It was of course St Valentine's Day yesterday. No welter of Valentine cards fell through my front door. I certainly wasn't expecting any, and would have been shocked if there had been even one of them. My days as the object of love-messages - or the sender of them - are long over!
And never to return. I have made my mind up about that. No more attempts to find love, nor any attempts to secure a special relationship involving a yearning for one person in particular, and exclusive commitment to them.
I've tried doing it. I've had some short-lived relationships, and two long-term ones. Both the long-lasting relationships ended sourly, with dire consequences for my self-confidence and self-valuation. Indeed every relationship I've ever had, brief or longer-lasting, has ended badly or at least discreditably, leaving me with the feeling that I could have done a lot better if the will had been there. But if you really don't possess all the qualities necessary for making a relationship work, or you can't cope with the ordinary demands of a worthwhile relationship, or you find that a relationship has turned out to be a prison, rendering you powerless and unappreciated, or simply bored, then it's time to get out. And stay out.
Staying out also means avoiding romantic love, what St Valentine's Day is all about. Yet for the sake of self-preservation, I am happy to do that. I don't think it will warp my nature. But who knows?
But I will never be able to pass St Valentine's Day by without noticing it. For I got married on that day in 1983. It was my idea, my own romantic gesture. And my marriage began reasonably well. But was not so good after 1987, and separation followed in 1991. Then divorce in 1996.
There was never a proper inquest as to why it failed. There were definitely shortcomings on both sides, though not misbehaviour. In retrospect, from the distance of thirty-odd years, I would say that if I'd had more experience, more insight into human nature, more understanding of what it really takes to live with someone long-term, then I'd have backed away from the entire affair and - whatever the inconvenience to others - stopped the show. I don't see now how it could ever have worked. Neither of us was unkind, disloyal or mean-spirited, but we were not kindred spirits. It fell apart because of insufficient glue. We hadn't bonded properly. And yet the relationship that eventually followed this one seemed to be full of bonds, and it lasted much longer, yet it too melted in the end.
Some people no doubt said that I could have fought for my marriage, that it failed because I let it go without trying hard to save it. Or that I should have given more, and more again, and not stop until I had no more to give. In other words, not admit the thing had passed the point of no return, and seek martyrdom instead. Rightly or wrongly, my temperament did not allow that to happen.
I don't believe that any amount of shared interests, attitudes, standards and jokes are enough to ensure success. I think it must - tritely - all be a matter of 'chemistry'. Whatever makes it satisfying, interesting, and exciting to be with another person. It's not reducible to box-ticking. You need the ability to feel, and to reach out, and to think as much of somebody else's needs as your own. And there must be a longing that only another person can fulfil. I'm much too self-contained, much too independent, to have that kind of longing. I'm very fortunate in being content with this, for wanting to walk the world alone. So many single people are not at all content, and suffer accordingly.
Still, I have mixed feelings about missing out on enjoying a candlelit Valentine dinner, whether at home or out. It's a ritual, of course. But I remember it meaning something very important in years long past. It was a mutual reassurance that the relationship was still alive and kicking, the flowers and cards a re-avowal of romance. That we had made it through one more year. That we were still 'in love'. If the divorce hadn't taken place, yesterday would have been an important wedding anniversary - the thirty-fifth. We would have shared a particularly love-soaked occasion, or would have tried to.
I never had a family of my own. That might have been a big factor in the collapse of my two main relationships. It's surely an important thing for older couples to ponder, as they sip their wine in the candlelight, that the natural result of love is a family. A joint achievement. It's glue.
Ah well. For me, it's a face into the wind, and eyes on the far horizon. 'Stay alive, stay free'. My personal motto. Life unhindered, life unfenced. But life without love.