VALENTINES DAY – FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT IN LOVE
(reprinted from my first piece for Hot Psychology, February 2005)
Can You Hide in the Hype?
So, it seems as if we’ve just put Christmas to bed, and are now taking a breather. I have a lot of thoughts on Christmas, pleasant memories, over-commercialization rants, shopping frustrations, and all those ads! What hopes they conjure. I now know that if my husband brings me to a beautiful woodland setting, and the snow is lightly falling, the sun’s already slipped past the horizon – that the huge elm tree in front of us will magically light up – just – about --- now – AND, I will be presented with a fine piece of diamond jewelry. It’s true!
And what wonderful trinket might come my way on February 14th? I am holding my breath in anticipation.
But what about someone who is not attached, married, coupled up, or in love? What will they do for Valentine’s Day? Should a single person feel deprived, or left out? I had been that person in the past. Oh, not despairingly so. Mostly during high school and college, when the dating was intermittent. Luckily, for me, I was not alone in my ‘aloneness’. Being single on Valentine’s Day was not a huge issue as a teen and young adult. Dating life improved as I got older, and before I knew it, I was married so any angst over ‘V-Day’ was banished.
It has been well documented that the holidays, especially Christmas can bring about this angst, stress and depression, particularly if one is alone. But, if so inclined, there are lots of things to be involved with, at least at Christmas time. Everyone has someone to shop for, even if it’s your landlord. There are charities for donating and cookies for baking. You could gild everything in sight and craft cool swags out of evergreens and household items. Point is - Christmas has come to mean many things to many people. A single person can blend in, diffusing attention away from their solo status. Romance to be sure, is just one part of Christmas, but it’s the whole bloody reason for the holiday we know as Valentine’s Day. Of course, it all began quite differently.
Who Was Saint Valentine?
Way back in about the 3rd century the Romans were having a swell time celebrating a pagan festival called Lupercalia. This partying and carrying on was typically during mid February, and there would be goats and or dogs sacrificed to honor Juno, Goddess of Fertility. (Supposedly, also being honored was Fannus, Roman God of Agriculture, and Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.)
Anyway, with the sacrificing and all, the young men would run around chasing the young women, whipping them with strips of goat hide that had been dipped into the sacrificial blood. Strangely, this was desirable for the women, the more blood, the more promised fertility. The women would then write their own names (presumably in blood) and place the names into an urn or something, hoping for the hottest of young Roman hotties to pick their name. Once the names were picked, and the girls and boys would be coupled up for the rest of the festival. Sometimes these matches would last for the next year, and then result in marriage.
Obviously all the young hormonal coupling and marrying was generally thought to be a good thing. Except to the Emperor, Claudius II. You could call him the Grinch of Valentine’s Day. Except there wasn’t any Valentine’s Day – yet. Actually, ‘ole Claudius’s nickname was Claudius the Cruel, which, when you think about it, is rather Grinch-like.
In those days, Claudius II was having the devil of a time with all the wars and such, and military enlistment was (so I’m told) at an all time low. He assumed the reason was that the men didn’t want to leave their wives and girlfriends. (Suppose any underlings dared to ask him “Hey Claude, you know what happens when you ‘ass’ume”?) Actually it does make sense that the dudes wouldn’t want to join up to fight Charlie or whoever the enemy of the time was. I suppose what we know as the draft, wasn’t yet invented, so Claudius banished marriage. Gasp. Pretty cheeky I’d say. You can see why he earned his nickname.
Somewhere around the same time, give or take a bunch of years, there was a kindly (some say epileptic) priest by the name of Valentine. Actually history has blended fact with legend, and it’s quite foggy, but there were at least two, if not three priests and or holy men all named Valentine. (Curiously, they are all reported to have been martyred on February 14th.)
Now, from what I can gather, the kindly (and possibly epileptic) priest was secretly marrying the Young Lovers. Obviously, once Claudius found out, he ordered Valentine to be put to death. It’s either this same Valentine or a subsequent Valentine who was helping Christians with whatever Christians needed help with at the time. Like staying alive, for example. This aid to Christians was quite the faux pas of the time, and naturally Valentine was jailed. In jail he fell in love with the jail keepers daughter, named Julia. Julia was blind, but the love of a good Valentine cured her. Amazing! Anyway, This blindness-curing, Christian-aiding Valentine was put to death, but not before he had a chance to send Julia a little love note, signed “From your Valentine”. I’m guessing priestly vows of Celibacy weren’t the fashion of the times. In any case, there was turmoil, lust and bloodshed surrounding the origins of Valentine’s Day. Luckily things have changed.
But Wait – What about the Singles?
Or have they? Well, there is still lust. Lust is always in fashion. Bloodshed? Not so much. Wait, I’m forgetting the Valentine’s Day Massacre. OK Chicago mobsters aside, what’s left? Turmoil. Oh boy, is there turmoil. Like I said, I am married, so I have not thought about Valentine’s Day as a single person in quite a while. But this is a day targeted for love, so what does it all mean for the unattached?
For those whose relationships have failed this last year, Valentine’s Day has not been observed, with feeling anyway, for a while. Even for those who are married or part of a couple, this day can cause anxiety. In troubled unions, nothing forces the couple to face the reality of their relationship like shopping for an anniversary or Valentine’s card. For the newly single person, they might be in too much pain to even acknowledge that such a hearts and flowers time is on hand. The holiday goes right under the emotional radar.
And for those who have been single all along? Do they cringe and mope every February? Yes. And no. I have known my share of Lonely Hearts, and they honestly do bitch and moan about their single state. And I know other singles, they take it all in stride.
Simply put, it’s all relative. It really is. In the previous talk of Christmas, I skimmed over the ‘wrong’ parts of the holiday. Things that, if I let them, really get to me. I’m quite horrified to see garlands and candy canes on retail display BEFORE HALLOWEEN. Each year, I practically resent family members asking me what’s on my wish list. I whine that anyone who really knows me should not need to ask. PS2 becomes a dirty phrase. And so on. But what is key here - is that these things bother me, if I let them. It seems so cliché, but we really do have choices. We can celebrate all kinds of holidays whether they pertain to us or not. We can celebrate love in all its forms, not just romantic. We can continually work to become better people and love ourselves in the process.
In the opening narration of the film Love Actually, Hugh Grant muses about love. While voicing over everyday reunion scenes at Heathrow Airport, he tells us that despite the despicable acts of 9/11, the numerous phone calls made that morning weren’t filled with talk of hatred or vengeance. The calls were all about perhaps saying goodbye, but mostly “I love yous". Expressions of love made to spouses, lovers, families and friends. Grant advises us that all you have to do is look and see that Love, actually is all around.