Overpriced cellophane wrapped unscented roses that droop before they open, gooey heart shaped calorie laden puddings and crappy jewellery flogged in the backs of Sunday supplements that would make Gerald Ratner blush with shame. All this and more is ours at an inflated price in the celebration of true love.
Whether we buy in to the commercial juggernaut that is Valentine’s Day or not, it is a tradition upheld by the power of soppy, sentimental, unrealistic expectations of our relationships. This idealisation of love is at least in part the cause of widespread disappointment in the institution of marriage and any partnership which we thought would last for life.
Where is the Love?
Across the world, there will be rings artfully hidden for the surprise reveal, cameras set up for that spontaneous YouTube proposal with an all singing all dancing flash mob, restaurants rammed with couples declaring undying love over mediocre dinners and cheap prosecco and schoolchildren swooning over messages and cards from secret admirers. What’s all this got to do with love? I don’t mean to be a party pooper but when the roses have wilted and the indigestion has died down and you’re waking up to yet another working day on February 15th, where is the love?
Our culture seems to be obsessed with the juvenile kind of romantic love which rarely leads to healthy relationships. It may be that this unrealistic perception is based on medieval chivalric mythology which made heroes of men and distressed damsels of women at a time when life was brutal and short and such tales were a distraction from the misery. A fairytale fantasy or crush is harmless enough as long as it’s recognised as such and not taken too seriously.
With technology giving us instant access to potential partners, for some, sex has been relegated to being a meaningless, unromantic leisure pursuit without any strings attached. That said, relationships can move very quickly from being casual to committed. This can create all kinds of problems which are not obvious in the first flush of romance. During the first couple of years of spending time with a new partner, we tend to only reveal the aspects of ourselves that we like and do our best to hide our less attractive characteristics. And, at the same time, we edit any information which may put us off the new love of our lives. When passion is running high, we don’t even notice when we’re deluding ourselves or denying problems, even when they’re obvious to others.
So, it can be a big surprise when, say, a couple years (or sooner) down the line with a baby on the way, we discover that we may not be as made for each other as we thought. Then there’s the other pitfall of this rush into romance.
Love or infatuation?
The early state of heightened, sometimes obsessive desire is called ‘limerence’ and can last typically from 18 months to three years. Online dating sites and apps provide the perfect opportunity for ‘love addicts’ to feed their desire for the thrill of infatuation. They get their fix then move on before being ‘caught’ by commitment, leaving a trail of heartbreak behind.
I wonder why the ‘rules’ of dating are so different from the way we form friendships? Even if we meet a new friend and hit it off straight away, we don’t expect them to text constantly, be available frequently or on demand or to give us priority over others. That would be weird. So why is that what so many people expect from new lovers? And why do we leap into bed with people we hardly know when we wouldn’t dream of sharing a toothbrush with a friend, or anyone else for that matter?
If we took our time, just as was the case when courtship progressed at a cautious pace and friendships were formed before bodily fluids were exchanged, maybe the divorce statistics would be lower because more couples would have a better idea of what they’re letting themselves in for.
My definition of true love is an emotional intimacy which matures and deepens with the passing years. Physical intimacy is only part of that bond. So little attention is paid to the emotional component of intimacy between couples that only a minority are likely to find it. It can be achieved through random combinations of chance, opportunity, self awareness, selflessness and shared commitment to maintaining a healthy relationship.
So have some fun on Valentine’s Day with whatever rituals or traditions affirm your own particular love affair, at whatever stage it may be, in the knowledge that a bunch of roses withers after a few days. The sweet smell of a successful, loving relationship can last a lifetime.