By: Natasha Bishop
When I was eleven, (sadly not the rad-heroine-with-a-buzzcut-and-an-obsession-with-eggos type) I somehow mustered the courage to write the headboy at my school a Valentine's love note. In the wee small hours (probably 10pm), on the 13th of February 2008, in crimson ink, I scrawled my deepest darkest secret. On a ripped out page from my journal, and covered in scratch and sniff stickers, I confessed a raw, unbridled love in poetic Shakespearean english; sonnet form, of course. I folded the note up, spritzed it with some air freshener I found in my downstairs toilet (genuinely), kissed it for good luck and slipped it into the front pocket of my dress. I vividly remember not being able to sleep that night. I was more excited to tell a boy two years older than me that he was the love of my life, and that we shared a star-crossed connection reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, than I was for Christmas – and that’s saying something for an eleven year old. Every time I closed my eyes, I pictured us like two cardboard cutouts in a Taylor Swift video.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I don’t know if you know this,
But I’m in love with you.
(I know, understated. Classic.)
After opening the usual ‘guess who’ cards from my mum, dad and dog over soggy cereal in the car on the way to school, I put my valentines confession in his pigeon hole (I swear that’s not an innuendo, it’s just what weirdo brit’s call a locker) and excitedly hurried off to my first lesson. I was buzzing all morning, waiting for the lunch bell to ring and bring me that breathless moment when I’d be able to read his reply, and what I all too naively assumed would be an equally rampant display of affection.
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
You should know this by now,
I will NEVER be interested in you.
Mortified, I pretended to have a music lesson and proceeded to spend my lunch break in the toilets, crying. Undeterred however, less that a month later I had fallen head over heals for another boy and wrote him a ballad called “Knight in black jumper”, another infatuation that unsurprisingly, did not turn into the love story of our generation. Why, I hear you ask, am I telling you all this tragic/awkward/all-too-familiar story of an eleven year old girl’s heartbreak? Because, I forgive Archie, and that knob in a black jumper, and I am not ashamed. I have always been, as many are, someone who wears their heart firmly on their sleeve, and although it has been broken many times, I have never wished for another one. My heart has gotten me through a lot of sticky situations; my parents’ divorce, my brother’s stint in rehab, a diagnosis that rendered me infertile, consistently being faced with sold-out Bon Iver tickets, far too much unrequited love – the list goes on. We all hurt, and when I hurt, my heart allows me to feel that and use it in a way I am so grateful for: expression. Although I am a strong advocate of gender intersectionality, I am female and thus, can only speak for my gender – perhaps something men should learn to do? So many women and girls, I know are far too practiced in the art of bottling up feelings, because we are brought up in a society that denounces emotion as a weakness. Years on from the days of ‘female hysteria’ we are still existing in a world that convicts women of being over emotional as opposed to rational, and thus damaged goods, unworthy of success. In one recent presidential debate, Donald Trump seemingly refused to engage in Hillary Clinton’s substance of argument, instead resorting to censuring Clinton "extremely upset, very angry.”
So, what has all this got to do with Valentine's Day? I will never condemn anyone else’s coping mechanisms or dictate how one should feel or react, however I will express the freedom and solace I discovered in expressing my own pain and emotions and allowing myself to feel. I am lucky enough to have girlfriends, a mother, a step-mother, a step-sister, aunts, grandmothers, heroines and books like I Love Dick or Milk and Honey… these are people and things that have all taught me how okay it is to feel, and the value of human expression. Women will no longer be silenced, just as men are not silenced. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but I implore you to buy into the commercialism, be brave on Valentine's Day and celebrate it. This doesn’t mean you have to do an eleven-year-old-me type confession, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. We are free; free to express in any way, shape or form and that is what Valentine’s Day should be about. It is not a day reserved only for tinder dates or sappy couple expos ALL OVER YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA (breathe), it is a day of freedom, and more specifically, freedom of expression. I personally try to treat everyday like Valentine’s Day, because as Disney as it sounds, life is honestly too short. I’m not saying every confession will have a fairy tale ending, but it doesn’t have to – not all confessions are for romantic relationships anyway. Tell your mum, dog, cat, brother, sister, girlfriends, boyfriends, teacher (maybe not) just how much they matter, as often as you can. Buy as many cards as you want with horrible puns on them, scrawl as many crimson coloured notes as possible, celebrate the brave eleven year old within yourself that society has buried, because she is incredibly important and the world needs all the love it can get right now.
But, if you can't face doing all that, be your own Valentine. Send yourself a love note, write yourself a song, devour a box of chocolates, because if you can openly admit to loving yourself as much as Romeo loved Juliet, or Scarlett loved Rhett, or Barack loves Michelle, you are as free as that eleven year old and anything is possible; after all, we are most alive when we’re in love.