Karen Kay on finding a real romance

PUBLISHED: 12:19 28 February 2014 | UPDATED: 12:19 28 February 2014

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..

Karen Kay, writer and broadcaster. Picture by Ian McIlgorm © IAN MCILGORM 2012..


It’s the little things that count, Karen decides, not showy gestures that can be bought with a gold card (or quickly grabbed at the nearest petrol station)

What is romance? Interested in a definitive answer, I looked it up in the dictionary, which authoritatively described it as “love, esp. when sentimental or idealised.”

Well, that says it all, really, doesn’t it? An idealised, sentimental load of tosh.

Romance is not something you can create with embossed greetings cards filled with flowery script. It is not something that has a price, or that is fulfilled with some heart-emblazoned gift, hastily bought to avoid the frosty stare over the morning Frosties. You can take your overpriced, cellophane-wrapped red roses and stick them where the sun doesn’t shine.

I know, I know, that makes me like some kind of Valentines Day Scrooge, who says ‘Bah Humbug’ to love. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. I will fight to the end of the earth for love. When you find it with someone who genuinely makes gestures, small and large, in daily life to make you feel loved, that is what really matters. And it is precisely those everyday – or less frequent – deeds that can make me weak at the knees with heart fluttering.

It is the way my husband, after 12 years together, instinctively starts massaging the knots in my shoulders as I frantically type my way towards a looming deadline, then kisses me gently on the neck. It is the way he looks at me, and holds me, every day we are together, to reassure me that we are ‘in this together’. It is the way he makes me laugh at my lowest moments, or recalls some shared experience that had been stored at the back of my own memory bank.

Love is symbolised by our behaviour in our day to day life, a deep emotion that needs to be nurtured, not nullified by some hollow gesture. Yes, on occasion, a material gift can mean so much – like the cherished necklace my husband gave me on our wedding day, having tracked down my favourite jewellery designer in San Francisco and commissioned a bespoke piece inscribed with deeply meaningful words from a song that evokes special memories for us. While it is a tangible reminder of our bond, the effort he made to create something unique that was so intrinsic to ‘us’ was the romantic part. That someone not inclined to planning went to so much trouble on my account, meant so much.

Over recent weeks, as I’ve seen supermarket shelves groaning under the weight of schmaltzy cuddly toys, Valentines novelties and heart shaped kitchen utensils, my own heart sinks.

I cannot bear the commercialisation of relationships, as if they are commodities that can be bought alongside a tank of fuel and a bag of prawn cocktail crisps en route home from a day at the office. Love is not a marketable state that can be traded at the flash of a credit card. Romance is making the effort to do something heartfelt, considered and thoughtful that will make our lover – or the one we are trying to woo – feel cherished and special. Sometimes that means working at re-capturing the heady early days of love, when you are swamped by the school run, the laundry, the grocery shopping and the exhaustion of simply getting through the day. If you can do that spontaneously and sporadically throughout the year, not because Hallmark tells you to this month, it feels much more authentic. Relationships require long-term investment, not short-term credit.

Interestingly Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, came out with a similar sentiment recently, when he talked of the “marketisation of marriage”. Speaking at a debate organised by a law firm, he warned of society’s obsession with glitzy, celebrity-style weddings as a symptom of the “unimaginative, emotionally unintelligent” culture of modern Britain.

At the heart of the threat, he said, was “our increasing reluctance in a rather frantic, sometimes rather febrile world, to think about long-term growth as a person, long-term calculations of our well-being as opposed to rapid gratification.”

Rarely are my own views echoed so closely by someone so revered on matters spiritual, but it does seem to me that as a society we need to address our obsession with empty, lazy, expensive actions, and look inwards at the way we are.

I have first hand experience of a marriage that looked picture perfect from the outside… but the public perception couldn’t have been further from the truth. My first husband and I had a fairytale wedding, with all the fripperies and fancies that feature in the bridal magazines. I had the handmade silk gown of my dreams, the bespoke shoes, the extravagant bouquet and a fabulous reception.

It didn’t last. He was all about grand gestures that could be bought with his platinum credit card. What good are golden trinkets if the man you love is absent, behaving like a bachelor?

My second marriage, 18 years later, was simple and so imbued with love, it makes me emotional when I think about it. I wore a £60 High Street dress and my heart on my sleeve as I wept my way through my vows in front of 45 of our closest family and friends. As we turned to leave the chapel as man and wife, we felt an intense joy that has stayed with us every day since. It may sound trite, but for me, every day is Valentines Day when you have found the love of your life.

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