Reclaiming the loaded word ‘love’ as Valentine’s Day approaches

LET’S face it, women are the stronger sex.

Anecdotally, we all know that when marriages or long-term relationships break up, it is the men that tend to find a new partner very soon afterwards. This is a sign that guys don’t cope very well on their own.

As a friend says, men need “a nurse and a purse”. Whereas us women find solace and meaning through our female friendships and tend to write off men as being ‘useless’ following a break-up. We count our blessings and get on with life.

A good relationship is the icing on the cake, but not a necessity.

Proving that women are more self-contained than men, a new survey reveals that almost a third of single women in Ireland say lockdown has made them realise how much they enjoy their own company and do not need a partner.

On the other hand, as level five restrictions continue to keep singletons apart, only 15% of men feel the same way.

We have rediscovered the joy of baking (or just eating buns) and we take our daily exercise seriously, aiming to clock up 10,000 steps a day, as measured on Fitbits.

We’re reading more; some are journaling although what they have to report is negligible given that a foray to the local supermarket is the highlight of our day.

Crucially, many of us are not pining for a relationship. Which is just as well because love in the time of Covid is tricky, to put it mildly.

According to the romance survey of 16,000 people carried out by Hastings Hotels, some 24% of single men are using online dating more, twice the number of single women logging on for love.

Where would you be going if you do clinch a date? Is it all virtual, or do people go for chaste walks in parks with a lukewarm carton of coffee from a shop?

Personally, I’d rather watch the news on telly, and that’s saying something given the depressing nature of the bulletins with their focus on Covid. Romance? You must be kidding.

Quite apart from the perilous route of finding love on dating apps, what about social distancing? Would it be a case of swapping virtual hug cards, as promoted by the delightful six-year-old from Cork Adam King, star of The Late Late Toy Show before Christmas?

His ‘Hug for You’ cards, publicised in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, are raising funds for Cork University Hospital Charity and Temple Street Hospital for Children, two places that Adam has spent a lot of time in with his brittle bone condition.

Valentine’s Day used to bring with it unwanted pressure, at least when I was a teenager. Being more of a Janis Ian reject, at 17, than, say, Sandy in Grease, I kept the head down when the other girls were trying to guess who sent them anonymous cards with corny messages.

Not for me (and I’m sure for more girls than would like to admit), red roses and romantic gestures. But now many of us are perfectly OK with that state of play? 

You could say our expectations are low. Or that we’ve been unlucky in love, or just that we’re hard-wired to the single life.

Which is not to denigrate happy relationships. According to the survey, a Valentine’s break away in a hotel is what couples miss most (50%) as we live our lives in lockdown. A meal out is something that 29% of couples most desire for Valentine’s celebrations, and 11% crave alone time with their partner. (It’s not surprising that latter figure is so low. Couples must be well and truly sick of each other as they spend all day at home, in each other’s hair.)

Yes, I have no doubt but that Covid is the true test of a relationship. Thrown together, it must take conscious effort not to stymie all that is good about your relationship.

Giving each other space this Valentine’s Day could just be the most empathetic thing you could do.

Also, as we live in these extra-ordinary times, it behoves us to reclaim what the word ‘love’ means in its broadest sense.

It’s not just an excuse for a Hallmark card and a bottle of Prosecco . Even a lad like Boris Johnson publicly acknowledged intensive care nursing as an act of love.

There is a lot of love around, altruistic love that has nothing to do with ego or narcissism. As well as health care professionals, there are hospital porters, cleaners, caterers, home helps, supermarket workers — the list could go on.

And behind the grim Covid-19 statistics are beating hearts (and some that have tragically stopped beating.) Yes, we’re all going to die at some stage. But as poet Philip Larkin wrote: “What will survive of us is love.”

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