Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 14 February 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Love rendered blah

Valentine’s Day extravagance begs the question why any healthy society would celebrate something as complex and subjective as love in a superficial manner:

Today is Valentine’s Day, a grotesque farce as any, mercilessly commercialised and animatedly promoted by a segment of society looking to cash in on one of the most powerful human emotions – love.

The modern day profligacy, which sees everything from chocolates to lingerie, jewellery and dinner for two packages, even in ordinary restaurants, taking on a pricy Valentine tinge, is quite alien to the notion of heartfelt or unconditional love and far removed from the early liturgical celebrations of Christian saints named Valentinus. History records St Valentine’s Day for the several martyrdom stories invented for the various Valentines that belonged to 14 February, with the most enduring story being that of Saint Valentine of Rome, who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. Legend has it that during the imprisonment, Saint Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine,’ as a farewell.

Perhaps we should blame Geoffrey Chaucer for Valentine being converted into a romantic affair at a time when courtly love flourished in middle era England. But would he have dreamt the simple expression of love through flowers, modest confectionery and handmade Valentine cards would transmogrify into the commercial travesty Valentine’s Day has become today?

The modern day decadence is no doubt a ridiculous concoction fraught with a certain kind of peril for men and women whose amorous relations, deemed perfectly fine on 13 February and 15 February, is not able to survive the day in between - 14 February - without conspicuous and pricy displays of mutual reassurance. Conventional wisdom deems that healthy couples would reaffirm their love and support to each other on a daily basis. And pray, which starry-eyed lovers in the bloom of new romance would need a calendar to remind them to say, “I love you”?

The Valentine extravagance also begs the question why any healthy society would celebrate in a one-dimensional and, yes, bromidically blah fashion, something as complex and subjective as love. The ancient Greeks, wise in the ways of the matters of the heart had not one, but four words for this multifaceted emotion, viz agápe, éros, philía, and storg?.

Agápe was ascribed as love in the spiritual sense, something akin to general affection or deeper sense of ‘true unconditional love’, the type shared within a family, rather than the attraction suggested by éros, which referred to ‘physical’ passionate love, with sensual desire and longing, pure emotion without the balance of logic and even ‘Love at first sight’. Storg? was used to describe an affectionate, accepting love, like that felt by parents for offspring, while philía denoted affectionate regard or friendship with a lot of give and take, and included loyalty to friends, family, and community, as well as between lovers.

These complexities are lost in today’s Valentine Day events, which only serves to perpetuate a simplistic and self-defeating belief in the magical powers of corny peripherals and fancy trappings, ignoring the sacrifice, disappointment, compromise and other unhappy shadows that fall across every durable relationship and marriage? What Valentine’s Day does today is give credence to the reality show concept of love that doesn’t really have any redeeming quality in the real world.

Yet, the question remains, why do we put up with Valentine’s Day every year, albeit cribbing about its über commercialisation? The bottom line is, in a world torn by war, mired in economic strife, marred by injustice, hatred and intolerance, love is something to be celebrated, no matter who is giving it or receiving it. Few people have ever been unhappy to be told, “I love you,” by the ones they love. It is genuinely difficult for even the most cynical, unromantic person not to acknowledge – and even benefit from – Valentine’s Day.

One way or another, we all tend to wind up thinking about love, and about the people we love, on Valentine’s Day. There are indeed worse things that can happen to us in February.


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