Romance Novels and Valentine’s Day: Worth the Reminder

Antique Valentine of two cupids and a heartFor the past two weeks, my inbox has been bombarded with an unrelenting bonanza of Valentines-related content submissions from people I do not know. I received several link bait lists of 25-Things-That-Do-Things-Plus-Sex, a full week's worth of dating advice guest columns, and requests for line advertisements for dating sites, sexual health supplements, and a guide to surviving divorce.

Valentine's Day, if you're at all related to the world of romance, is a very big day. Many authors have half-jokingly bemoaned the media requests for dating tips and romantic advice, because who better to ask than a romance novelist, who MUST be an expert on all things romantic, right? It's easy to get a little – or a lot – cynical about Valentine's Day, especially if you work within the romance publishing industry, and therefore receive a little extra pressure as the holiday reappears on the calendar.

It's almost trendy to really hate Valentine's Day, to rail against the commercial pressure to conform to one type of romantic gesture and sneer at the umpty-teenth advertisement for roses, chocolates, or both. I confess I am guilty of this, myself. It irks me a bit, too, that I am told in so many ways how to best express my emotions to my spouse, and that it must be done with some sort of purchased object. Today can seem overwhelming and awful if you're being force fed mediocre chocolate relationship gestures.

But hold the hostility for just a moment: I did a bit of research on Saint Valentine's, and what I learned was delicious, and made me rethink the idea of celebrating valentines. According to Wikipedia (which is a flawless resource, shut up), “the most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry.

Wait, say that again?

St. Valentine was imprisoned because he got caught marrying Christians – soldiers especially – who were forbidden from marrying by Claudius II in ancient Rome.

YES WAY.

The celebration of St. Valentine's day didn't really get all romantic, according to the Wiki, until Chaucer wrote about romantic love in his poetry during the 14th century.

So:

  1. We can blame Chaucer for the commercial rose explosion that is Valentine's Day. Dammit, Geoffrey!
  2. St. Valentine was venerated in part because he married Christian couples who were forbidden from marriage. Mmm, delicious irony!

Now that I've thought a good bit about Valentine's history, I've had a bit of a change of heart (heh) about Valentine's Day. I think we need a day like Valentine's Day, but not for the reasons flower and chocolate manufacturers might think.

We see a lot of hate. It's everywhere – hate gets a lot of headlines. And there doesn't seem to be a shortage of it, either. If I sign on to social media of any form, or check my email, there's usually something that's bound to make my blood pressure go up, and my optimism go way, way down.

Lately I've made a point of saving links to things that make me feel buoyant happiness to re-read in those moments when my optimism and hope start to sink. Articles like this wedding profile from the NY Times, which Linda Holmes mentioned on a recent Pop Culture Happy Hour, about two people who married at ages 97 and 86, which then reminded me of this Modern Love profile that Jane Litte linked to, The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap.

I have links to any number of pictures of animals hugging or leaning on humans they care for, stories of pets who have demonstrated incredible trust and loyalty – and humans that have done the same. I have pictures of letters from penpals who live far away from each other, and short mentions of enduring connections between people. Even if I've read a story fifty times, each one is still effective at reminding me that, despite the piercing hatred that shows up by the minute, there's also, and always, love. All these stories of welcome and belonging and home, all the animal and human relationships that make my eyes water, or the photos of lions hugging people that make me sniffsmile, they make me stop and remember that love exists.

I sometimes find the reminders wonderfully reassuring.

That's part of why I read romance: I am reminded repeatedly that love is perpetual, a limitless resource, and that, despite my cynicism, it is pricelessly valuable. I welcome the literary reassurance that no one should be left out of that feeling of knowing they are loved, and that they love people in return.

But I don't read romance just for the courtship of the main characters. Love is not just romantic courtship. That's not the only kind of love there is, and neither is it the most valuable – don't listen to anyone selling you chocolate who says otherwise. Just grab the chocolate and run.

The most satisfying romances for me are those wherein the romance and pursuit of courtship are not the only relationships portrayed in the story. When the characters have genuine friendships, close siblings or friends or parents or families of choice who care for them, those stories are more enthralling because of the different forms of love that are explored and understood.

The presence of love in these stories is what makes so many of us stop and look and appreciate. As long as romances remind me daily the power and value of love and being loved in return, I will always, always look for more of them.

In the time it took me to draft and edit this, three more email messages arrived in my inbox, offering tantric sex advice, relationship repair options, and more linkbait lists of things that do other things with sex and love.

I'm going to ignore all that in favor of trying to re-appreciate Valentine's Day as a reminder to celebrate all the kinds of love there are, and how fortunate we are to have them, every single one. Happy Valentine's Day, y'all. 

What is the most touching evidence of love that you've seen? What romance or story restores you? 

