Valentine's Day: Alex Kane, Frances Burscough and Cathy Martin reveal what love means to them
Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Frances Burscough, Alex Kane and Cathy Martin say love isn’t just about hearts and flowers. Hugs, holding hands or having a laugh also hit spot.
Frances Burscough: I was clearing out a few shelves at dad's house recently when I came across a dusty old shoe box. It was filled with St Valentine's Day cards, sent from my dad to my mum over the course of half a century. The oldest one I found was from the early Fifties - on the front was a picture of a snowflake and inside it said "Yours until Hell freezes over". He meant it, too. It's 10 years since she died, but my dad still talks about her every day and not a week goes by when he doesn't take flowers to her grave.
I've never had that kind of a relationship with anyone - certainly not St Valentine. In the past, my connection with him has been very tumultuous. At the times when I've been in a relationship, I've celebrated Valentine's Day with passion. Candles, flowers, bubbly, Barry White CDs, strawberries dipped in chocolate, the lot. Heck, I even have heart-shaped cake tins and rose red napkins lying in the cupboard somewhere. But on the flip side, when I've been alone for Valentine's Day I've hated it with a passion.
I was 12 when I sent my first card to a boy. His name was Clive (seriously) and I'd met him on holiday in Cornwall, while playing table football in the hotel foyer. I'd beaten him relentlessly, and he probably hated me for it, but afterwards I decided to send him a Valentine's card anyway because... well, he was the only boy I knew. My mum had sneakily found out his address by phoning the hotel, but there was no way he would know mine. And, let's face it, the only reason you send anyone a card (when you're a kid, that is) is to get one back in return to show to your friends, isn't it? So I sent it a week before Valentine's and on the back I (equally sneakily) wrote "If undelivered, please return to..." and then my address. It worked. Hook, line and sinker. On February 14, bang on schedule, a red envelope dropped into our porch and my subsequent street cred at school went off the chart.
The next significant Valentine's Day event happened when I was a student. A card was pushed through my front door and when I opened the envelope 100 red hearts individually cut out from tissue paper fluttered out all over the carpet like confetti. In theory, at first, the gesture could have been really beautiful and I should have felt very flattered that anyone would go to so much trouble for me.
There was just one problem. I knew who it was from - and he was a complete drip. In fact, imagining him cutting out all those hearts individually actually creeped me out a bit. I envisaged him sitting at his desk with a pair of scissors, his walls plastered with secret pictures he'd taken of me surreptitiously, draped in items of underwear he'd stolen from the washing line. By the end of my fantasy he was Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, lurking behind a hedge with a cloth dipped in chloroform. So no, I didn't reciprocate.
During my married years, we always marked the occasion of Valentine's Day by going out for a candle-lit meal somewhere nice; and a taxi there and back, too. Usually all booked and arranged by me, like, but still I got a night off and a few drinks into the bargain. Even after we had kids we continued the tradition but brought them along, too. It became a sort of family celebration of love.
So it was quite natural that after my divorce when I was a single parent, the three of us would still celebrate the occasion in some way. If it was a school day I would put a tin of Lindor or a packet of Love Hearts in their lunchboxes. They would usually come home with home-made Valentine’s cards made at school from red glitter and then we would watch a Disney video like Snow White before bed. One year they wanted to buy me something for Valentine’s Day, so I gave them a fiver each and sent them to the shop. Luke came back with a blow-up bat which was half price from Halloween and Finn bought me a bottle of Ribena because he was too young to go into Winemark.
While I was on the dating circuit, St Valentine’s night was a fun night out and a good excuse to socialise. A lot of organisations plan special singles nights for Valentine’s and these can be great fun if you can be bothered with all the effort that’s required. One that springs to mind was a Valentine’s Speed Dating event at a city centre pub where everyone was asked to wear something red and to bring a rose. As it turned out, it was more chaotic than romantic, like a game of musical chairs without an actual prize at the end, but still it took my mind off being single and I even made a couple of new friends into the bargain.
Then, of course, there were the times when I was alone for V Day and absolutely hated it. Valentine’s Day can be as difficult and painful to a single person as Mother’s Day or Christmas is to the recently bereaved. You can’t escape the references. Hearts and flowers are everywhere you look ... except on your own mantlepiece. At least I had my three dogs and their love is unconditional, no matter what. In fact, for a while I thought I might just grow old surrounded by animals and give up on human company altogether.
