The Valentine’s Day tradition forces us to look at love whether we like it or not, and whether we’re in an amorous relationship or not.
The Greeks identified seven different types of love – philia, storge, eros, ludus, philautia, pragma and agape. Yet there is a modern pre-occupation with eros or romance. The Greeks seemed to have a holistic and balanced view of love in relation to all types of human relationships. Is it realistic or desirable for us all to be encouraged to crave one type of love in a quest for fulfilment? Our culture is replete with sad tales of those for whom romance dashed their hopes to pieces. Whilst many recover and go on to forge new romantic alliances, some never do. While some become hopeful romantics, many are content to remain hopeless romantics.
Who benefits the most from Valentine’s Day? Pure observation would suggest that it’s the retailers. Couples are encouraged to spend money on gifts to demonstrate their affection – cards, gifts, romantic meals. Yet, true love cannot be reduced to material overtures. According to ‘The Five Love Languages’ by Gary Chapman, giving gifts is one of the languages, the other four being words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time and physical touch. The ultimate gift we can give to others is our undivided attention and time. No monetary value can be put on time because it is an unknown quotient and no-one knows how much one has left. Quality time is arguably the most superior of the languages because it implies doing one’s best to determine what the recipient would consider qualitative and expending one’s energies in giving time to that ‘thing’. It also implies acts of service because it means saying ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to another.
Apart from the questionable origins of this modern-day celebration, Valentine’s Day has an inverse focus on love. It associates love with material possessions and professions of affection which can be shallow. Even secret admirers may feel pressured to spend money on a card to declare their desires anonymously. Yet, what good is anonymous love to anyone? Those who are single feel their singlehood more acutely, and this may lead to depression and despair at ever finding a romantic partner. At the end of the day, love is demonstrated most convincingly through everyday actions. The retailers may be enriched but we, the consumers, are made all the poorer – our souls are not truly satisfied and we are left wanting. The truth is that Valentine’s day celebrates love which is all fluff, tinsel and sentiment. Real love comes at a price – selflessness, compromise and forgiveness.
Can we really love another properly without first discovering who we are, then learning to accept and embrace who we are ‘warts and all’. Unlike the fairytale message, love is not about finding the perfect mate who is perfect for you, but mastering the art of learning to live with an imperfect self and other. We are best equipped for this when we acknowledge our own imperfections and are able to accept God’s forgiveness, then extend it to ourselves and others. Indeed, love is expensive, but not in the way that Valentine’s Day suggests!