was tired. Yet when I talked to her, she was still El, still on my case about something or other, still caustic and a whirling dervish. And Mario was a rock, handling the situation like a man. I don’t know if I ever took the opportunity to apologise to Mario for the years of abuse and belittlement my friends and I heaped upon him, so if I didn’t, I’m sorry. Seriously. We were stupid. You’re a good man. You have my respect. (Dickhead. Hee-hee.)

Sometime, I’m not sure when, maybe around October 2008, El announced that she was pronounced completely clean, the cancer gone. That Christmas, she and Mario hosted a party in London, with all the old gang there. We made fun of James and his new girlfriend, everyone mocked my grey hairs, we watched old videos, we drank and talked all night, like the last few years had only been a week. I took El aside, hugged her and told her how proud I was of her. She smiled and ridiculed me for being so soppy. Then she hugged me back.

I saw her last around November last year. She had a hectic schedule and we only talked briefly over coffee, and we made plans to try to meet up before she went back to Italy. But it was a busy week for both of us, and we didn’t get to see each other. And then this weekend I received another e-mail, addressed to about 20 people.

It had pictures. They were black and white, with a bunch of letters and numbers at the top of them. I couldn’t figure it out at first. And then it dawned on me: These were ultrasound pictures. These were of Mario and Elena’s son. Nineteen weeks in. July 18 is the due date. And right there, in the middle of a London cafe, I broke down in floods of tears. Against the odds, they’d done it. El, a mum! The next time I see her, she will be holding her baby boy.

In a Thank You card she sent me after her wedding, just before returning to Italy, Elena wrote the following: Don’t forget me. I mean, how could you forget me? I’d kill you. This is really mushy and it’s making me sick, so remember this: If I was a guy, I’d want to be you. – El

El, my friend, it’s been over five years since you wrote that, and don’t worry, I’ll never forget you. And if I were a girl, I’d want to be you too. As long as I don’t ever have to have sex with Dickhead.

  • Cristiano David was born on July 17, 2011. I am his godfather!
  • My dear friend Elena passed away on June 14, 2016. Riposa in pace il mio caro amico 😦

is is a story about my friend Elena.

We met one night I was out with some mates soon after I had moved from London to Surrey. She was Italian, tall, pretty, funny and smart, so she immediately caught our attention. But there was something inherently aloof about her. She seemed to be silently contemplating mysteries we couldn’t even comprehend while we were distracted by girls and football and girls and girls and girls. It was amazing, really, how quickly she incorporated herself into our friend group. One minute, she was the new girl, and before you knew it, before we even realised what was happening, she was hosting parties at her flat and commenting in her accented, withering, sharp-as-tacks way on the screw-ups and failings of our own aspirations. But she did it a way that was kind; like her infamous mother — shit, like everyone’s infamous mothers — although she was a little younger than most of us she had a way of dressing you down while still letting you know that it was OK, that she still thought you were the bee’s knees.

She was everywhere, and we were all stunned at how easily she joined every single activity — the drinking games, the “Three-Curve” test, you name it — without a modicum of concern for her social standing. She was single-minded and unrepentant; she was one of our group’s close friends because she said she was, and if it took us a while to catch up to her, well, she was willing to wait. And she didn’t have to wait long.

All the guys secretly had crushes on Elena and the girls were so stunned by her ability to rally the troops and become the pack leader, she was near-worshipped. El (she called me Dee),  used to love to make fun of me because I was dating, for a spell, a series of women older than I was and she always said if that if I got my act together, there were plenty of ladies closer to my own age who could have potentially been interested. It wasn’t long before she became our ringleader, our soul, our spirit, our conscience. Whatever plans we ever had were always run through Elena. She was an unstoppable force.

Then she started dating Dickhead. To most, he was known as Mario, a name most unsuitable, as far as I was concerned. Dickhead had always seemed to sum him up for me. Mario was a year younger than most of us, a drummer in a band, and the butt of almost all the jokes from the guys. He also took part in competitive cycle races, something that would have been a most impressive athletic achievement were it not for his propensity to shave his legs. We could never figure out why cyclists did that. Was it to reduce wind resistance? Was it to avoid having hair caught in the spokes? It didn’t really matter; it was grist for our insult mill, and we milked it for all it was worth. To us, Mario was a short, dopey, slightly effeminate little wanker. He hadn’t really done anything to deserve such dissection, but we needed no justification. He was just our mental punching bag.

And Mario, no way was he good enough for El. I mean, she was like a foot taller than he was. But before we knew it, before we could even do anything to stop it, they were together. And they stayed together. Year after year, they remained the solid couple, the unbreakable bond. They even survived a semi-breakup, which culminated in a conversation where Elena told Mario that none of her friends liked him, and he said “What about David?” and she delivered the classic line, “Mario… he calls you Dickhead.”

