Do we need a special day for romance?
Do we need a special day to celebrate romance? Or should it be celebrated every day? Here's what PHS columnists Barb Han, Lucy Monroe and Kate Walker have to say on the subject...
When I was first married I believed that having a special day for romance, a.k.a. Valentine’s Day was a total Hallmark holiday (one created to sell cards and flowers). I believed that if my significant other and I waited once a year to celebrate the way we felt about each other that we probably wouldn’t make it to the next (ah, young hearts can be so dramatic).
And it worked for us for a while...
We went out for dinner and spent time talking on evening walks (something we’ve been doing for more than twenty years). We talked about us, our goals and our dreams for our future. In short, we nurtured our relationship. Romance blossomed naturally and solidified my idea that romance has to take place year-round for a relationship to be fulfilling.
And then those little romance killers came along…
Oh, sure, they were cute and cuddly, and we loved every bit of each one of them. Having kids definitely made our hearts stretch and grow in many beautiful and wondrous ways. A deep well of love like none I’ve ever experienced made itself available as our family continued to grow.
We still took walks every evening after dinner but our talks centered around our little darlings (school, sports, friendships). We spent less and less time focused on us as a couple and more and more time on us as a family. Not a bad trade, we thought. But, let’s face it after caring for our little angels all day (and rarely having a minute of down time) and maintaining busy careers our energy was zapped.
Then there were the divide-and-conquer years where one of us ran a kid to basketball practice while the other took one to dance class. We have three kids and seriously underestimated the impact to our couple time once we were outnumbered. LOL
And still we were pretty darn happy. It was a different kind of bliss. Our idea of romance shifted and it became pretty damn sexy when my husband threw in a load of laundry rather than show up with a bouquet of flowers in his arms.
We could’ve done a better job of nurturing our relationship, but, honestly, we were too tired. I think our nightly walks and commitment to communicate with each other probably saved our relationship. And that’s when my view of having a day set aside for romance changed. I was grateful for the once-a-year reminder to have a special night just for the two of us. It had become our habit to brush us aside. Having that special day reminded me of what we loved about each other and why we fell in love in the first place. It provided the fuel we needed to stay together another year.
Those years flew by. Now, our kids are mostly independent. Two of them are grown and the last one’s schedule keeps her busy most nights. So, it’s the two of us again. We walk every night with our dogs, talk and laugh while we share our dreams. Our future has never looked brighter!
By far, the most romantic Valentine's Date for me was the first time my husband agreed to spend Valentine's Day with our children. Young marrieds, our date nights usually consisted of doing something together after the children had gone to bed. We played a lot of Scrabble back in those days. You can get really imaginative with that game, using only sex words, romance words, etc. and we did it all. Valentine's Day was one of our few true nights out, but I hated the crowds and the pressure to pick just the right venue and how service ALWAYS sucked on that night because there were so many patrons at the good restaurants. I mean, it just wasn't romantic to me, but my husband always made such a big effort to make it special.
So, Valentine's Day comes around one year, and I had this thought that love wasn't just about romance, but about relationship and I wanted to include our kids, my mom, etc. in that. Tom wasn't begrudging, but enthusiastic when I broached the idea. And his response hit all my hot buttons. We won't talk about what came immediately after that, "Honey, what a great idea!" moment. I will say that taking our children to a restaurant geared toward families that year was a lot less stressful than trying to dine in one geared toward the dating crowd. Our children loved being part of the Valentine's celebration and when Tom gave me a card that told me how much he loved me for being me and listed just what that meant, my heart melted. (He's a master card picker-outer, is that man!)
Valentine's Day that year stands out in my memory as one of the most romantic. Because although we took the kids to dinner and got them Valentines, later, after they were in bed, Tom also took time to be with me, just me. He and I were more romantic and connected than we'd been in a while because we both focused in on what it means to love a person, to be a couple that made a family.
As the years went on and we spent V-Day together as a family, we managed to avoid some serious depression and drama with teens and preteens who didn't have a special someone. Because they were already used this holiday being about love, not who loved you.
We spent a few Valentine's Day with my mom, who is gone now, but who often found Valentine's Day disappointing and loved being together as a family on such a day. We spent some with other family, or the children's friends, but for more than twenty years, we've spent each and every Valentine's Day (and evening) with our kids, and now our grandkids. My husband understands that special date nights are important, but for me, they're more enjoyable on a night that is not crazy crowded, not focused on romance even though I'm a romance writer.
