Tina Paulick looks at why memories are more important than expensive gifts this Valentine's Day.
Every year coming up to Valentine's Day, the newspapers are full of helpful and not so helpful advice on how to celebrate this day as a couple or how to ‘survive’ it single. Although I found some recent opinion pieces by people who choose not to commit to a relationship to have more time for their careers and their hobbies, or at least are content to be single until they feel someone is right for them, the prevailing tone still urges us to make this day extra special.
 
I always had mixed feelings about the 14th of February. I’m not good with dates, so when I was single it often passed me by without much notice. One year in secondary school, I did an internship with a local newspaper back home in Germany and was sent out to interview people on their opinion of Valentine's Day and to take pictures of kissing couples of all ages. Needless to say I was mortified and because my home town is in the region of the former GDR, most older people regarded Valentine's Day as a capitalist invention and nobody had heard of the original legend of St. Valentine dating back to the third century. Every year, I remember this anecdote and ask myself if Valentine's Day has something to offer to me as someone from a non-religious background trying not to attach too much value to material possessions.
 
It’s no secret that retailers use holidays and all kinds of seasonal events to try to boost their sales. But in the face of glossy adverts for romantic getaways and candlelight dinners it is hard not to feel obliged to buy the special person in our lives something, especially when we don’t know if she or he is planning something for us. Although it will take away the surprise element, it is a good idea to talk about how both feel about Valentine's Day to avoid disappointment or, even worse, an argument.
 
Unless I have a good idea, buying presents for particular occasions often puts me under pressure. I prefer to get things for people when I happen to see something they will like and unexpected presents are a much nicer surprise. Here is my personal advice: If you want to get something for your boyfriend or girlfriend, put some thought into it and don’t just buy the obligatory card and a bunch of flowers. If he or she likes those things fair enough, but to take me as an example I’m more upset when pretty flowers are withered than I was happy when I got them in the first place. I’d rather look at them while they are still growing and my boyfriend knows me well enough to know that.
 
The same applies for clothes: Unless you know his or her size and style, better leave it. If you both feel comfortable with it, you could go shopping together and make a day out of it. Or why not visit the place where you first met or do some other fun activity together, instead of spending an evening surrounded by lots of other couples at an overpriced and understaffed restaurant.
 
Certainly every relationship benefits from investing quality time, especially in a society in which long distance relationships and rather impersonal means of communication are common and everyone appears to be constantly stressed; but do we need kiss proof lipstick, flowers and fancy food to do that? It needs more than one designated day to strengthen and maintain emotional connections. And time, commitment and genuine affection cannot be bought.
 
Since I have to travel to Dublin anyway, my boyfriend and I will visit the shrine of St. Valentine in the Church of our Lady of Mount Carmel, not because we necessarily believe in the power of reliquaries, but because it is an interesting historic sight with a good story attached to it. More than likely, we wont be the only couple there, but it is a fun thing to do and I will have another Valentines Day anecdote to tell next year. Shared memories are more important to us than shop-bought presents.