ETA: This is from George Takei's Facebook page, via Dakota Cassidy, but in case you don't have a Facebook account, I'm posting the image here. Prepare to cry. This is one of those things I'd save to feel better. 

A magazine cutout that reads, my sweet husband, John, and I were married for 46 years. Each Valentine's day he'd send me the most beautiful flowers containing a note with five simple words: my love for you grows. Four children, 46 bouquets and a lifetime of love were his legacy to me when he passed away two years ago. On my first Valentine's Day alone, 10 months after I lost him, I was shocked to receive a gorgeous bouquet addressed to me... from John. I called the florist, angry and heartbroken, to say there'd been a mistake. The florist replied, no ma'am. Before he passed away, your husband prepaid for many years and asked us to guarantee that you'd continue getting bouquets every Valentine's day. With my heart in my throat, I hung up and read the attached card. It said my love for you is eternal. Sue Johnston, 68, Houston TX

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  1. 1
    Veronika says:

    I have to say that the most touching evidence of Love I’ve seen is with my grandparents.

    they’ve been Married for 55years. My grandma is a force labor camp Holocaust survivor, and that left her with various health problems like asthma and very bad knees.

    For the past decade her knees have been getting steadily worse, so she can barely walk on her own for a few feet with the help of a walker.

    When my grandmothers knees started to give out, my grandpa took over washing the dishes. It is seemingly a simple task, but it still requires standing for about 10-20 minutes and then putting everything away.

    He took over the dishes, doing them daily, without complaint.

    Now, more than 10 years later, when me and my mom are at their house daily and happy to wash the dishes, he still does it.
    He doesn’t like anyone else doing the dishes either – because he says – “It’s my Job, I’m doing this for my wife.”

    This is not a grandiose gesture, but in my opinion a sign of a steady long term quiet connection that has stood the test of time.

  2. 2

    If you’d like a regular hit of good news, you could check out the Good Stuff Happened Today page on Tumblr. http://goodstuffhappenedtoday….

  3. 3
    Ceece says:

    Speaking of people forbidden to marry, today the Illinois Assembly is slated to legalize gay marriage.  They say they have the votes.  Maybe St. Valentine would approve?

  4. 4
    twistybiscuits says:

    what a beautiful post – thanks Sarah!
    my sister and i will go on a binge of watching inspiring videos and then laugh at each other’s weepy faces. in fact, i have to send her the Christian the lion one again – because it’s valentine’s day and why not?
    i was explaining to my boyfriend the other night about how valentine’s day has always been about more than romantic love for me. when i was growing up, my mom and dad would have their valentine’s day dinner at home with me and my sister. we all took the time to eat ridiculously rich foods and bask in the familial love that enveloped us. my friends and i started sending valentines to each other in school and to this day we still continue to send valentine’s day messages to each other.
    i do get a little irritated when all the hearts and chocolate are lining the aisles of drug stores on the first of january. the commercial nature of the holiday makes me feel cynical, but i also think everyone can use a reminder to tell their loved ones that they are loved.

  5. 5
    Teri Anne Stanley says:

    Well said!

  6. 6
    cleo says:

    “The most satisfying romances for me are those wherein the romance and pursuit of courtship are not the only relationships portrayed in the story. When the characters have genuine friendships, close siblings or friends or parents or families of choice who care for them, those stories are more enthralling because of the different forms of love that are explored and understood.”

    Well said.  My favorite keeper romances tend to be ones where the MCs’ relationships with their friends and family are as important as the main romance.  I especially love ones where the h/h help each other find better relationships with their families – A Summer to Remember by Mary Balough, Absolutely Positively by JAK, Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie etc.

  7. 7
    Bridgetanachronist says:

    I’m going to ignore all that in favor of trying to re-appreciate Valentine’s Day as a reminder to celebrate all the kinds of love there are, and how fortunate we are to have them, every single one. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.

    Thanks. BUT. You still didn’t manage to persuade me that this day is anyhow special or should be celebrated. Which of course wasn’t your point.

    We see a lot of hate. It’s everywhere – hate gets a lot of headlines. And there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of it, either.

    Sometimes hate is good – especially when it leads to some constructive steps. Like not buying cheesy, meaningless postcards or bad quality chocolates.

  8. 8
    Darlynne says:

    The most touching evidence of love in my life: my husband. He’s the one who, when he left the ER to go home and pick up the five things I needed, returned with them, but also with Chapstick and the pocket angel of hope he knows I am never without. Even though I didn’t ask for them because I knew how tired and freaked out he was, he did it because he has always thought of and put me first. Because he remembers things like this.

    Love comes to us in so many ways, lovely and unexpected. Why—to paraphrase from “Chasing Amy”—would we would pass up any chance to experience it?

  9. 9
    azteclady says:

    Thank you for making me smilecry this morning, and for reminding me that there are good people around me.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    You’re one of the good people around, so thank you for being you.

