Let’s be honest about Valentine’s Day…

precious-1199183_640Here’s a Valentine’s Day commercial you’ll never see. An attractive man and woman are having a romantic candlelit dinner in an obviously upscale restaurant. He looks into her eyes and smiles as he pulls a small black velveteen box from his pocket and places it on the table. Eyes moist, she reaches over, picks up the box, and gently opens it. A diamond pendant glitters inside.

Then she quietly closes the box and looks up to meet his gaze. “But I don’t want a diamond,” she says. “I want you to love me.” A caption appears at the bottom of the screen: “A diamond is just a shiny and expensive rock. But real love is forever.”

Fade to black.

Not. Happening.

Every Valentine’s Day, local stores prominently display candy and flowers, and restaurants gear up for extra business. And the jewelry business tries to get us to believe that “A diamond is forever,” or that “Every kiss begins with Kay.” Only the wealthiest among can afford to follow such advice. But that doesn’t stop us from figuring that some act of consumerism must be necessary to demonstrate love.

Imagine, for example, a young man proposing marriage. What would his intended (or her family and friends) think if he didn’t produce a diamond? Our cultural memories are short: the association of diamonds with engagement rituals is largely the creation of an immensely successful marketing campaign by the diamond industry in the years following the Great Depression. Before, a diamond would have been special; now, it’s almost required.

Please don’t mistake me for a curmudgeonly anti-romance skeptic. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with buying flowers or candy or even jewelry for Valentine’s Day. What I object to, from a Christian perspective, is the reduction of love to romance, and the subsequent commercialization of romance itself.

Let me talk to the guys here for a moment. (Everyone else, close your eyes.)

Do you feel like you’d be “in trouble” if you didn’t buy flowers, candy, or jewelry? If your answer is no, then chances are that any of those things will serve nicely as symbols of your love and care.

But if your answer is yes, then the problem runs deeper, and can’t be solved by a whole truckload of flowers. (And trust me, if you completely forgot about Valentine’s Day and just desperately grabbed whatever you could find on the way home from work, she’ll know. Take the price sticker off, dude.)

The question is less about whether you remember to buy a present, and more about whether you love your wife. And love isn’t communicated by buying her a gift once a year (not counting birthdays and Christmas, of course).

What you do on Valentine’s Day won’t change much about how she perceives your love. If she’s secure in that love, then a gift is a warm reminder and forgetting is a forgivable offense. A gift won’t create that security if it’s missing. At best, she’ll acknowledge that you “tried.” At worst, she’ll take it as a thinly veiled attempt to keep yourself out of the doghouse. And forgetting altogether will be just one more reminder of what’s missing.

Do whatever you think is right on Valentine’s Day. But think carefully about how you can show real love the other 364 days of the year. Because that’s what really matters.