Their relationship continued even when Mario had to return to Italy for his job and El and I, who lived only a couple miles apart, remained the best of friends. She tried to set me up with all her single girlfriends, took me to all her fun music parties, even came along to a few of my football games, and talked about how much she missed Mario. We were inseparable. Some people started thinking we were an item, something that (most unusually) I had never even considered, but we didn’t care.

One evening, I was sitting at home, inexplicably lonely and depressed, and El called. “Let’s go see a movie.” We decided on The Departed, headed to London and then walked out of the cinema around 9 p.m. The weather was glorious, one of those rare balmy London summer evenings, and we grabbed some food, had a few drinks and then just walked around until about 1 a.m. talking about the past, and our future, and our friends, and what we wanted out of all of this, anyway. We walked and talked, just two old friends, looking at life, totally unprepared for whatever changes might be creeping perilously just over the hills.

In the autumn, Mario returned to London, and I changed jobs, and El and I just didn’t see each other that often anymore. Then she and Mario got married, in a beautiful Catholic ceremony with the whole gang back together again, me standing up there, so proud, newly respectful of Mario, who seemed a lot tougher and smarter and together than I’d noticed before, and I felt like an arsehole, and they were joined in holy matrimony, and I almost cried, and I hugged them both, and then they moved back to Italy and El and I only saw each other on her brief visits to London. Then we sort of lost touch a little. It happens and it’s no fun, but that’s life… and then she called me one night right out of the blue.

“Hi Dee, there’s something I have to tell you.” Could it be? Mario and Elena had been married for over two years now. Their lives were becoming more settled. El would make an incredible mother. Maybe they’d let me be the crazy godfather! I beamed in anticipation of the news.

“I have cancer.” Oh Christ! Fuck! No! But it was true. Hodgkin’s Disease. She would be going through chemotherapy and surgery and testing and all that horrible stuff that happens to old people, not people like El. I was so stunned that our conversation lasted only about 30 seconds. I wished her good luck, told her I was so, so sorry, then called up a few of the guys, went out and drank until I forgot my name.

Every time I would call for the next few months, Mario would answer in a grave tone, and tell me whether El had the energy to talk or not, usually not. I kept abreast of what was going on, but only Mario and Elena, who quite understandably retreated into their own world, could really understand. She lost all her hair, she was weak, she was tired. Yet when I talked to her, she was still El, still on my case about something or other, still caustic and a whirling dervish. And Mario was a rock, handling the situation like a man. I don’t know if I ever took the opportunity to apologise to Mario for the years of abuse and belittlement my friends and I heaped upon him, so if I didn’t, I’m sorry. Seriously. We were stupid. You’re a good man. You have my respect. (Dickhead. Hee-hee.)

Sometime, I’m not sure when, maybe around October 2008, El announced that she was pronounced completely clean, the cancer gone. That Christmas, she and Mario hosted a party in London, with all the old gang there. We made fun of James and his new girlfriend, everyone mocked my grey hairs, we watched old videos, we drank and talked all night, like the last few years had only been a week. I took El aside, hugged her and told her how proud I was of her. She smiled and ridiculed me for being so soppy. Then she hugged me back.

I saw her last around October last year. She had a hectic schedule and we only talked briefly over coffee, and we made plans to try to meet up before she went back to Italy. But it was a busy week, and we didn’t get to see each other. And then this weekend I received another e-mail from her, addressed to about 30 people.

It had pictures. They were black and white, with a bunch of letters and numbers at the top of them. I couldn’t figure it out at first. And then it dawned on me: These were ultrasound pictures. These were of Mario and Elena’s son. Nineteen weeks in. July 18 is the due date. And right there, in the middle of a London cafe, I broke down. They’d done it. El, a mum! The next time I see her, she will be holding her son.

In a Thank You card she sent me after her wedding, just before returning to Italy, Elena wrote the following: Don’t forget me. I mean, how could you forget me? I’d kill you. This is really mushy and it’s making me sick, so remember this: If I was a guy, I’d want to be you. – El

El, my friend, it’s been over five years since you wrote that, and don’t worry, I’ll never forget you. And if I were a girl, I’d want to be you too. As long as I don’t ever have to have sex with Dickhead.

The Valentine’s Day Millstone

I don’t know anyone who really likes Valentine’s Day. Do you?

Valentine’s Day — or Hallmark Rip-off Day, as I like to call it — just squats there on our calendars, in the middle of the dreariest month of the year, and taunts us. More than any other day, even New Year’s Eve, it serves as a signpost, reminding us where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. It poses questions that most people have no desire to answer.

