Falling in love is like stepping on a grate with stilettos on. You make a grimace with a cautious first step and then have to hope that you’ll avoid losing balance and busting your butt on the sidewalk or getting your heel caught in the grate and looking like a fool trying to get unstuck. Sure, there are Victoria’s Secret Angels and other fictional characters that magically float over every obstacle, but for the rest of us, love is risky and full of holes. It makes sense why most of us avoid it altogether.
We have learned phrases like “There are plenty of fish in the sea” to help justify our serial dating habits and swiping thumbs. After all, what has love ever done for us?
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, we all have our process of mentally preparing for the explosion of pinks and reds. We blow past the greeting card section in Walmart and Target resolutely and wonder whether we actually need to acknowledge the ridiculous idea of celebrating love on one day, especially when it can illicit painful memories or act as a reminder of our singleness (for those of us who are).
As witnesses — if not members of — a thriving hookup culture, our present is not too far from the realities in which St. Valentine lived. At the time, the Roman emperor had banned weddings. He frowned upon marriage because he assumed that unmarried soldiers would fight better than married ones, since the latter were more likely to be concerned for their loved ones. Polygamy and orgies became a common and acceptable replacement.
Well, to most.
St. Valentine, a Christian who saw marriage as a holy commitment between one man and one woman, chose to secretly marry couples who wanted to take their vows. It eventually cost him his life in a prolonged three-part execution, but he was willing to sacrifice his life for love.
Few of us may put marriage and love in the same sentence. Even fewer still may have experienced or seen love as something that lasts.
But maybe that’s why Valentine’s Day is so important.
St. Valentine died for the kind of love that is a daily choice rather than a passing feeling. He died for the love that results in lasting commitment rather than something that fizzles out.
He died for true love, you might say.
The love that is patient and kind. It does not wish for something else or look longingly at what it does not have. The love that is grateful and content. It does speak with malice nor does it does not lie under any circumstances. The love that is protective and trustworthy. It keeps hope alive and perseveres through the dark times: The love of Valentine’s day.
So if you want to boycott the chocolate binge and bottle of wine, be my guest. Instead, I encourage you to meditate on the love that St. Valentine championed, because beneath the holiday’s commercialization and idealization of “love” is an opportunity for us to reflect on something that’s eternal and entirely worthy of celebration.