THIS will hardly come as a surprise, but when I emerged from an all-boys Catholic school at 16, blinking into the bright new worlds of college and work, I knew precisely nothing about dating, love and romance.
Oh sure, we had a bike shed at our school — they were all the rage in those pre-obesity epidemic days, you know — but the only thing illicit going on behind them was the smoking of tabs.
At an age when I was old enough, in the UK at least, for hanky-panky and even marriage, I hadn’t a clue how to even strike up a conversation with a girl, never mind woo them — whatever that meant.
My sole conversations with that mysterious female species involved me leaning on a shop counter and asking for “ten Embassy No.1 and a box of matches please”. For behind the bike sheds, naturally.
Getting to a stage where I could even talk to a girl my age — even one I didn’t fancy — entailed lots of stutters and ahs, and enough redness in my face to power a small town.
If ‘chatting up’ a girl was a laborious process for me, imagine the hell it must have been for the confused objects of my affection...
Which is exactly why God — in the form of St Valentine — invented a pain-free way for shy and retiring types like me to woo young ladies.
No need to talk to them, not even a need for a sideways glance. Just pop a Valentine’s card in the post and, voila, their heart will melt and they will fall at your feet.
At least, that was the hard sell version.
The Valentine’s card was a godsend. It enabled young people — girls sent them just as much as boys from my recollection... although never to yours truly, naturally! — to communicate in an embarrassment-free zone, and sometimes even matches were made.
Most of the time, though, the process taught the sender how to deal with rejection, and no harm there either. Cupid’s arrow had a habit of missing its target, the heart, and puncturing the ego instead!
Do teens of today still send Valentine’s cards? I’d be surprised if they did so in anything like the numbers my generation did. Most modern teens wouldn be hard-pressed to know the location of their nearest postbox.
No, today, communication is instantaneous. Kids have phones that can text and send emails, and they’re friends with all their age group on Instagram.
Moreover, few young teens are as emotionally crippled as I was, and a disturbingly large number are viewing porn regularly online, according to studies, which is hardly a sign of progress.
But the biggest issue facing young people today as they embark on an exciting new world of love and relationships is the political correctness that has become rife in society.
If I were a teen today, I would be terrified of asking a girl on a date, and not just because of the fear of plain and simple rejection. Today, a feeble attempt to ask a girl out may end up on social media for all the world to see. Worse, the girl may have seen your advances as some kind of threat to her ‘safe space’.
If I, as a teen, sent a Valentine’s card in this day and age, I may even find myself accused of ‘single shaming’.
Single shaming, I hear you ask. Is that a thing now?
It’s said to occur when a person “references another person’s single status as something that needs changing or fixing”.
Which is entirely the point of a Valentine’s card, when you think about it.
It seems there’s a whole heap of people out there just waiting for an opportunity to be offended.
Look, I appreciate that lots of people are perfectly happy to be single — for more reasons than there are stars in the sky. And I appreciate that it might be annoying if another person then asks you out on a date. I imagine Valentine’s Day is a bit of a pain for those people.
But, as ever in this febrile world in which we live, over-reaction, over-sensitivity and victimhood are too often the order of the day.
Take a story I read in the week about an apparently innocuous, light-hearted advert on the London Underground, for a bank of all things.
It read: “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You OK hun?”
The bank appears to have used its own data to have a bit of fun at some of its customers’ expense.
It’s hard to see how this campaign would persuade people to bank with them, but, thanks to the hysterical reaction to it, it soon made headlines well beyond the London Underground.
A ‘blogger’ took issue with the ad and claimed it was an example of “single shaming, encouraging us to feel scorn, ridicule and pity when it comes to single people”.
Emma Bain, 30, added: “If (the bank) can think nothing of spying on your spending data on a private, potentially difficult night of the year, then using it later against you so strangers can have a bloody good laugh at your life choices — I want nothing to do with a brand that has those values.”
Of course, the ‘blogger’ duly whipped up an online storm which sent the name of the bank racing through social media in jig time.
The bank’s marketing people must have been devastated...
As is always the case with such flimsy mini-controversies, many jumped in to agree with the ‘blogger’, and many didn’t.
One man tweeted that he was going through a divorce and found the ad “all too painful”. But another tweeted that it was “just a crap ad. People are too quick to get offended these days over nothing”.
I have to say, I side with the latter’s brutal analysis.
What a crazy world we live in. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the recipient of a Valentine’s card next Thursday calls a solicitor and has it re-branded as ‘hate mail’.
In the future, perhaps the only people who will exchange those traditionals cards of love will be mums sending them to their children (come on, you all do it), and married couples who don’t want to be consigned to washing-up duties for a week.
What a shame.
And it’s not just the card and its wording that are a minefield in our touchy-feely 21st century world.
What if you sent a bunch of flowers and the object of your intentions was allergic to them? A solicitor would be sending your a card with lots of €€€€€s and precious few XXXXXs.
A box of chocolates? Would that count as fat shaming?
I was never any good at this sort of thing at 16, thank god I don’t have to engage in it in the mad world of today.