There’s a strange dichotomy in our thoughts about Valentine’s Day. On one hand, for people in relationships, particularly males, it’s a weighty millstone, a day wrought with artificial expectations. Guys dread the day because they know that their significant others — what a weird term “significant others” is; it doesn’t make a jot of sense, really — will be anticipating something romantic and touching and special. Women dread it because they’re smart enough to know they shouldn’t have such high hopes for one silly day and nevertheless can’t help but be disappointed when those hopes inevitably fall short. (And they always do.) For people in relationships, particularly those in the early stages, Valentine’s Day is a day to be endured, to be survived. On the two occasions I actually let myself be bothered, I certainly woke up on February 15 with a sigh of relief. She’s still lying next to me; I couldn’t have screwed up too horribly.

Some time ago, I had been dating a woman for about a month when Valentine’s Day came up. This is the absolute worst time for Valentine’s Day to appear; I liked her, and she liked me, but we certainly weren’t in any position to start making googly eyes at each other and pouring our hearts out. Plus, you know…

As if we were actually trying to become case studies of humans’ inability to overcome our natures through logic, we decided to be pragmatic about it. She told me that I had no Valentine’s Day obligations, that the day was entirely unnecessary, and I, stupidly, agreed. We are intelligent people, we told ourselves; what is one day, really? Valentine’s Day is so fake. Let’s stick two fingers to the system!

You can probably guess what happened next. Her friends started asking her what she was doing for the big night — another mistake: Thinking an anti-Valentine’s Day policy will actually work with a woman who shares a house with about 10 other females — and as the day grew closer, she began to suspect that my easy adherence to our rules somehow reflected on her, and how I felt about her. Well, surely he’s just planning a big surprise on Valentine’s Day. He’s such a romantic, I’m sure he’ll pop out of thin air with flowers and a nice bottle of wine. She had psyched herself out of her own plan. The big day showed up, and passed, with no roses or mushy poems. I received a call at 10 p.m. Not only had I failed in my duties, but some other guy — an idiotic, dodgy guy we both knew — had sent her flowers with a card attached. “I know you’re seeing David, but I wanted you to have some flowers on Valentine’s Day. I hope that’s all right.” Awwww. How sweet! Our relationship didn’t make it to the next Valentine’s Day. Shit, it didn’t even make it to Easter.

That said, Valentine’s Day is probably hardest on some single people. The very same people who grit their teeth under the pressure of Valentine’s Day when they’re in a relationship are often the ones who are all weepy and depressed when the day comes and they have no one with whom to spend it. This is natural, of course; the tendency to romanticise relationships, the fear of being alone trumping truthful remembrances of paranoia and neuroticism, is one of the cuter things we humans do. But somehow Valentine’s Day becomes this one day a year where it’s not OK to just be on your own, doing your own thing, no strings attached. For some people it’s a constant reminder that when the lights are out, and their head’s on the pillow, only they care what they did at work that day, and only they care what mood they’re in. It’s dark, and they’re the only one in the room.

In fact, Valentine’s Day has gathered such animosity over time (from me, at least) that it’s almost impossible not to be cynical about it. It’s just so forced. Those in relationships get flowers and go out to dinner and hope the other party doesn’t analyse things too deeply, and those who are single try to pretend the day isn’t happening at all.

I mean not to assassinate the day. Like New Year’s Eve, another day where people feel so coerced into “fun” that they invariably rebel against it, Valentine’s Day, at its core, is a pleasant enough concept. How many days a year are devoted to something happy, something that we are all searching for, whether we wish to admit it or not? That someone at Hallmark even thought of Valentine’s Day is proof that we subconsciously sway closer to optimism than pessimism. We should appreciate it more.

But we should do a lot of things. The irony of having a day devoted to love is that, in practice, it becomes the one day a year we try not to think about love. The next story I hear from someone who was made to feel more in love because of Valentine’s Day will be my first. Valentine’s Day is like that woman at work who is always a little too excited when someone has a birthday. Yes, she’s coming from a good place, and you know she means well, but when’s the last time you sang Happy Birthday to a co-worker with feeling? It’s always more effective when you just pop by their desk and tell them happy birthday in person. No need to make a big production out of it. Doesn’t it mean more that way?

But no. We always go through the singing and blowing out of the candles, because it’s tradition, because it’s what we’ve always done. That in itself says something, and I’m not sure it’s something bad. Cynicism aside, it always is a nice gesture. And, I suppose, so is Valentine’s Day.

Having said that, I have no plans for tomorrow. (Or Tuesday, or Friday, or the day after that… or next week… or anything.) But a lot of you will go out and should. And guys, when you do, try to make her feel special and cared for and that the night is a really, really big night for you, and for her, and at the end of the night, you will both breathe a silent sigh of relief that on Tuesday, everything can go back to normal.

And so, perhaps, that’s the only thing that might make Valentine’s Day a little bit worthwhile. Any couple that endures and survives it just might end up staying together after all.

December Moonlight

I want to touch
December’s moonlight
finger-marking, recollecting
what
falls gently on
cluttered desktops
through open windows,
and unlocked doors
in moonlight like December
this night air,
ruffling the pages of
an open journal
bookmarking your name
for only a moment…