If you read my books, you'll find my characters quite capable of naff, romantic gestures, but rarely will they be tied into the holiday for romance. Because love and romance is too big for one day and the strongest marriages celebrate it often, not annually.
Every Valentine's Day, I feel incredibly loved by the man who understood finding another special date night so long ago (because those were important too) was what romance was really about for me.
On February 14th I will be doing a talk in one of the local libraries. When I was asked to do this, the librarian said that ‘when you think of romance, you think of Mills & Boon’. Well, perhaps – but is it the sort of ‘romance’ that Valentine’s Day and the card manufacturers, the chocolate makers, red rose growers want us to indulge in?
Of course, M&B has always created interest in the media. Some of it has been the usual mockery that Romantic Fiction writers have had to grow used to over the years. The comments about ‘silly novels’ and the descriptions of romantic fiction and romances being ‘pink and fluffy’ – and generally not worth bothering with. Many journalists certainly seem to take the lazy way out and condemn romances as being all the same and that they’re stuffed full of clichés like chocolate and roses and heaving bosoms and moustache twirling villains and manly-chested heroes.
I suspect that this comes from a very poor – and very limited understanding of just what romance actually is.
I’m often asked me the question 'Are you a romantic person.' I usually answer yes, but add 'if being romantic means caring deeply about things and about the other person - it doesn't necessarily mean hearts and flowers and all those things that the stores would like us to BUY for Valentine’s Day.' The problem is that then when the quote appears the second half of it is usually missed off.
Valentine’s Day and why I’ve never really subscribed to it. Why, in fact, I - as a person – usually totally ignore it, don’t mind if my DH does the same – in fact, I really expect him to do nothing on ‘the day’ at all.Then recently, in a Q&A I was doing, I was asked what was the most romantic thing that has ever happened to me and I found that incredibly difficult to answer. I couldn't think of something that would sound romantic - to other people - and that was when and I realized that, deep down, the most romantic things are often not the ones that people might really expect - and that got me thinking about Romance and what it means to me and why I write it. It also made me go back and think again of my feelings about
You see, I think one of the reasons why I ended up writing romances for Modern/Presents is that I don't find hearts and flowers and boxes of chocolates truly 'romantic'. Don't get me wrong - they're all very nice in their place and I'm never going to turn down a beautiful bouquet. But they are not at the heart of romance.
Let me tell you a story - a real life story - a real life romance story.
Once upon a time there was a lovely lady - she was beautiful, intelligent, generous, hard working - and very lonely. She had married young to a man she adored but the marriage had broken down irretrievably and they had parted very bitterly. She had young children to care for and she focused her life on them. She was a deeply committed Catholic and never thought of divorce - it just wasn't possible for her. But she got on with life, she bought a little house, she had a tiny garden and in that garden she grew roses.
She'd been brought up in Ireland, in the countryside and she always said that the best thing to fertilise roses was donkey manure. So if anyone ever asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she would always say she'd love a load of donkey manure for her roses. But because she was a lady and elegant and stylish, everyone laughed and thought she didn't mean it - and they gave perfume or chocolates and that sort of thing as gifts.
Some years later she met a lovely man - he came to work where she did and they fell for each other. But the lady's husband was still alive, and she still believed that she couldn't get a divorce. And the new man was a Catholic too so he understood how her faith mattered to her. Eventually there came a time when he couldn't bear staying in the same place, and not being able to be with the person he loved. He hated the fact too that it made her unhappy to know she saw him every day but couldn’t be with him. So he applied for a job a long way away and he got it and prepared to leave. But just before he left it was the lady's birthday and on the day he left he came to her house in his car - and in the car was a sack load of donkey manure for her roses. Those roses grew beautifully ever after.
That's romance. That's caring for the other person more than for yourself. It's giving the person you love what they need - what they want - not what you think they want. It's understanding that, no matter how much you might want to get something for them, it will not be right for them and it will make them unhappy even if you make them go along with it. True romance finds a way to love the person as they need to be loved.
