Saturday, 12 February 2011

In the Name of Love

Last February I wrote a Valentine’s Day based blog because I was acutely aware of the existence of the day. Well this year I still am for much the same reason (woo, 14 and a half months), so this week I interrupt the recent stream of political outrage (Mubarak has resigned by the way, so congrats to Egypt) to ramble on about love, Valentine’s Day and probably some other stuff – I don’t exactly plan these most of the time.

Of course the build up to Valentine’s Day is plagued by exactly the same dichotomy of idiocy and self-righteousness as any other holiday (especially Christmas). As soon as the Christmas decorations have been taken from the shelves and the festive gifts have been flogged off in the post Christmas sales, they’re replaced by an assortment of teddy bears, love hearts and chocolate, all of which seems legally obliged to contain some red or, even more insidiously, pink. Restaurants scream at us to book up our table for the big day, and rose gardeners sweat over how they’re going to produce enough roses to go round.

Meanwhile all the people who ranted and raved (not without cause) about the commercialisation of Christmas get back on their high-horses, and rant and rave (still not without cause) about the commercialisation of Love. These rants are sometimes made all the more bitter by the loneliness that underpins them – some people just won’t let others have fun unless they’re having fun as well.

The problem with a lot of these protestations is that they claim that there’s no need to have a Valentine’s Day at all. They argue that the whole endeavour is just a pointless gimmick for people who aren’t really in love because they shouldn’t need a special day to show that they’re in love. It may well be the case that most of the dinners, roses, chocolates, teddies and red purchased on Monday (and in the past month) will be in vain, and indeed there’s a good chance that a lot of that money will have been spent purely for the intention of getting laid, in which case one wonders if a hooker might not have been cheaper. However that is not to say that all of the people who are honouring the Patron Saint of love (and plagues, no I’ve not forgotten that one) are fools who have been swept up in the romanticism that is encouraged by commercialism.

That is also not to say that there isn’t a real problem when you walk into Carlton’s and can see nothing but the colour red from the first week in January. The fact that most high streets promote the fantasy that spending money on roses and chocolate will make your relationship work is depressing. It is more depressing that popular culture promotes the insane ideals of romantic love that imply that love does come at first sight, that she is the one and that Mr Right will stroll easily into your life at some point and sweep you off your feet.

Relationships require effort. Love doesn’t just arrive on a platter, it requires work. True love doesn’t spring fully fledged from acquaintance and all the roses in the world will never change that. Relationships develop from simply acquaintances, through friendship and into love. That development needs to be nourished and worked on. The trust and respect that love requires is something that need to be built with time and dedication, not bought with flowers and chocolate.

Flowers and chocolate are tokens. They’re the things you buy the person you love because you love them, not because you hope that showering them with gifts will make them love you. They are the effect of the effort, the time and the dedication that a relationship takes, not an alternative. Relationships cannot be sustained on flowers and chocolate, nor can they be built with flowers and chocolate.

This is where Valentine’s Day has gone wrong. The concept itself is not inherently unreasonable, but the way in which it had evolved has made it into a farce. Valentine’s Day has become a day where love is celebrated for its outward expressions, such as the giving of gifts, and that which creates that expression is gleefully ignored. It encourages us to replicate the effects without creating the cause. It creates the misconception that we can woo that person who we see in the coffee shop but never talk to, or that we can get the co-worker who doesn’t even see we’re there to fall in love with us, with nothing more than a token, an empty gesture; a bribe.

Love does not take bribes. Love cannot be forced and it cannot be invented. Love is born of respect for the virtues of another and nurtured by the desire for that person to be happy. When we allow ourselves to be bribed by chocolate and roses, by a low cut top and a winning smile, we are exercising our lust, not our love.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Experiencing pleasure with another person simply for the fun of it is fine, so long as this is not confused with having a relationship. To build a relationship on small tokens and mutual physical attraction is like constructing a house on foundations of sand; it might hold up for a while, but eventually everything will come tumbling down.

This damaging misconception is not just the fault of St Valentine. Indeed to blame it simply on the presence of Valentine’s Day would be to miss the point entirely. Popular culture expects, even demands, that the guy gets the girl and everything is ok in the end. Almost any Hollywood romance happens simply because the two characters happen to be of different genders so it’s simply assumed that they will fall in love. Through the film that usually seems to happen for no apparent reason and with no apparent stimulus. It’s just one of the many lies that Hollywood tells on a regular basis because that’s what sells.

Culture needs to get smarter. We could start with how we treat Valentine’s Day. There is a point to the day. Relationships take effort, and it’s sometimes hard for us to find the time to put that effort in. Life has a funny way of getting in the way of living, so we often neglect the ones we love. Love is such an important part of our lives that there really ought to be a day in which we’re expected to do something special for someone special, because they deserve it. We cannot shower loved ones in affection and flowers all the time, nor should we only do it for one day a year, but having a day where we should make an extra special attempt to show our love is no bad thing.

So if you’ve not planned to do anything on Monday for that special someone, then you might think about trying to change that, even if it’s just and email or a Facebook message. You won’t be joining the foolish hordes of people trying to use gifts as a pinch hitter for working at a relationship, because you now understand (if you didn’t before, which you probably did) that gifts are there to show love, not to create it. Sneer at the incarnadine gift shops and couples dining in gourmet restaurants all you like, but remember that Valentine’s Day is what you make it, so get out there and make that person feel special. St Valentine knows I intend to.

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