Hershey would have us believe that love has a gooey, caramel center. Jared’s tells us that love is a diamond-encrusted bracelet. Hallmark assures us that love can be captured in a greeting card, perhaps one that is delivered in the satin embrace of a teddy bear. Hollywood predicts that when we fall in love, the camera will zoom out, slowly, to reveal us kissing our partners. Probably against the Manhattan skyline. While a song by Ed Sheehan or Vanessa Carlton plays. And snow starts to fall, or a shooting star streaks across the sky.
With the exception of the conveniently timed meteor shower, all of these gestures have one thing in common: they cost money. (A whopping 18.9 billion dollars, one survey estimates.) But this is the state of modern love, at least that’s what we’re told by the media. But just as with any message coming from the media, I am skeptical. And I’m sure thousands of single girls around the country are as well this February fourteenth. What is this holiday even about, anyway? Isn’t it supposed to be Saint Valentine’s Day? Our virtuosity got pushed to the back of the shelf at Target to make room for boxes upon boxes of Whitman’s Chocolates (which, by the way, will be on major sale tomorrow morning!), and I, for one, am sick of it.
Romance, one of the many facets of love, has been around for centuries. Today’s love songs on the radio are modifications of nineteenth century love ballads. Flowers and chocolates are timeless signs of affection. The concept of greeting cards extends back to ancient China. On Valentine’s Day, we emphasize romantic love, almost exclusively. It’s the sappy nonsense that sells glittery cards and box of chocolate dipped strawberries, and since we live in a materialistic and capitalistic society, we’ve been trained to value these above all else. Spiritual, emotional, and filial love can wait until tomorrow. Today is all about diamonds and chocolate…and chocolate diamonds?!
Do not get me wrong (especially any potential suitors out there…), all this lovey-dovey-crap can be great. It is not, however, necessary. The Beatles said it best, “I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love.” This is why jewelery commercials, which preach the opposite, make me sick. Couples give into the societal pressure to spend X-amount of dollars on their loved ones. Remember that, single ladies, when you’re crying into your empty Chardonnay glass this evening while watching The Holiday on TV. A cartoon cupid does not equal love. Every kiss does not begin with Kay. It’s a marketing scheme which, like most schemes, helps only its proprietors.
I’m hesitant to believe that any relationship that is meaningful enough to continue can be appropriately celebrated within the confines and expectations of so commercial a holiday as Valentine’s Day. I’m not cynical and single, quite the opposite. I am pro-love. Love’s great. I believe that love is alive and well. But much like peace and happiness, it cannot be bought and sold. Love is not an institution, nor a commodity. There are no rules and no stages; that’s all theory. Love is quirky. It’s forgiving and fluid. Sometimes love feels like a warm load of laundry that you dump on your bed and then roll around in. Other times it’s a pit in your stomach that makes you think, did I eat a cement brick for lunch? Love is hard to explain, though many of us writer-types try. It’s especially impossible to discuss if you think of love the way F.Scott Fitzgerald does, which I happen to. “There are many kinds of love in this world,” he wrote, “but never the same love twice.” Basically, I take this to mean that as we grow and change, we experience unique iterations of love. It’s the same salty water crashing on the shore, but the treasures (and trash) it leaves on the sand will inevitably vary with every tide. Maybe we’re in a new relationship, or maybe we’re celebrating our fiftieth wedding anniversary, but if we are developing as people, and we ought to be, then each year of our lives brings with it a new way to look at the world and a new way to love. And if we’re looking at love in all these different ways, how can we expect the same flowers, same chocolates, same steak dinner to suffice, year after year? It’s overpriced and overdone. So whether you’re celebrating with a loved one tonight, a friend, or just your Netflix account (no shame, friends, no shame), please remember that it’s not about the money. It’s about how we treat ourselves and each other; how we show love, in small ways, every day, is more powerful a statement than any prince charming on a white horse. The best love is not the kind that sweeps us off our feet, but the kind that takes our hand when we are wandering and leads us to something brighter.
“Love is gentle; love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud.” [Corinthians 13:4-8] The sooner we realize this, and put our efforts somewhere other than the commercialized culture that Hallmark and its buddies promote, the better off we will be.
And for your enjoyment: