Valentine’s Day: isn’t it ironic?


I noticed Valentine’s Day this year more than usual. It’s not that I was scouting out gifts and ideas for the perfect date to indulge the girl I am head over heals in love with. Nor was it the pining for affection that comes in the wake of realising I didn’t have a Valentine when so many others did.

I walked through central London yesterday and saw the men hurrying home from work clutching bouquets for their loved ones, the less organised queueing round the shop only to end up with the last wilted bunch of daffodils on sale. I spotted the women carrying theirs, one with at least 4 sets of flowers – either one very besotted partner or she was a lady in much demand.

And on the internet I saw the mix of cute and kitsch, couples stating their love for each other on Facebook as though a wife telling her husband she loved him was a performance piece. There were complaints at extortion from purveyors of roses, photos of candles and dinners, declarations of thanks for their wonderful wife/husband/ boyfriend/girlfriend/date/crush/secret admirer, and the attention they had shown.

There was also the backlash. Those who were sick of the romance and the sugar coated affectations. Some of it came from thinly veiled anger and frustration, for others there was peace and contentment. There were single people going for dinner on their own, or just happy to enjoy an evening in watching season 2 of House of Cards.

But more than either the participants or the left out, this was the Valentine’s Day of the analysers. Never before have I seen so many people commenting on Valentine’s Day, what it means, where it came from, who it might offend, who might be left out. A tweet about V-Day, as it had apparently been contracted to, required an obligatory nod toward those who might find it difficult. Everyone (except Theos) seemed to have specially themed content for the day. Marketing departments went into overdrive. Unsurprisingly the action film on TV last night was stuffed full of dating sites advertising their wares during the breaks. From tenuous discount offers to comical tweets. And many of those comical tweets were really not very funny. There are only so many times you can read ‘Roses are red’ with it cumulating in a marketing tangent on a humorous final line before you want to block all tweets with the word roses.

The obvious.

The understandable.

And the bizarre.

The internet loves irony, so there were posts about awkward Valentine’s cards, emotionally repressed British Valentine’s cards, tweets of slightly dubious Christian alternatives, and a host of other ironic gestures aimed at poking fun at the institution.

Except the poking and the prodding and the analysing and the advertising had become bigger than the day itself. A friend hunting for a card for her boyfriend recounted the trauma of trying to find a suitable card. The umpteenth layer of irony is that the ironic alternatives were a lot better than what was readily available in the shops.

And yes, I am analysing the analysers.

For couples taking a moment to enjoy and celebrate their relationship, Valentine’s Day is great. And for some people it will be hard, to see people celebrating what you have lost, have not got, or fear you never will, is going to be hard, especially when it is something that tugs so intrinsically to our emotions and our personhood. But booking every other seat in the cinema to stop couples sitting together is taking things a bit too far.

I’ve written before on singleness and how I just am single, I don’t not like it, or particularly thrive on it, it’s just what I am. I therefore don’t find Valentine’s day a difficult day. But having someone to watch Newsnight with would be nice, and I hear and agree with all who say the marriage does not solve the problems and that singleness is not a prelude. And yet I sometimes want what others have and I do not.

That we celebrate something with the passion we do each 14th February demonstrates the longing in our hearts for relationship. And that it is hard because for many relationships are scarred with hurt and brokenness, shows that there is much about these relationships not to celebrate but to mourn.

When I commented on the masses of roses I saw on the underground someone suggested it was because people had lost their weekend retreats to the floods. And in a way it is about lose. When they took their vows and committed to another they set themselves aside. And they choose relationship over self.

While there are wounds that still seer, and memories that will not leave, while there is loneliness and longing, and dreams left behind. There is also the glimpse of beauty. And maybe, that is why we talk about it so much, analyse it to allow ourselves to keep out distance, choose irony to disguise the truth, which actually often communicates a greater truth than the honed words we could never find ourselves.

Because whether we had a Valentine or not, relationships matter. And the analysis and the irony we put into it just reinforces the point. 

New life and relentless love

I’ve written before of the valleys of my faith, the days that run dark like the depths of caves, the silence that overwhelms, when shame threatens to extinguish hope. The days when I do not want to talk to anyone. The days after I write, the vulnerability hangover, when I’ve thrown my heart to the wild and it’s gone unanswered.