But it seems that the sense of loneliness and isolation on February 14 — and the rest of the year for that matter — may be all in the past. A few months ago I met Mark, who’s the divorced dad of my son’s friend. We met up a few times by accident at first, then by arrangement, and discovered a lot of shared interests. We took it slowly, going out to the pub, for meals, the cinema and the theatre every so often and now we get together most weekends for drinks, a meal, a movie, to walk the doggies or whatever takes our fancy. He’s become a comfortable, cheerful companion and has filled a part of my life that was missing for so long. Both my sons are in relationships, too, which I’m really happy about.
In fact, this weekend we might even all get together and actually celebrate Valentine’s Day as a family just like the old days, but with our respective partners included. And without the Ribena.
Oh, and the dogs are invited too, of course.”
Cathy Martin: I love Valentine’s Day, my daughter Valentina is named after St Valentine, so in some ways I will always celebrate the saint’s day with her, but I do love a bit of romance in everyday life and don’t think we need a specific occasion to be reminded.
I’ve had some grand gestures for Valentine’s before and I adore giving gifts. However, I prefer the day-to-day romance of a daily “good morning” text, or coming into the bathroom each morning to find my toothpaste on my toothbrush over receiving flowers, chocolates or a meal out on Valentine’s Day. As someone who has had her fair share of relationships, I can confidently offer this: love and gifts are not enough. The key to a successful relationship is to be with the person who brings out your best and will stand beside you at your worst. We’re all human. We’re flawed. Expecting perfection, rainbows, and expensive declarations of love is unrealistic. And expecting partners to change or ignore your own faults and flaws is as bad, too.
Communication is another important thing to me. It can make or break relationships and manage expectations, as can basic respect. Communication is also important — if not vital — as a relationship ends or breaks down.
Thankfully I am still on great terms with most of the guys I’ve gone out with over the years, and indeed some of their wives, too. We’re all adults with our own busy lives and families, and I think it’s really nice when people can move on and get on, especially here in Northern Ireland, where the whole country is like one big village.
As far as love in the future goes, I’m looking forward to growing old together with a warm and loving partner; sharing interests, friends and our families — and just recognising ‘the look’ across the room. That one which says ‘I love you’ without words, because, for me, love is about holding hands as you walk or having a wee dance in the kitchen if the mood takes you.
But I’m also looking forward to having my own hobbies and interests (and trips away with the girls) in the same way as I would champion my partner doing the same.” same.”
Cathy Martin (42) is director of Belfast Fashionweek
Alex Kane: When I was in sixth form and not as wolfishly gorgeous as I am now, I sent myself a couple of Valentine’s cards. Yes, seriously — so desperate was I to prove that there was someone who would find me attractive that I spent three hours trying to disguise my own handwriting just to impress some school friends. As it turned out, none of them believed me anyway. And I can’t blame them: disguised writing always ends up looking like the handiwork of a lobotomized monkey.
Love was never a big thing for me. I didn’t actually wear a placard saying, “I’m not interested in romance,” but I think I gave off the vibe that an evening involving Sherlock Holmes, politics and the history of the French Revolution was always preferable to hand-holding, snogging in the back row, or whispering sweet nothings. I didn’t send Valentine cards and I didn’t receive Valentine cards. But I always hated the hoopla surrounding the day and the nonsense — peddled by commerce, of course, that there was something the matter with you if you didn’t have the correct answer to the question, “Are you doing anything special for him/her on Valentine’s Day?”
I spent most of my life from my late 20s to my mid-40s without a “significant other”. But it didn’t matter. I was always self-contained and never felt lonely. I had enough to keep me occupied. I hated the efforts of friends to set me up — usually with divorcees who hadn’t got over their break-up and avoided weddings, because there is nothing worse than being seated at the ‘singles, awkward people’ table.
And then, two weeks before my 45th birthday in 2000, I met Kerri: and within a year we were living together. For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to be hopelessly, helplessly, head-over-heels in love. I knew how empty a house could feel when the person you loved wasn’t there when you walked through the door. I knew what it felt like to spend most of your day just thinking about someone. I knew what it was like to wish you could spend all day, everyday, with that same person. Sixteen years on I still feel exactly the same way about her.
Happily, she feels the same way. Even more happily, we don’t need Valentine cards from each other.
We never leave the house without a hug and kiss — even if I’m just nipping out for a paper. We don’t go to bed on an argument. There isn’t a day when we don’t laugh together. And that’s what love means for me: that one person who truly gets you. That one person who knows everything there is to know about you — and still loves you.
Megan (17) and Lilah-Liberty (6) complete our little circle of love. And it’s from Lilah-Liberty that we’ve received a Valentine card this year. She made it at school and couldn’t wait to give it to us. It is all her own work, wonderfully simple, from the heart and breathtakingly beautiful. Which is as good a definition of true love as you could ask for.”