At 28 years of age, I perused the Valentine Day’s messages in a tabloid newspaper in London for the first time in my life. Previously, I had never received any cards, chocolates or flowers celebrating ‘love’, indeed, I believed the day was often a commercial cover-up for what went on before and after that day. At the suggestion of a researcher colleague (male at that) in 1978, I looked at the messages, surprised at my own response to one which was addressed to a ‘little girl’ and signed by the initials AA. At that time, I thought I was ‘in love’ with my boss editor of the current affairs TV program I was working on in London; his first name and surname both started with A. Part of me thought it was a personal message from him, but what I really picked up on was why I responded to the ‘little girl’ appellation. Is that what he thought of me? Indeed, was that what I thought of myself? I have never forgotten this as while he was the man who told me ‘don’t wear my clitoris on my sleeve’, I also understood why I picked up on it all. It was my need, and/or confusion, that misperceived mere flirtation and indeed, lust (mine and probably his, too, though he’s dead now and I’ll never know), as more meaningful than that; feelings I interpreted as love. I realised my mistake after some tears and heartache and the day resumed its past irrelevance. I never looked at Valentine Day messages again. Today is THAT day again, and I have rung two gay male friends to wish them happy Valentine’s Day. I do love them. It does mean something about them for me, though I tell them both how much I love them and enjoy their company on many other days too. Being Valentine’s Day is essentially irrelevant.

More important than receiving expensive flowers, chocolates and cards from the usual sexual suspects declaring great love, it is far more relevant and pertinent whether we love ourselves. None of the articles (and the paper was full of them) I read today in a quality Melbourne newspaper even raised this issue. It’s as if self-love is assumed within our society, yet, the fractured relationships and dysfunctional families and marriages that dominate our social spectrum highlight that self-love should not be taken for granted; indeed, its absence is too often reflected in these diverse relationships, or certainly, out of balance by the two or more people involved. Yet, it is imperative for any kind of loving relationship with another; be it parental, sexual or just friendship. Throughout history, our ‘social’ education tries to convince us about the necessity of finding ‘our better half’ to make us feel whole and complete; as if we’re lesser human beings without someone on our arm. We then too easily ‘expect’ another to fill the void inside us; make us happy and fulfil our longings when I believe one needs to be happy and content with oneself first to ensure we are not deluded by unrealistic expectations and behaviour of others.
So how did I spend my day? I was on my own, enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, a joint and made love to myself with an electric toothbrush. It all felt deliriously amazing and beautiful. Of course, I fantasised about a particular man watching me, (knowing he probably never will), initially wishing he was with me. He wasn’t, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless, (I do that a lot anyway) a situation I’ve found myself in all too often. I’m just pleased I imagined, and put to the test, my electric toothbrush, double-headed at that, as a vibrator; it works wonders. I can’t afford a ‘real’ one, but the bristles touch those intimate vulva areas most men don’t even know about. Loving thyself is intrinsic to loving anyone else; I understood that decades ago, but it seems ‘love’ is based on a ‘sexual’ level first and foremost for too many people./ The scribes in the newspaper call it ‘romantic love’ instead of calling it by what it should be, LUST. That’s still an idea, a word, a human feeling, we can’t or don’t want to confront as a society. It is regarded religiously as one of our seven deadly sins (whoever first penned those I haven’t got a clue), but it is integral to who we are as human beings; quasi-animals needing sexual satisfaction no more or less. The difference is that as humans, we dress up the dialogue as love; instead of recognising it as desire. And then we either lament its loss as love lost, rather than unsatisfied lust. Even then we call it unrequited love. It took years to clarify the difference, at least for me, about lust and love; deluding myself too many times that what I felt was love when indeed, more usually it was lust. I’m not sure men are any different in confusing these sexual and emotional responses; attested by the fact that it’s a majority of men still asking women to marry them (do the women cleverly and deviously inveigle the men to ask them), only later to be left alone to ponder what went wrong when their partners walk out on them. In divorce stories I’ve read over the past three decades, it’s more often the women who initiate the end of marriages, or relationships, more than men. In gay communities, I simply have no idea, but it would be an interesting research topic, as the few gay men I know are sexually ‘unfaithful’ though loving their partners and still wanting to be with them. Maybe in the gay community, there are different social sexual mores to the ‘anachronistic’ notion of monogamy. Moreover, in the newspaper today was a story about a male Japanese government minister who resigned because of an extra-marital relationship. What else is new? Was he a competent minister? Good at governance? That of course wasn’t mentioned as he was ‘punished’ for his sexual indiscretions. Others of course have ‘got’ away with it (won’t mention names), but both men and women can fall foul to a system that still enshrines ‘monogamy’ as sacred and holy. Should sexual betrayal, as it’s usually couched, cost you your job? Surely, it is a personal and private concern, not one that should impact in the political domain. But how often is the personal made political? It seems unbelievably nonsensical to contemplate, yet, it happens time and time again, for men as much as women. It is similar conventional and conservative thinking that distorts the same-sex marriage debate, belying who we are as human beings.