Those are the days when words come easily, they flow like the river of tears I wish would roll down my cheeks. They are the ache of a soul straining for relief, they are the wounds of a life left hidden for too long. They are the echoes that resound when there is nothing left to give, they are the beauty of the broken, they are the maudlin murmurings of the misanthropic.

And yet sometimes they are the easy way out.

Because not all days are sad. Not all require a torrent of words arranged to evoke emotions. Not all days spark passive aggressive pleas for sympathy. Some days are good. Some days are better than good. And sometimes in the midst of draining days comes a glimpse of the other. Continue reading

What is this thing called love?

© Emily Martin

Love is a mystery, it is foreign, alien, far from understanding. But it is elemental, it is at the beginning and the end. Of what remains, the greatest is love. Mark Twain said: “when you go fishing for love, bait with your heart, not your brain”.

When we talk about romance, we talk about being in love. When we see someone who takes our breathe away, we fall in love. And when things don’t go so well we can now fall out of love with the one to whom we had given our all. After one of this week’s posts a friend sent me a link to an article about the reasons marriages split up, and all too frequently it is simply that they got bored with each other. And it lead me to wonder, do we put too much store by love, or is it that we just don’t understand it?

I can think of no better book on this topic than CS Lewis’s The Four Loves. Love is not always the same, it takes different forms in different relationships, from affection, through friendship, to the eros of romance and the all consuming unconditional agape love from God. I probably should have reread it before writing this post.

CS Lewis’s point, if I recall correctly, is that the other forms of love only work properly when subordinated to the unconditional love from God. We can love because we have already been loved. When we turn we find that he has already turned.

Am I a reprobate romantic to say that love can conquer all? That our problem is not that we put too much trust in love, but that we give it too little. We hedge our bets, and we take our chances, we mitigate against things going wrong. We build structures of reliance that defend our cause and protect our pet projects. We don’t want anything to fail so too often we just do not try.

We think that if love is the answer it will solve our problems. We think that such a wonderful thing will make life easy.

I was at a wedding yesterday and the during the address the pastor said, “I hope this is the worst day of your married life.” It was a cute point, a good way of saying that marriage is not summed up by the celebrations on the wedding day but of a life lived growing together, that there are far better days to come.

But was it too saccharine? Because marriage will not always be defined by happiness and joy. Because while the wedding day is hopefully not as good as it gets, it is also unlikely to be the worst. There will be sadness and troubles, there will be heartache and agony; maybe that wasn’t a message for the wedding day. I’m sure that if I’m married I’ll wake up on some mornings and wonder what I’m doing there, I may regret falling in love, I may regret trusting in love. Wherever I am, whomever I am with, there will be crappy days.

And on these days, like when I’ve had enough of my friends or my family annoy me, is the answer is to walk away or to recommit? Last year I read McCloud & Townsend’s book Safe People, and one of the most challenging things was the need at times to draw a line under some relationships, and to walk away rather than to expend all your energy on trying to redeem and rescue the other person, or your relationship. I found this hard because I often operate as though the love I am supposed to have for all people is translated into a one-size-fits-all relationship.

But love does not mean I try and have the same relationship with everyone I know, and by extension, everyone I don’t know. It means that I love them in whatever relationship we have. So I love my friends in a way that is different to my family, and one day I hope to love my wife in one way and my children in another.

At my church we’re coming to the end of a series called ‘Love is a Verb’. And for a series titled so there’s been remarkably little discussion of love, with the focus instead on the relationships that provide the context for love to be demonstrated. Love is a thing, it is an emotion, it is a state that we abide in. But it is also a verb, it is something that we do, and must do over. It is something that we cannot ever complete. We cannot be done with love and we cannot do without it. It remains.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13v13

Love is all around us. It is in the papers, on the screens. It is in our hearts, and on our mind. It lets us dream and it stops us sleeping. And too often it is sequestered in pursuit of happiness. Love becomes the thing which gets us what we want. We love because we want relationship. We love because we want sex. We love because we want company, or status, or security.

How rarely do we let ourselves love and beloved for the sake of nothing but that one thing which remains.

Too often we view marriage as the end point of a road of love, but surely it should be the other way round? Should not marriage open the door to a path that is paved with love both given and received, both the end and the means? Love comes in and flows from the relationship as much if not more than being the force which brought it to life. Love is not the answer to all of your or my problems. But maybe it is what helps us live without the answers.

What do you think? Am I getting carried away with my hopes and dreams for love? Is love enough?