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Be My Valentine

February 13, 2011

Today, tomorrow, and every day. 

Vintage Valentine's CardTomorrow – February 14 – is (Saint) Valentine’s Day.  Quick History Lesson: There were actually a couple of saints named Valentine back in the fifth century, although how they came to be associated with a day devoted to love is unclear.  St. Valentine’s Day was considered a religious holiday from about 500 A.D. until 1969, when the Pope removed it from the Roman Catholic calendar.  Originally a celebration of marriage and fertility, the day was linked more broadly to the idea of romance after Geoffrey Chaucer penned a poem on the subject in 1382; this led to the practice of writing and exchanging love poems (‘valentines’) in the early 1400s.  By the 1800s, St. Valentine’s Day was such a popular concept that commercial poems and cards were being produced and sold.  By the mid 20th century the commercialization had grown to include ‘gifts of love’ such as chocolates, roses, and – eventually – diamonds; it is now a multibillion dollar industry.  While it is observed differently in various parts of the world (and not always on February 14), it seems that setting aside one day of the year to celebrate romantic love is a worldwide cultural tradition.

Valentine's Day 1959

Valentine's Day 1959

When I was very young, it was customary to wear red to school on Valentine’ Day (my mother also used to tie little ribbons with hearts at the end in my hair).  There was usually a ‘party’ in the classroom, where we ate cinnamon candies and sugar cookies with pink icing or red sprinkles on top, and we would exchange store-bought Valentines with our classmates (there was always one in the package just for ‘Teacher’).  The true meaning of the day (‘romantic love’) was quite beyond us (although there was usually one special person in your class who you really hoped would give you the biggest Valentine in the box).

As the years passed, the meaning and importance of the day changed, usually based on whether or not you had a ‘significant other’ (boyfriend / girlfriend, husband / wife) in mid-February.  If there was someone ‘special’ in your life, you probably came to expect a card (at minimum), flowers and/or chocolates, maybe a romantic dinner, perhaps jewellery.  But, as with most ‘commercial’ holidays, the true meaning of the day – a celebration of romantic love – quite often took a back seat to the idea of spending money to prove a point (“Of course, I love you – I spent $75 on flowers that are going to die in two days and $150 on an overpriced meal, didn’t I?”)  Unfortunately, for the most part, Valentine’s Day is now no more about love than Christmas is about the birth of Christ (sorry, Jesus, but Santa Claus rules) or Easter is about His resurrection (hello Easter Bunny!)  

In reality, love isn’t something that should be celebrated on just one day each year; it’s not about roses, or chocolates, or expensive dinners.  It’s not about shiny baubles, or red hearts, or flowery poems set out inside lace-encrusted cards.  Love – true love – is something you celebrate every single day, in everything you say and do and think about and with and for the most important person in your life.

Be My ValentineWhen a couple is ‘falling in love’ (that heady combination of attraction and lust that turns you inside out and upside down), every day is like Valentine’s Day.  You coo at one another, call (or email/text) each other incessantly, can’t bear to be apart, want to shower one another with little tokens of your affection.  This is wonderful, but it doesn’t last.  If, when you land, you decide that this person is deserving of your continued love and affection, you have to change the way you see and do things.  That’s when true love emerges, grows, evolves, waxes and wanes, lingers and remains (some of us go through this several times in our lives, some of us only once, some never quite get there).  It’s when the meaning behind Valentine’s Day (the celebration of romantic love) becomes the underlying focus of every single day of your life.  It is something you think, feel, and act on (often subconsciously, because it’s second nature) all the time

There are, of course, any number of famous quotes and clichés about love (not to mention millions of songs and poems written about this particular sentiment) but I’d like to offer my own perspective on things (having loved and lost several times in my life, and found ‘true love’ ten years ago).

If you love someone, you can live without them – but you choose not to, because being with them makes you stronger, smarter, funnier, happier, healthier.  A better ‘you’ emerges when you are with them. They make you feel whole, complete.  There is no ‘me’ in a true loving relationship; there is ‘you’, there is ‘us’.

Love YouA perfect loving union means you would do anything for the other person – but always with an eye to making the other person feel better, grow, love themselves as much (or more) than they love you (and vice-versa).  If you truly love someone, you do not lose yourself in them – you share yourself with them.  It is equal; you are two halves of a whole. There is no selfishness in love.

If someone loves you, they do not ask you to give up your dreams, your ambitions, your passions for them, nor do you ask it of them. Instead, you reveal everything to the person you love, and you find room in your life for their heart’s desires as well.  You don’t try to change them, but you will, perhaps, change yourself – not because you’ve been asked to, but because you want to.  Love doesn’t ask you to be selfless.

True love means you share not only your love, but your life.  You feel good when you are together, but you understand the occasional need to be apart, to do the things that each of you wants to do alone.  You maintain both togetherness and separateness. You remain true to yourself, and to them. You trust.

Band aidWhen you love, you listen to the other person and respect what they have to say. You might argue, yes, but always with respect and the understanding that no one has ever been right (or wrong) all the time.  And as for that old movie quote ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’ – horse pucky!!!! If you hurt the person you love – which, if you love them, would always be unintentional – you apologize.  No matter how you feel about a situation or circumstance, if you cause the other person pain through a cruel word, an insincerity, or just plain not paying attention, an apology is like a band aid for their emotional anguish.  Love is never mean.

Love is about really, truly, honestly liking another person (no matter what) – and liking yourself for liking them. 

Love is bigger and scarier and harder and more thrilling than anything else in the whole, wide world. It’s too big for just one day of the year.

Tomorrow I won’t be getting a card, or flowers, or chocolates from my husband.  He knows I far prefer to be surprised with a single rose for no other reason than he was thinking of me.  There won’t be any expensive dinners out (although I might just make raspberry crepes with chocolate drizzle and whipping cream for dessert).  Instead, we’ll go through our usual Monday night routine – we’ll sit in front of the fireplace and have a drink before dinner while we share stories about our respective days; we’ll hold hands as we talk around the block after we’ve eaten (I’ll cook, he’ll clean); we’ll find a science or nature show on TV that we can both enjoy; we’ll kiss each other goodnight.  It will be a ‘typical’ Valentine’s Day – because when you really, truly love another person, every day is Valentine’s Day, even when you reach … the other side of 55.

Raspberry Crepes

For my Valentine - Raspberry Crepes and 'Forever' Love

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One Comment
  1. Gemma permalink
    February 14, 2011 12:08 pm

    This is probably the best Valentine’s Day post that I’ve ever read. Again, your writing is a rich combination of history, personal memories, and rare wisdom. Thank you- I really enjoyed this post.

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