  11. 11
    Bonnie Myszka says:

    I understand why people dislike the commercial qualities of Valentine’s Day, but for me, it’s kind of special.  My husband of three months is not the most demonstrative man, and that’s okay.  Valentine’s Day is the day I get my once-a-year flowers and this year, he surprised me at work with a visit and lunch. I know he could do this at any time, but I think Valentine’s Day gives him the not-so-subtle nudge to do a little more than normal.  Also, I admit to a special thrill this year of being able to pick out a card that says “husband” on it.  Definitely made me smile :)

    The most touching image of a love I hope to share with my husband over the next several decades is one of my grandparents.  Over the last few years of my nana’s life, she only ate a few things – applesauce, mashed potatoes, and ham salad.  My grampa always put together the meal and served it to her.  One year, on Valentine’s Day, he put the ham salad on her plate and shaped it into a heart.  She loved it so much that he did it every day until the last day they were at home together.  She was 89 when she passed away last March.  I know that she died knowing, even in her dementia, how much her husband loved her.

  12. 12
    KellyM says:

    It’s not nice to make me cry at work, Sarah, but I love you anyway.  :-P That flower story is beautiful, thank you.

  13. 13
    Lizaanne42 says:

    It’s the little things for me, the making time for each other. My fiance Dave lives in England. I live in Florida. We’ve been apart since July, and won’t be together again until June. Between the five hour time difference, his 5 am wake up and work, and my teaching job and 4-5 pm tutoring session today, we had a precious stolen half-hour on Skype while we opened our cards together. 

  14. 14
    laj says:

    I have always loved V-Day.  When I was in college I made valentines from tissue paper, elmers glue (diluted) and pastels using any kind of interesting paper, cardboard or matte for backing.  I cut them up, put them in a paper bag and passed them out around campus till they were all given away.  I remember going to a party a few years later and one of my valentines was on the host’s refridgerator. It was the coolest thing. Since then I’ve tried to make valentines every year.  Kids love it.  When my boys were small we always had a card making/cookie baking party a few days before the actual day.  For me it has never been about romance, but of the joy in sharing a day of sweet love and the happy faces of kids when they recieve a valentine.  My boys are teens and not interested, but a friend’s daughter remembered the card making parties and ask if I would help her this year.  We made hundreds!  I took some to the childrens ward this morning and I have been feeling good all day. 
    HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY BITCHES FEEL THE LOVE.

  15. 15
    Rebecca says:

    Not really on topic but as a cute Valentine’s Day story – last week one of my twelfth graders said suspiciously, “Miss, is Cupid really a real god?  I mean, where does he come from?”

    “Cupid is the Roman name for the Greek Eros,” I said.  “God of lust and sexual attraction.”

    “Then why’s he on Valentine’s Day cards?” the young man demanded.  “Lust don’t got nothing to do with love.  Love is supposed to be about a deeper connection.”

    To soothe him, I told him the story of St Valentine being a saint because he helped marry couples who were forbidden to marry.  (Which I knew because I’m a Madrid nerd, and Valentine’s relics are in Madrid.)  He agreed that was better than Cupid.  (Lest anyone be tearing up at the sweetness, let it be noted that he celebrated today by cutting my class, so I’m annoyed with him, but still…)

  16. 16
    azteclady says:

    I do believe that my comment got eaten by disqus :sigh:

  17. 17
    SB Sarah says:

    I have freed your comment and am now having strong words with it about placing you in the spam folder. Sorry about that!

  18. 18
    Joanna S. says:

    O.k., so the most significant demonstration of love and devotion I I have ever heard of to this day comes from my parents.  My mom had a lot of complications while pregnant with me, so the day I was born, my folks had already scheduled the operation for my mom to have her tubes tied the next day.  Now, my mom went into labor right before dinner, and I was born just after midnight, so she never got the chance to eat.  And, because you are not allowed to eat anything after midnight before being put under anesthesia, the hospital would not give my mom anything to eat once I pooped out, even though she had just pushed an almost 9lb. baby out of her woohoo.  In fact, my mom was begging for even a carton of milk – something small so that she would not feel like she was starving to death.  But they wouldn’t budge.  So, looking at my mom and what she had just done, my dad says to the umpteenth nurse to tell my mom no when she asked for something to eat or drink, “Oh, for Christ’s sake!  Get her some milk – I’ll have a vasectomy!!”  And my mom got her milk. 

    This is always my go-to story when people say that romance is dead because I’m the girl who can say that her dad had a vasectomy so that her mom could have a carton of milk.  THAT’s love.

  19. 19
    IkkiN says:

    Now if you really want some fun history on Valentine’s Day just look up Lupercalia…to sum up, a Roman festival where they sacrificed goats and dogs and then beat women with the remaining hides to increase fertility. Nudity required.

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