For 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.
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.
- We can blame Chaucer for the commercial rose explosion that is Valentine's Day. Dammit, Geoffrey!
- 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.