But this year felt different. It was my first one as a single person for probably 25 years – how sad is that? Or is it? Should I congratulate myself that for the past 25 years I have had someone (3 different people if we are counting) who have wanted to call themselves my partner, or should I thank God that this year I neatly sidestepped the search for the perfect ‘only you will get this incredibly personal joke’ card?
The day itself was a bit of a shocker – a fun ‘getting to know divorce’ mediation session in the morning set things up a treat, my head thumping after a late night early birthday booze up. A leaking toilet then threatened to completely ruin the afternoon as water poured through the kitchen ceiling. Thank God (again) for my wonderful friends who rallied round – positioning buckets, entertaining children and pouring much needed wine until the whole episode felt like nothing more than a slightly irritating dream.
Once everyone had gone home and I was left to reflect on the day, I found myself getting all Carrie Bradshaw about the whole deal. It made me realise that what I missed most was the easy intimacy of an established ‘relationship’ and how, when I met new people, I tried to recreate this way too soon. When it comes to relationships I am an absolutely sucker for romance and sentimentality and am (almost) a standing joke amongst certain friends for my ability to fall head over heels in record time. Can you imagine the wedding speeches: ‘yes we met on Tinder - it was love at first swipe’?
If I’m being kind to myself I would say this is partly due to the fact that I have an open and fairly easy going nature – I like to see the best in people and am a terrible ‘people pleaser’. The idea of casually standing up after 15 minutes on a first date and announcing ‘I’m sorry this isn’t for me’, or even coming up with some vaguely plausible excuse to leave fills me with horror. Instead I’m all ‘oh, you like progressive techno jazz folk music – what a coincidence, so do I!’ or ‘so you enjoy camping on sheer rock faces in Scotland in the middle of winter – gosh, we just have SO much in common!’ etc. Thank God for Wikipedia and tequila – the ultimate distraction when fabricated knowledge and enthusiasm threaten to be exposed.
Beyond the first date things seem to get even more confusing – it’s like being dropped into a computer game with no clue how to play it: Blind Date meets Wreck It Ralph. It’s no good pretending I’m a 20 something freestyler without a care in the world – I have two rather significant ‘cares’ (my kids) and most of the people I meet do too. Equally, I can’t pretend I’m cool with a casual hook up: for me it’s the romantic equivalent of a massive bag of Haribo – easy to do with not much thought, but ultimately unrewarding. I think I need to be honest with myself and admit that what I really want in the long term is someone to share the good stuff and the not so good stuff with, who will also put the bins out for me. But maybe it’s going to take some time for me to find them and for them to find me – which when you have the patience of a crack addict can be hard to take.
So this is what I am learning...this is a journey. I have questions I need to ask myself about what I want the next phase to look and feel like rather than just ‘how long is this going to bloody take’? I need to stop wildly projecting to the final destination whenever I meet someone, asking those all important questions like: Where will we live? How will they get on with my children? Will they join in with impromptu early morning One Direction kitchen discos? Perhaps these life changing issues can wait, after all.
So my rational, considered promise to myself is to enter into things with a more balanced perspective. To not fall in love at the first kiss or imagine fabulous evenings spent cuddled up together on the sofa before we’ve taken our coats off (let alone anything else). Essentially I am going to try to turn off the ‘extra sparkle’ filter that threatens to mentally Instagram each date and leave it forever imprinted in glorious ‘X Pro II’ on my brain.
And yet if I’m honest, there was someone I thought about a lot on Valentine’s Day. Who, despite everything I have just said and everything I am trying to do, reminds me that my head and my heart are two entirely separate entities. I may have stopped short of the Instagram filter but in my mind he definitely has a cool border around the edges. Who knows where it will lead and there are certainly reasons why the answer to that question may end up being ‘nowhere much’, but I guess that’s something I just need to learn to get my head around. Maybe I’ll set up a meditation course for the seriously patience deprived – isn’t it about time we were recognised as genuinely afflicted, for God’s sake??
Whatever happens, I'm going to hope that by next year the sentimental romantic me is back. You can keep your heart shaped desserts, but it would be so nice if one of those cards wasn’t 2 days early, after all.