Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

Give me whisky, not teddy bears
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The Independent Online

Passing yet another window filled with cheap cuddly toys last week, I found myself yearning for the way St Valentine's Day used to be. You know, back when saints-to-be were beheaded for performing marriages, and when - as part of V-Day's precursor, the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia - Romans sacrificed goats and dogs and ran through the streets whipping women with the skins.

During these sacred rites, the boys drew cards bearing the names of local girls whom they were expected to court. If a boy did not like his partner, he deserted her and the girl was forced to remain in shameful isolation. Then an effigy of the boy was burned while onlookers shouted abuse. Humiliation, public retribution and a nice whipping: sounds like my last relationship.

But, honestly, I find blood orgies much less offensive than an artificial holiday that encourages grown men to brandish teddy bears and gaze into their lover's eyes over bottles of cheap pink champagne. As a single girl, I hate Valentine's Day.

And couples don't escape the wrath of Cupid's arrow either. Experts recently estimated that half of all relationships end around the time of Valentine's Day, since the pressure and expectations of the "most romantic day of the year" can force people to re-evaluate the state of their relationships.

I can relate to that, because the soundtrack to my love life has always been more Depeche Mode than Celine Dion. I'll never forget the year that my then-boyfriend took me to Rome right before Valentine's Day, then showed up on the day bearing a bag of treats. A box of chocolates? No, it was my stuff - in a bin bag.

Ever since my awkward days at secondary school when my nickname was Alien Girl (due to my wide-spaced eyes), I've also dreaded the cut-throat competition and crushing disappointment when I realised that my letter-box was empty, except for a card that featured little green men and said " Take Me to Your Leader". As an adult, things haven't been much better; I've seen successful, gorgeous girlfriends reduced to sending themselves flowers. Some of us are fighting back, though, and anti-Valentine's Day parties seem to be on the rise. New York has the Black Hearts Party, an annual event at which hundreds of black-clad sceptics gather to eat black wedding cake, play raunchy games and write their vitriolic rants on a giant blackboard.

Still, V-Day has a bright side for singles. My friend Michael has a theory that an un-coupled person's chances of a random hook-up rise exponentially on the fateful February eve. "Think about it: all these unattached people are freaking out, feeling lonely and getting pissed. It can be one of the most fun nights of the year!" So my girlfriend Victoria and I pondered our options. Should we stay in and watch Thelma and Louise, or perhaps head to an overpriced restaurant to chuck bread rolls at loved-up couples?

In the end, we decided to throw a singles party at our local dive bar, where we'll all switch mobile phones so that no one is tempted to drink-and-dial their exes. That's where you'll find me tonight - along with my dates, Jack Daniel's and Johnnie Walker.

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