So when I'm writing a romance, I'm not writing the sort of book that people describe as ' a soppy love story' or 'hearts and flowers' or 'chocolate box' romances where the heroine is moping around without a man in her life and then when she meets the hero she 'swoons away' or her heart races in her 'heaving bosom'. I try to write real relationships between people who really could exist. (Okay in a Presents novel the hero is usually a billionaire - but take away all the money and the power and the success and he's just a MAN underneath it all - and it's that man's emotional problems I like to deal in.)
When I think of romance, I think of the way it originated as stories in medieval times - when knights of old used to court ladies - and act as her champion and fight for her honour at a tournament or in a duel or in battle. That meant really fight. A knight could be injured, maimed, killed - he took great risks for his lady and often she took them for him too - because women had very little choice in who they could marry and dreadful things could happen to her if she fell in love with the wrong man.
Modern Romance is very different and yet very much the same. The heroes and heroines I write about today aren't likely to be executed or killed in a hand to hand fight (though there might be a risk of that in some suspense story) so perhaps the physical risks are less violent.
But the emotional risks are every bit as dangerous - the emotional stakes every bit as high - or they should be. As novelist Sophie Weston once said, loving someone is like handing them a read-load gun and letting them point it straight at you.
Love is something we all crave - something we all hope for, dream of, work towards. It's what adds a special value to life and puts a whole new light onto each day. But love can bring those dangers as well - the loss of someone you love is the most devastating blow you can suffer. But often love also gets trivialized - 'If you love her buy her XXXX chocolates' or 'show you care - with a bunch of red roses . . .'
Personally, I don’t .like chocolates. I can hear the gasps from miles away but it’s true. Actually, chocolate makes me feel ill and I constantly struggle with a weight problem – so I wouldn’t thank anyone who gave me ‘something special’ on Valentine’s Day that added to that problem. I don’t like red roses either. Particularly not the force-grown, overly-cultivated red roses that will flood the shops in the hundreds in a couple of weeks’ time. They’ll droop within the week – if they last that long! My wedding bouquet had golden roses in it because I don’t like red ones. I love tulips and freesias. They are the flowers that anyone who loves me would give me on a special day or – as a really romantic gesture ‘just because’. . .
Anyone can put on the trappings of romance these days - there are cards for every event, flower arrangements you don't have to think about, perfume or jewellery advisors in every shop. The thing I don’t like about Valentine’s Day is that the reminders are right there, under people’s noses – they don’t need to think about it – there are posters everywhere, cards, bigger and soppier and uglier than ever before. There are soppy stuffed toys that mean the giver is thinking of the person who receives them as someone soft and childlike – not a real grown up, intelligent, feminine woman(or a real grown up man). And they don’t have to make any special effort – just pick up the flowers, add a card a teddy bear with a big red ribbon round its neck - hand over the cash – done!
I recently saw an article that was headed ‘Great Ideas for Valentine’s gifts under £100 that you can start dropping hints for now.’ Huh? Valentine’s gifts? ‘Under £100’?? When did we start to put a financial value of what made a ‘great gift’ and what didn’t? A great gift is one that is special to the person it’s given to. Isn’t that what really shows someone’s love? The soaps are full of characters who say 'I love you' and then move on to someone new when the script writers believe that the story has got boring – because in drama happiness is boring! It's when the chips are down, when the hard times come, when loving is a struggle, that real romance shows itself.
And that's why I write romance. I write about characters who are faced with difficulties, with problems that could destroy their love- and they hang in there, fighting for what's important. For their love and the love of the other person.
And all the clichés in the world - all the money, power, red roses, perfume . . . can't solve those problems for them - it's only by going into their own hearts and having the courage to be honest and open that they can win this particular battle. They might not risk death like those knights of old - but they do risk the death of their hearts and that's the real danger for a human being, no matter what century they live in.
So romance isn't in the things that can be faked - it's in staying with someone through good and bad 'for richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health.' It's in working at it and dealing with the hard stuff and caring enough for the other person to find ways through the darkness to the light.
When I was a child and still at school, I learned a rhyme that was about all the months. It contained the lines: February brings the rain, Thaws the frozen lake again.
Oh yes. February is a cold, wet month. In Yorkshire where I grew up, was always known as 'February fill-dyke' as the rain lashed down, filling the rivers and the dykes, and often causing floods.
