Be my Valentine?

I-Love-you SXCWhen I was a kid, Valentine’s Day was almost always a disappointment.

On February 14th, everyone would come to elementary school with little cards adorned with hearts and made for children.  The cards would have some cute picture on them, perhaps a puppy saying, “Doggone!  Won’t you be my Valentine?”  The kids would scrawl their signatures on the backs, ready for what came next.  The teacher would already have written each child’s name on a paper sack, then taped the sacks in a neat row hanging from the chalk tray.  At the appointed time, the students would rise from their seats and distribute Valentines to their friends (and those they secretly wished would be their friends).

In essence, it ended up being a ritually enacted popularity contest.  The least popular kids would look quickly in their sacks, find little more than a card from the teacher, and slink quietly back to their seats.  Being younger, chubbier, nerdier, and of the wrong ethnic background, I was not–ahem–the most popular kid in the class.

I’m not bitter about it.  (Really.)  My point is that all of this is a long way from the original feast day commemorating a martyred saint.  From the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer to the contemporary Hallmark holiday we now know as adults, Valentine’s Day has become a celebration of romantic love, for which the grade school ritual seemed to serve as a proper indoctrination.

I’m not going to rain all over romance or tell you that it’s just your hormones talking (oxytocin, if anyone’s asking).  But let’s be honest.

Someone who is not in a romantic relationship shouldn’t be left feeling like half a person.  A young couple who has to chase triplets all day shouldn’t consider themselves a failure if they can’t manage a candlelight dinner.  Diamond-studded hearts are not obligatory proofs of love, regardless of what the folks at De Beers might say.  And people in long-term, committed marriages shouldn’t regret that their relationships have mellowed into something more settled than their courtship days.

I’m not telling anyone not to buy chocolates or flowers–or even diamonds, for that matter.  But it’s one thing to do it because it legitimately symbolizes a love that is tangibly expressed year-round, and another to do it because you think you’ll be in trouble if you don’t.

Romantic moments in a relationship should be received as gifts without being held up as the standard for the relationship as a whole.  What matters more than romance is love of the self-giving kind: not just passion, but compassion.

By all means, celebrate Valentine’s Day and enjoy whatever tender memories you create.  But don’t get mired in the marketing propaganda that first define love as romance, and then make romance something that requires conspicuous consumption.

Whatever you do on February 14th, do it against the background of a self-giving love that you strive to embody in your relationship the other 364 days of the year.

6 thoughts on “Be my Valentine?

  1. Cameron, thanks for providing your wisdom on this! I find it very encouraging to hear this from someone who has been married for a while and knows what substantive love is all about. Thank you for being a solid voice in the midst of so many anxious whispers about the expectations of what “love” is suppose to be.

    1. Hi, Drea. Good to see you on here! Yes, I’ve been married for a while. As to whether I know what substantive love is all about, well, you’d better ask my wife…! But I hate the thought that Valentine’s Day can become the occasion for people to become more disappointed in each other than they already are; the pop-cultural “solution” can be part of the problem.

  2. Forgive the length of this. It just seemed to be a theme that surrounded me the entire day, and one I addressed in my own Valentine’s Day post: that of loving the self, first and foremost. If we can make of this day anything we wish,why not celebrate love? 🙂
    From author Anne Lamott:
    It’s Wednesday. I’m so happy just thinking about having stolen tomorrow back from the maws of commerce and exploitation. We did it. We get to have Free Time tomorrow, like in elementary school when miraculously, you got a free 45 minutes to paint or read or simply catch-up. Tomorrow we get to practice living as fully as we are able, without having to eat chocolates that we begged people not to give us. And at the same time, we can eat all the chocolate we want, because tomorrow is OUR day. It’s Occupy Valentine’s Day.

    Let the rumpus begin, the rumpus of radical self-care, of eating what we want, when we want it; of wearing the clothes we feel comfortable and most ourselves in, instead of the clothes that somebody else loves to see us wear because it makes THEM have better self-esteem. Tomorrow, instead of holding our breath to see if somebody remembered, or produced, or honored our stated hope that we just receive a sweet card, instead of sweets that we don’t want or need, we get to be love-crazy with everyone God or Life puts in our path to love.

    I am going to draw a small heart on the inside of my wrist, from me to me, on this free day we stole out of the river of time, to be ours. A whole Thursday! What could be more precious, than a day you thought was going to be about anxiety or pressure, neglect or artifice, or butter fats, that instead is going to be about freedom, and creation? I wish I could hand out easels, paints, hikes and short stolen walks and berries, but I can’t. So you have to promise you will give these to yourselves. That would be so subversive, and warm my aging hippie heart.

    I would give all you writerly types a new, ergonomic pen, with lots of rubber padding, to help your fingers with all the work you are about to start. And I’d give you each a graph-paper notepad, because for some reason, it is so much more fun and freeing to scribble ideas and passages and memories down on graph paper. Funny but true. They only cost 1.99. Give one to all of your writer friends, with my best wishes that they just DO it. (Try to look very stern when you say this last bit.)

    Since we know that we are ONLY able to get through this vale of tears, and be okay, most of the time, because of the love of our dearest and funniest friends, I would give each of them a fantastic pair of socks. You can get well-padded, artistically wonderful pair of socks for $4.99. There is almost no better present in the midst of winter than fresh cheerful socks. Trust me. Plus every time your friends or favorite cousins wear your gift socks, they will love you more than they already do. Fabulous!

    I hope you love tomorrow. The other day my grandson Jax and I had a breakfast picnic on my bed, with the dogs, Greek yogurt and apples, beneath frosted cloudy bamboo designs God made of ice crystals on my skylight, and Jax said, almost sadly, “I LOVE this day.” And because of you and our Occupy Valentine’s Day movement, I love tomorrow in advance SO much that it is helping me love today. Wow. And thank you.

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