It wasn’t a coincidence that Miley had released her song almost exactly a month before Valentine’s Day. She knew how well such a pro-being single anthem could do in the climate of now. More specifically: United Kingdom, 2023. Where it was no party (not that it was in the USA either), so much as a daily struggle just to get by. And, as most who have been divorced or endured a breakup can tell you, supporting the self is hard enough without incorporating others into the mix. There was just so much worry all the time about finances that it hardly ever left any “room” for concern over such quaint concepts as “romance.” Itself a made-up product designed for literature before it was commodified by everything else (film included). Benjamin Easton was aware of this, only too well. But somehow, that didn’t stop him from persisting in remaining in a relationship that he knew was dragging him down. And down and down into the depths of a pit so vast that he would probably never be able to return from it.
And yet, his love for Jamie Solomon was vaster than the pit. Or it had been up to now. Unfortunately, things between them seemed to be reaching a stalemate just as Valentine’s Day appeared. Out of nowhere, Benjamin thought. Because this year was going by so much faster than the ones before it, he felt. Maybe that’s what it was when middle-age started to hurtle you ever-closer to Death’s door. Either way, Valentine’s Day wasn’t really on his mind when he proceeded to rebuke Jamie the evening before about their dire financial situation. Something Jamie felt attacked for in her part as the “non-breadwinner.” In the three years they had lived together, all Jamie could ever really seem to cobble together as a contribution was a few alms for groceries here and there. At first, Benjamin accepted it, believing that things would change eventually and that Jamie would have to find some sort of more “permanent” situation in her professional life apart from just the low-paying gigs she took whenever she could get them. Alas, as the months and then years wore on, it became starkly clear to Benjamin that Jamie was not at all equipped for the demands of adulthood in the same way that he was—and had been for quite some time. Granted, they had an age difference, but nothing so major as to excuse away Jamie’s egregious lack of financial competence. Nay, even any awareness of what it took just to live at the most basic level.
Benjamin had carried her as best as he could for this long, but with the advent of astronomical gas prices after the Russian invasion, there was an unexpected spike in their usual expenses. In other words, the gas and electricity bill during the winter season had surged toward the four-hundred-pound-a-month mark. Neven in all his years in the UK, even when he was living in London, had Benjamin ever encountered such an obscene bill. To add insult to injury, the apartment still felt as fucking cold as an icebox. Which wasn’t ideal for Benjamin’s sex life either, as Jamie essentially refused to take her clothes off anymore—despite Benjamin’s insistence that being naked together under the sheets would trap in more body heat. She was hardly convinced, and usually proceeded to put on another layer.
So it was safe to say that Benjamin was in a fairly “at his wits’ end” state when he chose to go off on Jamie the night before Valentine’s Day. For that was the day he received the latest energy bill, now miraculously up to four hundred and seventy-five pounds. It was madness, sheer madness—and Benjamin had no one to blame or take it out on other than Jamie. Jamie who he saw as a do-nothing that was ultimately pushing him to the limits of his kindness; the kindness that he had thus far been capable of by indulging her in her Neverland fantasy (no, not the one that has anything to do with Michael Jackson, but the one where you avert adulthood forever). Thus, he proceeded to berate her, to tell her that their financial disarray was all her fault because she wouldn’t just get a goddamn real job. As though such a feat was so simple for someone as unhireable as Jamie. Head-in-the-clouds, “bad worker” Jamie, who had never held a job she wasn’t soon fired from. When she tried to remind him of this, he was sent into an even more pronounced rage, elevating his voice and slamming doors as he trampled through the flat like an angry bull stuck in its pen. What Jamie hadn’t told him was that she was trying quite frequently of late to find “gainful employment,” and had actually just been on a very promising interview, but didn’t want to mention it to him and get his hopes up until she heard back from the company. Which she had. That very afternoon.
The soul-crushing advertising agency wanted to pay her rather a lot. And Jamie was planning to make the news her big Valentine’s Day surprise. It would be the greatest present of all to Benjamin. But then he started acting like this, all his true feelings pouring out about what a waste and a drain she had been on his life these past few years. That she was little better than a sunk cost. Although there had once been a time when he had hoped to “recoup his expenses,” he now saw that she would never change, and that simply wasn’t going to fly for him any longer. Yet he wouldn’t just come out and announce that it was over, only continue to belittle her and make overt intimations about the relationship’s natural need to end.
Some fucking Valentine’s Day, Jamie thought, as she turned over on her side in bed later that night to see the digital clock had changed to midnight. Benjamin didn’t come to bed anytime soon, and Jamie had already drifted off to sleep by the time he did. In the morning, when she looked over her shoulder to see if he was there, it was clear that he had already left for work. No kiss, no wish of a Happy Valentine’s Day, nothing. She didn’t expect much in general for the occasion, but she didn’t expect such callousness either. It was then she decided for the both of them that it was over. That the way he saw her was indelible. Even when she started making the big money, she would always think back to this moment. Of how a person in a relationship, because of the way society is set up to “function,” will only ever be truly viewed for what they can financially contribute. What amount they can literally give to watch the relationship “investment” “mature.” It was so foul and upsetting to Jamie that she almost ran to the sink to vomit. Instead, she composed herself and proceeded to gather her things.
Benjamin did feel rather terrible about how he had spoken to Jamie the previous night. And he didn’t even realize he had done it the day before Valentine’s Day until he stepped outside and saw signs of the obligatory romantic gestures everywhere. Oh fuck, he thought. I’ve been a right proper arsehole. And even though Valentine’s Day didn’t really change the fact that he stood by what he had said to her, he knew he shouldn’t have been so cruel on this particular two-day stretch: Valentine’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. But there was no time to stop somewhere before work to buy some cheap token of his affection. He would have to wait until afterward. Which, as he found out, was when most of the flower bouquets had been completely picked over by all the other prats who had waited until the last minute.
Even so, he chose from among the three remaining pillaged bouquets: a strange combination of yellow English primroses and baby’s-breath. She was going to hate it. But it was a gesture. The only one he could afford to give.
He inhaled and exhaled a few times before opening the door to the flat. To his shock, he saw that a large bulk of the possessions he was once so familiar with had been packed into boxes. Before he could gather his bearings long enough to process the sight, Jamie was flouncing past him with a suitcase and an oversized tote bag. “Right, I’ll have someone come get the rest of my stuff by next week,” adding derisively, “It’s been a pleasure.”
Unsure of how to respond, his reflexive action was to hand her the bouquet. Jamie sneered at the attempt to apologize with some cheap, wilting flowers, deciding to deliver her own unpleasant, non sequitur gift by taunting, “I was actually going to tell you as a Valentine’s Day present… I got a really good job. It pays more than enough to support both of us. But now, it’s just going to support me. Take your shitty last-minute flowers and shove ‘em up your cock. Because…” And this is when she paused to press a button on her phone. One that would soon play the opening to “Flowers” as she loudly sang along on her way out, “I can buy myself flowers!”
Those were the last words Benjamin ever heard directly from Jamie. For she never spoke to him again (at least, not without a go-between). That Valentine’s Day was when he learned, the hard way, that what Cyndi Lauper said was true: money really does change everything. Especially in relationships. Causing one person to stay or another to go, but, either way, it certainly is an “incentivizer.” Unlike, say, last-minute flowers.