Post-divorce, I’ve fallen for a man I’ve known years
Valentine’s Day 1988. I am 15 years old, standing on the second floor of the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus waiting for my date. It has taken me six hours to get ready.
In the event, he was a no-show. I waited for more than an hour. I was stood-up in the way that only the pre-mobile generations understand: hopelessly standing on a corner, wondering if you should give it another five minutes, and trying not to cry. After that, Valentine’s Day was dead to me.
I have always been a disappointment to boyfriends on Valentine’s Day. On other days, too, I imagine, but particularly on February 14.
What is romantic about a restaurant full of couples looking like the holding pen of Noah’s Ark? Or watching your partner awkwardly pay a street hawker a tenner for a rose not long for this world? These rituals feel like the antithesis of romance for me.
Among the couples in the restaurant, there will be the very new ones, unsure if they’ll get to the ‘meet the parents’ stage; the ones who have been together for an age and are troughing in silence, getting this formality over quickly because they have a babysitter on a meter.
There are the couples for whom the pressure of a magical day has got too much and they’ve clearly had a row as they sit, tensely chewing the inside of their cheeks, wondering whether the waiter/waitress is single.
One year, I had a boyfriend who pulled out all the stops on Valentine’s Day. Roses were delivered, fancy restaurant, theatre and hotel room all booked.
The night was somewhat marred when he realised that when I said ‘I haven’t got you anything’, I actually hadn’t got him anything. He’d been biding his time, imagining that any moment, a wildly romantic gift would materialise. A flock of doves, flying in heart formation, perhaps; framed love lyrics from his favourite singer; or a mug saying ‘world’s best boyfriend’.
‘A card? Not even a card?’ I can still hear the hurt in his voice.
Another year, another boyfriend and another hotel room. I knew this chap liked Scotch eggs so I rang the hotel and arranged for a pack to be left on the pillow.
‘Why do you hate romance!’ he cried when we got there, chomping into one and washing it down with the expensive champagne he had called ahead to arrange. I don’t hate romance. I love romance. To me, a partner taking the bins out, making me a cup of tea without asking if I want one first, and treating my dog as though she were his own, are all deeply romantic things.
But ‘hearts and roses in the middle of February’, I declared to Scotch Egg Man, ‘feel like obligation and not love’.
This year, though, for the first time in more than a decade, I am in love. After my divorce I had given up, thinking once a heart is broken, there will only ever be the kids and Golden Retrievers. It took a long time to rebuild myself.
It was terrifying to accept I was in love again. But here I am, finally with the love of my life, a fellow comedian whom I have known for 20 years and only got together with last summer.
I had been such a huge fan of his that it took that long for me to string a relatively coherent sentence together around him. For five years we flitted about with a romance, on and off, before finally admitting our true feelings.
So, for the first time, I’m looking forward to the wilting roses. I will look at the couples eager to get home to the kids and think, “How romantic to have run out of things to say”. I only hope that my love and I have time enough left to one day sit in silence (I’m 48; he’s 60).
Now I am, finally, truly in love, I can tell the ghost of 15-year-old me, still lurking where the Trocadero once stood, still giving him ‘just five more minutes’, that if you feel you have to spend six hours getting ready for someone, they are not worth even a two-minute wait.
Real love is someone who thinks you are a goddess even when your hair needs a wash, and who puts the kettle on the minute you get home. It takes its time sometimes, true love. It takes the scenic route, stops off at the pub, waits for the weather to clear.
But when it finally arrives, time lost doesn’t matter – you are just so happy that it’s home.