I’m not necessarily parading promiscuity as a path to pursue, but in so many countries in the world sex still taints our society with taboos that are inhuman. Another story in the same paper today focused on how ‘technology’ was catching out partners in sexual meandering; partners checking mobiles, emails and texts for evidence of betrayal. The article suggested people might be less than smart in convicting themselves online, but what it didn’t even raise was whether these partners just ‘maybe’ wanted to be caught out to end the relationship; albeit unconsciously. And are one or two night stands, or even three or four night stands, paramount in a relationship? Where does sex fit into the nexus of love? To me, they’re not inextricably and inevitably linked, but for most people sadly, they all too often are. Having a long-term, on-going sexual affair with another is however a different issue for me. I’m not sure I could accept that, but sexual escapades, lust inspired only, seem to destroy too many otherwise good relationships. Or are those escapades simply symptomatic of problems other than sex in the relationship? They weren’t for me in my youth, but too many people believe sexual fidelity is synonymous with love. You don’t have to put a noose around your neck to hang yourself, metaphorically speaking! Moreover, if a partner is ‘cheating’ as popular parlance has it on a regular and continuous basis, one might ask oneself why? Furthermore, does it matter in a relationship which hopefully is about far more significant emotions and realities such as intellectual and emotional rapport, mutual caring, respect and support? If sex is the defining issue, it actually says more about what is missing from the relationship in the first place, reflecting that maybe that’s all it ever was about to start with. It seems that yet again lust, and a good friendship, can masquerade as love. Friends with benefits is now the current vernacular. It’s hard to confront in ourselves as we’re all nurtured with fairytales about living happily ever after. Cognitively we might dismiss them as mere fantasy, but our society subsumes so much of them into our subconscious that then shapes our destiny. I’ve never read a ‘conversation’ between Cinderella and Prince Charming; indeed, there is no communication at the ball or when he tries the glass slipper on her foot; suffice to say, we all love the happy ending. Maybe we’re all just four-year-olds who have never grown up. I might try and imagine a conversation for another blog. Most romance books, and I did read a couple of Mills and Boons (I couldn’t even finish them), do not focus on any intellectual or emotional relations; they are about appearance and lust, with the promise, however unrealistic, about happy ever after. Many of the novels I read in my teens also focused on ‘passionate love’, (rather than romantic); Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, both committing adultery and then, tragically, suicide. I certainly wanted to ‘feel’ that same passion and/or love as they had, too, but while feeling something akin to that with my ex-boyfriend 43 years ago, I did realise after three months when he ‘raped’ me, it was innately about lust; not love. For him, particularly. It took another few months for me to understand that but how many people still live as if ‘love’ of a partner is the only thing that matters. I wrote at 30 years-old that I wondered what I needed a man for, when company I could hopefully find with others. I still can’t answer that question except to say as a friend with benefits. Loving myself suffices with a few good friends to share my life with. Playing with the toothbrush alone also satisfies, at least some of the time. Being happy ever after with myself, at least most of the time, is what’s most important for me. But finding love, that special person, the right man or woman, et al, seems to be the raison d’etre for the crass commercialism of Valentine’s Day for too many people, who rarely come home with flowers and chocolates on other days of the year, except for maybe birthdays, Easter and Xmas. It represents people’s need to find ‘someone’ to love outside themselves as if that someone can fulfil all their needs and wants. My truth as I understood reality is that no one person can fulfil all my needs and wants and I need many different people with diverse opinions, interests and ideas to fulfil my needs and wants. Friendship is my focus, though even that can be difficult as we all seem to have different definitions about what ‘real’ friendship means. I will struggle with that one probably for the rest of my life. But I won’t ever bother about Valentine’s Day.
Personally, good luck to the florists, chocolatiers and card makers who profit considerably from people’s desperate need for validation of their love. I’d rather be surprised by a friend with or without benefits on any other day of the year. Indeed, one of the gay men I called to tell him I loved him called me back a few hours later and invited himself for dinner tomorrow night. That made my day. I also buy myself chocolates and sometimes flowers too because I love them, self-bought when I can afford them. I didn’t buy myself any today, but then, I have chocolate biscuits in the cupboard and flowers on my shelves. Enough said.