My bloody Valentines

Forecourt foreplay: Mrs K says a resounding 'no' to my Val's gesture. Pic: Moya Nolan

Irish Examiner February 11, 2012

By Dave Kenny

Do you hear that noise? It’s the sound of St Valentine’s Day. It’s the patter of thousands of feet stampeding across garage forecourts to buy anorexic flowers. It’s the swell of minor chords on the radio. The squelch of self-conscious snogging and the gentle flop of cards on doormats.

It’s the furious twanging of Cupid’s bow. And the furious twanging of knicker elastic too (if those chocs and roses pay off). It’s a day of teddy bears and pink roses. It’s a day of … unutterable barf.

I detest Valentine’s Day and all its phoniness. My wife’s not a fan either. Not that I would ever gamble on her changing her mind about it. Each year I make her a card and allow her out of the kitchen for a glass of wine, before she does the washing up. (Only joking, missus.)

It’s a marketing construction, like Mother’s, Father’s, Grandparents’ and Crème Egg Day. It’s what’s known as a ‘scripted holiday’, based on what couples are ‘supposed’ to do if they truly love each other.

It’s all about ostentatious displays of affection: flower-laden women comparing the size of their bouquet to the women at the next table… men doing ‘romantic’ things they think will earn them points with their partners. I once knew a wally who proposed to his girlfriend over the intercom on a flight from Rome on Val’s Day. This was despite the fact that they had become engaged three months earlier…

Thanks to Hallmark, young lovers’ expectations are higher than a giraffe’s sphincter on February 14. Every spotty, hormonal teenager dreams that this will be the year when a genuine card arrives. Not one from their mum or granny. That this will be the year that they find their Soulmate. It never is.

I had a schoolfriend who was so embarrassed about never getting a card that he once sent one to himself. It was obvious it was from him because he had really distinctive handwriting. We used to joke that he’d go on an imaginary date, only he was afraid that he’d stand himself up.

If you’re dateless and feeling sorry for yourself this Valentine’s, cheer up. You’re actually luckier than you think. A 2004 study (Morse and Neuberg) discovered that couples were 2.55 times more likely to break up around Valentine’s Day compared with any other month.

Another study (Jessen and Jessen, 1999), showed that cases of suicides increase after February 14 because it triggers serious relationship disappointments. See? Staying in alone in front of Fair City doesn’t sound so bleak now, does it?

Here are a few tips to help you make it through the night if you’re single and looking for a relationship.

1: Drink yourself semi-comatose.

2: Rent War of the Roses, Kramer Versus Kramer, Sleeping with the Enemy and Fatal Attraction from Xtravision.

3: Men: spend the day with your parents and picture yourself in 20 years time.

4: Women: reflect on the fact that most murders are committed by the husband.

I still get a cold sweat when I remember some of my own pre-marital Valentine’s Day Massacres. One of the worst was spent doing a solo gig in McDonald’s. I was dateless and agreed to sing romantic songs to lovelorn punters as they munched on Big Mac’s and tonsil-wrestled. My wages were a tenner and as many Chicken McNuggets as I could eat. (It was the 80s. I needed the money.)

My worst experience was on Val’s Day 1996, when I was trying to impress my future wife with dinner in our village’s swankiest restaurant. I was working part-time after the closure of the Irish Press and living with my parents. Before leaving the house, I’d had a row with my mother, probably about leaving the toilet seat up. Big mistake.

After a nice romantic meal, under a heart-shaped balloon, I called for the bill to discover that I had forgotten my cheque book. I rang home and left a message on the answering machine. Five long minutes ticked by. Then another 20. People came and went. I noticed Pat Kenny arriving with his wife and being presented with a bottle of wine. Nice to be famous, I thought.

Eventually, my mother stormed into the restaurant.

“Here’s your bloody cheque book,” she said at the top of her voice, flinging it on the table. The room went silent.

“That stupid woman on the door,” she fumed, “wouldn’t take it from me. She made me come in here dressed like … this.” It was at this point that I realised that my mother was wearing her pyjamas and slippers. Furry ones. I had got her out of bed. People started to snigger.

She stormed off (silently, as she was wearing slippers) and I melted into my chair. My date had a murderous look in her eye. One that clearly indicated where she was going to shove the heart-shaped balloon.

The following day, a friend asked if we had enjoyed the bottle of  Chateauneuf du Pape he had secretly ordered for us. I told him we hadn’t received it.

“I left it in your name: Kenny,” he said. The penny dropped (this was pre-Euro).

Pat Kenny, if you’re reading this… you owe me a bottle of wine.


I crowd-sourced some Valentine’s Day Massacres from Twitter and beyond. Thanks to all who replied:

‘I was pregnant when my boyfriend decided to pop the question on Valentine’s Day. I was feeling really sick but agreed to go for dinner.

‘After the starter, he pushed a ring box across the table. I told him to take it away. He looked shocked but didn’t move. I told him again, but still he didn’t move – and I threw up across the table all over the box. The couple at the next table had ordered blue cheese and the smell was too much for me.’ Jane from Waterford.

‘My boyfriend decided to put a romantic ad in the Irish Press on February 14, inviting me out on a date. The problem was that the date was a ‘couple of flagons of cider down the pier in Dun Laoghaire’. He even used my full name.

‘I still don’t know why I married him.’ Gillian, Dublin.

‘In 1985, I was living in New York and a new boyfriend asked me out to a Mexican restaurant. The weather was awful: snow everywhere. We both drank too many Margheritas and I wound up with sauce all over my face. Never eat tacos on a first date.’ Sinead B, Killiney.

‘It was 1990 and I was still in school and broke. It had been raining all day and I went out to buy a card and a teddy bear for my new girlfriend.  I stepped off the bus near her house and got covered in muck by a lorry. On the way up her driveway, I slipped into the flowerbed and got stuck in a rosebush. Worse still, her dog used that flowerbed as a toilet.

‘Her mum answered the door. I was covered in scratches, muck and crap, carrying a teddy bear that looked like it had been mauled by an alsation. She wasn’t impressed and drove me to the doctor’s to get a tetanus injection. I never saw her daughter again.” Robbie, north Cork.

‘I was married for three years and my wife didn’t get me a card. Instead, she gave me a selection of cream cakes. I’m lactose intolerant and get quite ill when I eat dairy products. The thing is: she knew it. We’re not together any more…’ Daragh R, Tipperary.

‘It was Valentine’s Day 1988 and I was on a first date in an Indian restaurant. After coffee, my girlfriend began rubbing her nose. I asked her if she needed  a hanky. She said, “No, but you do”. I had had the world’s biggest ‘gangly’ hanging out of my nose all through dinner.’ Gareth, Monaghan.

‘My ex sent me our divorce papers by registered post. They arrived on… Valentine’s Day. I thought it was hilarious. I had definitely moved on.’ Ann C, Wexford.

“When I was 10, my parents broke the news on Val’s Day that they were getting divorced. As excuses go, it’s one of the best for getting out of doing stuff on February 14.” C-D.

‘Last year, I went on a blind date. Over dinner, my new friend told me that he’s a black belt in karate. I said I’m not a very sporty type of girl, but I’d like to learn a martial art.

‘He got up from the table and started showing me some moves. Before I knew what was happening, he had me in what he called a ‘Cobra Chokehold’. 

“This year, I’m staying home. Alone.”


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