Hello! This is episode 12 of No Word Is An Island Advanced English, the podcast for advanced English learners and the people who teach them. Remember that this podcast is meant to be used with the interactive transcript available at BetterLanguageLearning.com/podcast. The transcript contains annotations on difficult vocabulary as well as Quizlet flashcard sets for self-study so that you can commit this vocabulary to memory and become a more fluent and articulate English speaker. From the podcast episode page you can subscribe to receive bonus monthly review materials. For daily videos follow me on Instagram at BetterLanguageLearning.
Valentine’s Day comes and goes without much fanfare here in Catalonia, and you can hardly blame Catalans for being immune to the charms of a holiday whose sole purpose seems to be to fuel the rampant consumerism of late-stage capitalism. Whenever I broach the subject with my students I’m greeted with almost unanimous indifference and sometimes outright animosity. They often shout me down and say “But we have Sant Jordi!” Sant Jordi, that is Saint George, is Catalonia’s formidable answer to Valentine’s Day. And if you ask me, Sant Jordi wins hands down. This long-standing tradition of celebrating love and culture, during which the centre of Barcelona is overrun with pedestrians buying books and roses from vendors with stalls set up in the streets, is a sight to behold. Much of the city comes to a standstill and everywhere you look you see people with roses and bundles of books under their arms. I’m getting excited just thinking about it, especially since the city council has announced that this year huge swathes of the city centre are going to be pedestrianised for the event, to make up for the low-key celebrations of the past two years.
This holiday, which falls on Saint George’s feast day, is also World Book Day. This date was chosen in part because both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on 23 April 1616. , Shakespeare and Cervantes didn’t actually die on the same day, as England had not yet adopted the Gregorian calendar. That is, in 1616 23 April in England was 3 May in Spain. But anyway, back to Sant Jordi. This tradition of lovers, friends and family members exchanging red roses and books, dates back to the 1931 Barcelona Book Fair. I was wondering why Sant Jordi enjoys such widespread appeal, while Valentine’s Day, even in English-speaking countries where it’s more traditional, remains a minor holiday mostly meant to drum up business for restaurants, florists and gift card companies.
What sets Sant Jordi apart, is that it is celebrated collectively, pretty much everyone gets in on it and participates. And, like so many of the best things in Spain, it’s celebrated outdoors, in crowded streets and squares. Even if you refrain from buying anything, just wandering the streets and enjoying the hustle and bustle will cheer you up. Compare this to Valentine’s Day, which is mostly celebrated at home or in an overpriced restaurant… well, you get the idea.
Now if you’re a fan of Valentine’s Day, forgive me for being a bit of a killjoy. It might stem from the fact that I have been single for most of my adult life. I was thinking about how a lot of people feel a sense of shame or stigma at being single, especially if it’s been a long time since their last long-term relationship. And considering that more and more people around the world are single and this trend is only set to increase, I got to thinking, “Is there something wrong with being single?” And yes, if this sounds like the beginning of one of Carrie Bradshaw’s columns in Sex and the City, I agree. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a big fan of the original series, though less so of the more recent sequels.
As I was thinking about this I came across an article from Psychology Today in my mobile browser feed with the rather underwhelming title “What Makes a ‘Networked’ Individual?” The subtitle, “Singles may naturally adapt to the demand of diversified social networks” is a bit more revealing. The article claims that as a culture we’re shifting away from the traditional family as the cornerstone of society, to a world in which single people are at the centre of elaborate social support networks. What’s interesting is how this article turns the usual assumptions about singles on their head. While we tend to think of singles as being less socially invested, because of their lack of a steady partner and offspring, it turns out that singles actually have more time to invest in a wide range of relationships. And yes, there’s solid evidence to back this up.
I think the most interesting takeaway from this research is that being single has all sorts of overlooked benefits, provided that single people do actually invest in deep and meaningful relationships outside of romantic relationships. And I think this reading also provides some food for thought for those in long-term romantic relationships. The article refers to our modern approach to marriage as “greedy marriage”. This term refers to the way that married or partnered couples in our society focus on building a bond of such intensity with their partner that it comes at the expense of other relationships.
These research findings don’t seem to bode well for people in long-term committed relationships, who when they end up widowed or possibly divorced, may be prone to greater social isolation than singles who have spent a lifetime building a diverse network of friends. Now, what do you make of this? If you’re under the impression that I’m gleefully imagining my partnered friends ending up miserable and alone, well, nothing could be further from the truth. But these findings do tend to jibe with my own experiences. For example, a friendship that I managed to rekindle over the pandemic is with a friend whose marriage is on the rocks. And that makes me wonder whether we’d be quite so close if their marriage were thriving.
Esther Perel, the great polyglot psychotherapist mentions in one of her TED talks – all of which are well worth watching – that nowadays we expect from romantic relationships what we used to get from an entire village. So by all means, pursue romantic love, but don’t neglect your other relationships either.
And if you’re single, it’s okay to want to find a partner. Don’t believe that crap that you have to love yourself first. That’s just another dumb meme that people keep spreading on the internet. We learn to love ourselves in relationships, not just by journaling about it or repeating mantras. And in the meantime, remember that being single can be uniquely rewarding.
As Hamlet said to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, if you use Apple Podcasts please rate and review the show as it helps me reach a wider audience. What’s more, why not share this episode with a friend or colleague? And last but not least, consider following me on Instagram, my account is BetterLanguageLearning. I post a daily C2 chunk to help reinforce the vocabulary covered in each episode.