Valentine's Day gift-giving first came knocking on my door when I was 10.
A boy in my class gave me a ring that his older sister had made, not because he wanted me to be his Valentine but because he wanted me as a back-up in case his first choice rejected him. The first choice in question received the stereotypical flowers and chocolates. I remember thinking that I got the better deal. Not only was mine the better present, but I was relieved that I didn't actually have to be anyone's first choice at Valentine, which, even then, seemed like too much effort.
Of course, this relief was short-lived. I took pity on another boy in my class who was upset he didn't get a Valentine's Day present, so I made him a card with the most platonic animal I could think of on it - a frog - stuck a $1 coin inside and called it a day. That was the first time I was conned into actively taking part in the Hallmark holiday.
Coincidentally, it was also the first and only time that I have given money to a (future) stripper. Funnily enough, the kid grew up to never spend a Valentine's Day alone, instead opting to entertain lonely singles and hen's parties every February 14.
That, however, is neither here nor there. If he wants to take his clothes off for money, all power to him. Valentine's Day, on the other hand, is something I have a few choice words for. Why do we feel like we have to do something on February 14, especially when we don't do anything the rest of the year?
I was hesitant at first to write this column, because last time I wrote about my dating life I got a lot of feedback - both in the form of people tracking me down on Instagram to ask me out on a date, and others finding ways to deliver "advice" about how I can change myself to be more appealing to men. The former was unexpected. The later was uncalled for, and frankly, contained advice that I would never take because I value myself too much to change to try fit someone else's ideals.
However, while Valentine's Day has been marketing itself on relationships and romance, my gripe with it has never been dependent on my own relationship status. Boyfriends come and go, but my frustration with February 14 stays strong.
Don't get me wrong, I love love. But I don't think sending someone a bunch of overpriced flowers one day out of the year is love. And I also don't think it's fair to use it as an excuse for championing relationships as the key to living a fulfilling life.
There are just as many Valentine's Day events aimed at single folk as couples, most of which are trying to cash in on the notion that you are no one until somebody loves you. With everything from speed dating to down with love parties - not to mention the numerous fast food deals aimed at people eating their feelings with copious amounts of chicken nuggets - this idea of being alone in February is a marketing goldmine, which, for the most part, is cashing in on this idea that you alone are not enough.
It's also the time of year that I get pitched stories that are ... interesting, for lack of a better term. I've had university lecturers wanting to discuss the sort of music you should listen to if you want to get lucky (blues) or experts wanting to talk about where Canberra ranks in terms of Australia's romantic cities (14th - and Berri, South Australia is apparently number one). I also had someone pitch me a story about a company delivering puppies to singletons on February 14. To be honest, I would be down for this any day of the year - single or not - because puppy play dates are obviously the best type of date.
But why exactly should we care about music genres, romantic cities, or, yes, even puppy deliveries more in February than any other month of the year? Because some guy with the last name Valentine may or may not have been a fan of love and romance?
There isn't a consistent story about who St Valentine was and why it was he is considered the champion of love. But whoever he was, he would have lived in a time where marriage was banned because it was thought married men made bad soldiers. It could be argued that it was a time a day was needed to be dedicated to love because it - and marriage - was considered a luxury when it really shouldn't have been.
Keeping on the trail of Valentine's Days past, there was also the feast of Lupercalia which predates St Valentine and some historians believe is the predecessor of the holiday. Held from February 13-15, it saw Romans get drunk and naked, sacrifice a goat and then whip the women with strips of goat hide, soaked in blood. It was believed that the ritual would make the women more fertile in the year to come.
The festival is said to have also seen the names of the women put into a vase before being drawn out by the bachelors. They would then couple up for the duration of the festival, and potentially longer if it was a good match. (Who says romance is dead?)
With all these random matches, sacrificial whippings and a mysterious story about a guy who may or may not have loved love, it's hard to see why we still uphold February 14 as the day to show love to someone? Or for that matter, the day that singles feel just that little bit more alone?
Go out to dinner, buy some flowers, eat a crazy amount of chicken nuggets - I don't care. Just have a reason other than "because it's Valentine's Day" to do it because February 14 may not be as romantic as you think it is.