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Learn to love Valentine's Day - even if you're single
I'm currently in a very happy relationship (and apologies – it's impossible to say that without sounding unbearably smug). But, prior to my days of contented bliss, I spent many years as a single person. So I'm all too aware of the exclusion Valentine's Day can produce. For I too have walked past many a scarlet-dressed shopfront, trying to shield my eyes from the array of heart-shaped balloons and teddies wearing "I wuv you" t-shirts. Vom!
Should you just ignore all this fandango? Well, it's pretty difficult, isn't it? So how does Valentine's week work for the less-than-smug? Here are my tips.
Valentine's for the cash-poor
Firstly, take note, you at the back – I've been referring to Valentine's week, not day. If you can't take the cash-hikes associated with the big red day, my advice is stay out of the pricey restaurant. At least, on Feb 14.
Five times out of seven, Valentine's Day occurs on a really stupid day of the year anyway, like Tuesday. And you drag yourselves out, on a night when you're really tired, only to find your favourite bistro is charging you £60 a head for their "Sweethearts' special" menu which hey – guess what – isn't that dissimilar from their "every other night of the year" menu.
Don't get me wrong: Valentine's is a great chance to take time for each other. My advice? Exchange cards on the day itself – no gifts. Then set aside one night later that week to spend with each other. Cosy up and rent a film, go for a walk or go out for food on a not-so-priced-up night later that week.
Valentine's for friends
If the day feels like some kind of massive love-in to which you're not invited, odds are your single friends feel exactly the same. So why not enjoy some time together? I know that if you're in the midst of some kind of loneliness crisis, you may not want to hear this, but being single does give you time to value important people in your life. Once you're in a relationship and you have to factor somebody else into the arrangements you make, it becomes significantly more difficult to squeeze in time for friends, family etc.
My friend and I enjoy afternoon tea at Betty's in York
So use Valentine's to make the most of your friendships. Arrange a night out – or a trip to the spa. Champneys offer spa evenings from around £35 per person. Or why not arrange a trip to somewhere lovely with afternoon tea? Betty's in York or Harrogate or The George Hotel in Stamford are lovely places to go for tea on tiers.
It has such a tragic ring, doesn't it? But it needn't. Valentine's week should also be about treating yourself and your loved ones – even if that's not a partner or spouse. Treat yourself with a long, countryside walk or a trip to an art gallery, a spa or teashop (see above). Depending on how confident (and/ or flush) you feel, you could even book a city break or a meal out at your favourite restaurant. I have seen this rapidly turn to nightmare (there was an episode of the sitcom Ellen, where the star went out for dinner alone on Valentine's and the restaurant misread her table for 1 as a booking for 7, meaning she had to sit alone in the centre of the room on a massive table, surrounded by couples billing and cooing). Perhaps, don't go out on the night itself, unless you're super-confident, in which case, I congratulate you.
Valentine's is also a great time to treat your loved ones. Think about your mum, for example – how often does your dad make a fuss of her on Valentine's? In my dad's case, I could wrench his head from out of the pages of the Daily Telegraph sports section, point significantly at the February 14 date and he'd still give a baffled shrug and return to the cricket report. Three years ago, I righted this wrong by whisking my mum off to Paris for Valentine's week. We caught the Eurostar and went to all our favourite restaurants, visited romantic Versailles and Sainte-Chapelle, went to the theatre and had tea at Ladurée, home of those famous pastel-coloured macaroons. This is me, about to scoff a dainty cake at Ladurée.
Do I look like a lonely, pining spinster? What's that you say? Not, apart from the massive wodge of cake I'm about to scoff? Harrumph! Compulsive cake-scoffing is something happy people can do too, you know! Take your mum to Paris for Valentine's... you'll soon find out what I mean.