So this had me wondering - why then would anyone choose February 14th as the date to celebrate love, passion and all things romantic? A day in a cold, wet usually pretty miserable month where beauty is hard to find, the glow and excitement of Christmas and New Year is well behind us, red roses cost a fortune, and it takes an effort to even think of trying to be romantic.
Or perhaps that's the point? Perhaps it's the fact that because it's hard to make an effort that's what makes it more romantic. It's the effort, the trying, the doing something out of routine, something a little different and a bit special that makes Valentine's Day - or indeed any day - really romantic.
After all, St Valentine himself didn't have things easy - St. Valentine was a Priest, martyred in 269 at Rome apparently beaten with clubs and then beheaded, and was buried on the Flaminian Way. He is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travellers, young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer's blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer's daughter, signing it, "From your Valentine." That’s when he was thinking of someone he loved. But his life and his death were not exactly ‘romantic’
So perhaps that's it. Perhaps it's because February is such a dark, gloomy, apparently unromantic month that we celebrate romantic love in the middle of it. And Valentine's Day is really like love and romance itself isn't it? Just when everything is dark and gloomy and bleak, we have a day that reminds us to make an effort for the person we love. To show them, tell them how we feel. It may be cold and wet but with the one you love you can curl up safe and sheltered and let love keep you warm
And in that case February is probably the perfect month. But so could be any and every other day of the year. If you want to show someone what you feel for them you shouldn’t need just one day out of 365 to be marked out to do that.
Okay, I'd better get off my soapbox now,
But this is what is in my mind when I'm writing - that I need to show that this particular heroine is the love of this particular hero's life - and if I don't convince my readers that they're right for each other then I've failed. If they are going to be blown apart by some trivial problem or bicker so hard all through the story and then say 'Oh, I'm sorry - I love you' - it doesn't convince me - so how can it convince any reader? And if he treats her appallingly and doesn't have very good reasons for it - and she lets him walk all over her without a protest - then what sort of future would they have together? That's not love - and it's certainly not romantic, not in my book. My heroes sometimes make terrible mistakes and behave badly as a result -but the heroines fight back. And when whoever made the mistake (because it can so often be the heroine as much as the hero) realises what they've done they do the best thing they can to put it right, not just saying they’re sorry. Because all the grovelling and apologising in the world is really pretty self indulgent - it not saying I'm sorry/I love you/I'll change over and over and over again - it's doing it. Or refusing to do something if you know it's wrong. Sometimes the hardest thing you have to fight for love is the person that you love!
That's what I try to put into my books - strong passions, strong characters, strong love - which I hope creates a strong romance That's the main reason why I write romance because the books offer me the chance to write about the things I believe in.
Because isn't that what romance is really all about? It certainly is in the books I write. People - people who don't know the truth - tend to think of romance novels as being about soft and pretty, chocolate box, kittens and flowers sort of love. Boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with girl, they marry and live happily ever after. It's soppy, cheesy, a 'soft' love story.
Not the books I write. I write about people who have real problems in their relationship. People who have reason to dislike, even to hate each other. Reason to believe the worst of someone, even as they are acknowledging that this person is really affecting them like no other person ever has in all their life. People who have to fight - with their hero or heroine, with their mistaken beliefs, and, ultimately, with themselves to reach a real, honest, deep and long-lasting love. It's an adult affair, not boy meets girl, not hearts and flowers, not pretty pink cards easily picked up in the local supermarket.
That's what I try to put into my books - strong passions, strong characters, strong love - which I hope creates a strong romance And a strong love doesn’t need to respond to order, give the gifts that everyone expects them to give – buy the flowers, the cards that commercial advertising , commercial profit encourages them to buy without thought just because the date is the fourteenth day in February.
So when I’m asked if I'm 'a romantic sort of person' then yes I am! And my husband? Well, we’ve been together 47 years. It's not always the most hearts and flowers relationship - but it's strong at the core and that's where it matters. The most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for me? Ask me to marry him and stay with me, through thick and thin for all this time. And he knows not to give me red roses or a box of chocolates. Sometimes there’ll be a soppy card but not always on Feb 14th - and that’s just fine with me. There are 364 other days in the year after all.
Do you celebrate Valentine's Day with your significant other or is showing how much you love them an all year round thing? What do you do to keep the love alive in your relationship? Tell us in the comments or join the PHS discussion on this subject on Social Media.