By Eithne Cullen
Welcome to my page today. This week, you will be celebrating or not celebrating, embracing or ignoring, the feast of St Valentine. This poor Roman priest and physician – who suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus – has become the patron of beekeepers and epilepsy and will always be associated with courtly love and romance.
It’s my pleasure to share some writing about the phenomenon that is Valentine’s Day. I have received such lovely pieces of poetry and prose about attitudes to love and relationships and about how not everyone wants to celebrate it and how not everyone is searching for the romance it embodies. Firstly, let’s hear from Farzana Hakim and her unique experience.
Valentine’s Day is also my birthday and the extra fuss I’ve received over the years makes the day quite memorable for me.
When I was at school, my friends were ever so sweet and we always exchanged gifts and cards. On my birthday, I had the other kids at school looking at me carrying these gift bags and cards and probably thinking how lucky I must be for getting so many Valentine’s gifts from admirers. At college and uni, this only got more extravagant, as friends would give me balloons and flowers, which I’d then have to carry all the way home.
Now, I realise, I wasn’t being envied by others at all. In fact, I’m certain I was always being judged, especially by peers from my own community and background. A Muslim girl carrying flowers, gifts and huge smiles on Valentine’s Day simply wouldn’t be considered right back then. So, obviously, I’d be judged – and not in a positive way, either.
Judgements have never really left me. My relationship with my husband has always been scrutinised, for starters. Firstly, because he was from Pakistan, friends and colleagues felt I was being forced to marry him. When in reality, this was far from it, because I was having a lovely online relationship with him for two years before we were even married. By the time I was ready for marriage, I was so in love and couldn’t wait to spend my life with him.
When I fell pregnant with twins, just weeks after my wedding, I was judged for being too quick and not caring about my career. I became embarrassed to tell people and felt I’d done something wrong. Seriously, the pressures I went through were terrible, especially in the first few years of our marriage. And these came from my close-knit family, friends and neighbours.
There also came a time in my marriage when our finances were not all that great and I needed to work in order to get by and help my husband out. So I started fostering. The backlash and judgement I received throughout the ten years I did this played a major role in me giving it up. Because the label of being called “maid” to the vulnerable kids I’d look after, really got to me. I was put down for wasting my degree and not going out and getting a professional, proper job. I was accused of being lazy and not good enough.
So, I quit.
When I did my hajj in 2014 and started wearing the hijab, the things I heard from certain aunts was something else altogether. I was told: “You shouldn’t wear the hijab, your husband will start looking at other women and leave you!” Seriously.
Then, about five years back, I’d had enough! I realised that, throughout my life, I’d just been trying to live my life, but people were always interfering. And I just couldn’t be bothered any more. My children were teenagers now and my relationship with the husband was stronger than ever. I was happy with what I was and where I was, and no matter what anybody said, I wouldn’t care anymore. What they said wouldn’t bother me, as it had before.
This era of enlightenment came when my love for writing was exposed and I finally learned to use my voice in all aspects of my life. Even though I’m writing love stories, and stories about relationships, I don’t care what others think.
These are my stories, and these are my words, exactly like my relationship with my husband, and my life, which are also entirely mine.
And, for crying out loud, my husband still loves me, with or without the hijab!
© Farzana Hakim, 2022
You can connect with Farzana on Twitter: @farzanahakim
The next piece is from Pen to Print’s Michelle Sutton. It reminds me of someone I know who is always approached at weddings by older relations who tell her sadly, “Never mind, dear…”
Valentine’s Day is probably my least favourite time of year. On or around this day, I guarantee I will be asked the following question, in some form, at least three times:
“Oh, do you not have a boyfriend/partner?”
Usually followed swiftly by: “Never mind, I’m sure you’ll find someone.” Or: “You’ll just have to get yourself out there!” Or, my personal favourite:“Well, you still have time.”
