Buying a Valentine’s card is always a troublesome task. For starters, card shops are arranged in a spectacularly unhelpful way. The cards are always categorised by relationship (for my wife/girlfriend/mistress) as if retail assistants have some kind of ethereal insight into our personal lives and the preferences of our loved ones.
By presenting the cards according to relationship type, the shop is restricting us in their own terms. We are cajoled into selecting that which the manufacturer deems appropriate. For wives of advanced years, there is the floral scene: a chintzy arrangement of roses and hearts embossed on a stiff piece of card. The boyfriend section is stuffed with bold designs, colourful and simplistic. For jokey girlfriends there are cards with black and white photographs from 1950s adverts, earnest images adorned with an ironic line or two. This soulless affront to romance is no substitute for an actual sense of humour – it is the card equivalent of the ‘keep calm’ meme.
I think Valentine’s cards should be arranged according to the length of time the couple have been together. My suggestion to card retailers everywhere is as follows:
0-3 months: In the early days, nothing is quite set. In fact, given the online dater’s predilection for seeing multiple people the couple may not be a couple at all, rather a mutual exploration into the possibilities of coupledom. If Valentine’s Day arrives at this point, it is more of an inconvenience than a romantic event. There is an obligation to demonstrate some form of affection (or perhaps appreciation) however this can be difficult to pitch at the right level – after all, you do not want to seem like an overzealous teenager. Equally, it would be poor form to simply dismiss the event as a commercial money-spinner.
For the ‘0-3 months’ section of the card shop, I suggest subtle hues and simple messages. I would offer cards without text, a plain colour scheme should suffice. Quirky designs would also be welcome – silly pictures are useful when trying to demonstrate the kookiness of the sender. Personally, I can think of nothing more contrived than the desire to appear ‘kooky’ and yet, I can see why someone in a new relationship would opt for this.
3-6 months: At this point the relationship has been established, but like an unsteady infant taking their first steps, this union darts from one hand hold to the next – from the safety of the sofa to the edge of the coffee table, this pairing lurches blindly forward. Couples in this phase do not know where they are going, and are just as likely to flame out as they are to settle down. In this instance, a statement of intent is required – new love needs to be proclaimed, and the card should reflect this.
This is the time for big red hearts, balloons and teddy bears. Men are bound to be unhappy about this.
Nevertheless, I would insist the ‘3-6 month’ section is crammed with such designs – it would be for their own good.
6-12 months: This is where we get comfortable. Having set up camp in each other’s lives, couples may now wish to affirm their feelings, and this section of the shop should provide the appropriate material. Only now are people allowed to send cards addressed ‘to my darling such and such‘ (and variations thereof). This section should be a little more conservative with perhaps an emphasis on old fashioned values. Florid designs and illustrated sunsets are acceptable here. However, for those who think this a little heavy-handed, the section should be next to the heart-shaped balloons on sticks (this classic anti-romance device should offset the saccharine cards). In summary, this section is for those who want to go the distance.
12 months onwards:
At last, the pressure is off.
The relationship is well established and the urge to demonstrate loyalty is less immediate – right now the aim is to demonstrate a deep affection, either that or to placate. In either case, the same underlying feeling is there. The relationship has withstood the stormy formative period and is now cruising toward cohabitation, or even marriage. My suggestion for this corner is counter-intuitive – I would include every type of card. In this section, lame memes would sit next to profound pronouncements, the plain and garish would sit cheek by jowl. I would throw in the lot, if you have made it this far you deserve a bit of variety. After all, there is nothing left to prove, nothing but True Love.
And you don’t need a card to show that – not really.