As a long-term single woman who both likes being single but also doesn’t, and would like to be in a relationship and have a family ‘some day,’ comments and questions like this are: a) not helpful – despite their ‘good intentions’ – and: b) upsetting. It doesn’t help when these good-intentioned people decide to start making assumptions about my life, sexuality and whether I want or can even have children. A deeply upsetting subject when I consider my age and, also, very much not their business!
I’ve been told on several occasions that I’ve not met someone due to some of these genuine reasons:
- You don’t drink
- You don’t go to enough parties, and, when you do, you stand to the side too much
- You don’t dress right or wear make-up
- They consider you ‘one of the guys’
- Maybe they think you’re gay?
- You give off a vibe
If that wasn’t enough, there are the suggestions on ‘How to get a man’ I’ve received over the years:
- Put yourself out there
- Try Tinder
- Just ask someone out
- Don’t talk about football, Doctor Who, Lord OfTthe Rings or any of that geeky stuff
- What about so-and-so? He’ll go out with anyone…
All this just ends with me overthinking, blaming and hating myself. Maybe I am too introverted? Maybe I do give off a vibe? Maybe I’m just not loveable or fanciable? It’s not like I don’t speak to or interact with men, it’s just that most I like are taken, gay or friends (sometimes all three). I’m not good in social situations and maybe I’m not the best at picking up on things – as far as I’m aware, I’m not flirted with or chatted-up. I don’t think creepy drunk men outside theatres who tell me I have “nice eyes” count, right?
The fact is, I’m the type of person who wouldn’t be a fan of Valentine’s Day even if I were in a relationship, but why does this particular time of year seem to be an open invitation for certain friends, family and colleagues to intrude on my personal life? Why does it feel like the people around me on that day, more than on others (except perhaps weddings), come out with assumptions and thoughtless comments or questions that make me more depressed and upset than I already am as a single, childless woman who would quite like not to be one day?
This might actually be the hardest thing I’ve ever written, as I rarely talk or write about such personal matters, and I’ll finish with this: Think before you speak, please!
© Michelle Sutton, 2022
You can connect with her on Twitter: @L.M. Towton
Thanks for sharing this, Michelle. Sometimes when we write, we open up something which reveals so much of ourselves, or makes us reflect in a very deep way.
Next, Allan Lochhead’s poem is a wry look at the rituals of dating and applies to those special Valentines dates, too. I love the title The Waiters, which can be read in a number of ways.
Here we are again song.
Standing and waiting song.
Saturday night out song.
Here we are again: singles soiree.
Threat of fornication, no chance.
Threat of happiness, no chance.
Here we are again song, standing, talking, being charming.
Being witty, feeling shitty.
Saturday night again, talking, talking.
What do you do?
Oh, really, how interesting!
No more to ask.
No more to say.
Hundreds of faces: lurking, flirting, chattering.
Chattering about nothing. Nothing, always nothing.
Hundreds of faces, concealing what?
Laughter, brilliance, pain, anguish, loneliness?
Nothing at all, maybe?
Standing, waiting and wanting
Life to come through the door.
For life to cast her magic spell
On them, on us.
© Allan G Lochhead, 1990
Write On! regular, Diya Padiyar, has also been writing poems about love and relationships. She submitted these two poems to get us thinking about love and how we see it.
Why Do Poets Always Write About Love?
Not that I never did.
I just no longer do.
Well, you’d ask,
What does a seventeen year old
have to say about love?
“Perhaps another high school heartbreak”.
I don’t write about love.
Because when you write about love, it costs you something
to pour your heart on paper.
Sometimes, it costs the whole of your love.
Because you write when you’re hurting
before you start writing to be hurt.
But readers enjoy that the most.
Writing that resonates with pain,
They like to feel understood
but it costs you something.
It costs you the love
you keep alive in poetries
that would have otherwise faded away.
Maybe that is why
Poets write about love.
© Diya Padiyar, 2022
Thanks Diya, this is a really thoughtful piece. I’m reminded of earlier pieces I’ve shared: when you write about love, it costs you something.
This second poem from Diya continues the theme of poets writing about love and the rest of us asking questions about what love means.
It’s Not “Love” And That’s OK
I was a preacher of “love”
and a believer of destiny
Until I met you.
You made me feel all those things
I thought were
And you told me
that you felt the exact same way
and yet you said
“I don’t know anything about love”
What is love?
You’d ask with eyes filled with
something between curiosity and passion
And all this while
that is exactly what I thought was
“I don’t know what love is
but whatever it is
You deserve it”
And I knew
If this is not “love”
We’re young and naive
and we know a lot less than
what’s yet to be known.
There are books written about love
for love, by people who called themselves
Many poets tried their hand
to define what they called
And they all smiled and whined
and celebrated in triumph
at the christening of the joy of their hearts as
But who is to define love
When lovers themselves are so transient.
There are books written about love
for love, by people who call themselves
But there is no one who can explain it to you
While everyone can feel it.
As long as you hold my hand
when we walk on the sea shore
As long as we hear the music
When we dance on the bare floor
Even if it’s not “love”
© Diya Padiyar, 2022
Pen to Print poet, Mary Walsh, submitted this poem, which on first impression seems to be about swimming. As you read it, you’ll see Mary’s swimming experience opens up all kinds of thoughts about past experiences and past regrets, but the effect of the swim also helps her look to the future, too.
The water leaves my fingertips in ripples
Flowing out along my body
Lapping over back and legs
My blistering thoughts follow
flowing out angry
creating a stream of turbulent water
Stroke after stroke
Moving with the tide
Gathering the past in its wake
Again, I draw in the water
My hands feel the weight of it
I fill it with things I could have done
I fill it with things I should have done
I fill it with things left unsaid
I fill it with old regrets
Then push away
The current stormy as
negative feelings drift
away on the tidal flow
Before me, clear water
I fill it with love
I fill it with kindness
I fill it with contentment
I fill it with hope
I draw it in, renewed and swim.
(c) Mary Walsh, 2022
I’ve been delighted to be delivering some workshops for Pen to Print. I’ve chosen the theme of the senses for this set of workshops and the response has been fantastic. A few weeks back, we were writing about the sense of smell, which has a way of evoking memories and feelings. Two of the attendees have given me something to share on this page; not about relationships, as such, but certainly about the love evoked by memory through the senses.
In her heyday – the 70s or 80s, I suppose – she wore a beautiful fur coat. Not real fur, but I imagine her scent caught in the fibres just the same.
I loved that coat; even more when she was wearing it. Then, I’d spread my arms as though engulfing her; my nose buried deep inside the soft fur, the thickness of a favourite teddy bear, the smell sublime: the warm, comforting smell of Yardley talcum powder, the musky rosewood of her wardrobe, embers of smokiness, colliding with the scent of a deeper, sweeter, rose perfume, a freshness like Plaster of Paris, or crisp cotton. The closeness of her made me feel I was home.
I have this coat wrapped in tissue paper placed in a special box. Sometimes, I take out the coat to savour her scent, to cry.
© Julie Dexter, 2022
Stroll In A Powder Puff
At my parents’, on an ordinary day in July, we had just enjoyed a welcome shower and I feel the need to take in the freshness of the air. I stroll in the garden; at arms’ length, I see tiny, lilac-blue buds glistening in the aftermath of the rain. I pull at a few and warm them in my hand; unconsciously, I press nature’s gift between my fingers and am instantly transported to another time. I close my eyes and see crimped white curls framing a weather-beaten, yet kindly face, I smell the scent and taste a memory and, once again, life softens and a grandmother’s love beckons me, behind the lavender door.
© Angela J Wilson, 2022
Happy St Valentine’s Day to all… however you feel about it, and whether you choose to celebrate or not.
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Sharing some writing about the phenomenon that is Valentine’s Day and how not everyone is searching for the romance it embodies.