There’s rather a lot to unpack about Valentine’s Day. Let’s start with the part about St. Valentine, shall we?
Valentine, according to legend, was a holy Roman priest under the rule of emperor Claudius the Cruel. Claudius was apparently having trouble getting soldiers to join his military and he decided it was because they were all too attached to their wives and families so he banned engagements and marriages. Valentine went against this decree and married young lovers in secret. When his defiance was discovered, he was arrested, tortured, and beheaded. The beheading reportedly took place on February 14th in the year 270. His martyrdom, supposedly in support of the union of lovers, is what propelled him to sainthood. However, factual history debates the legend seeing as how there are no fewer than three different Saint Valentines – all martyrs – mentioned in the early Catholic records under the date of February 14th. It is also possible that the romantic significance of Valentine’s Day was merely a way for Pope Gelasius to put an end to the pagan love feast of Lupercalia which saw men randomly draw the names of young women to be with. Like a pagan key party of sorts. The Pope disliked this festival and declared February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day instead of the Feast of Lupercalia. Whichever legend or Valentine is true, Valentine’s Day started with martyrdom of some fashion and likely ended with the overwriting of a pagan festival.
Now let’s dive into the love game. There is a lengthy list of synonyms for ‘love’. A sample includes: affection, devotion, fondness, friendship, infatuation, lust, respect, passion, yearning, amity, ardor, admiration, attachment, adoration, tenderness… With so many words that elaborate on or relate to love, why do we insist that such rigid boundaries define our actual love interactions? Valentine’s Day typically reflects on romance – the love that is romantic in nature and infused with notes of lust and adoration. It typically neglects anything other than heterosexual sex-and-partnership unions of a romantic nature. But there are many types of love. Not only on the LGBTQ spectrum which are just as romantic but in terms of how humans can love each other full stop. Love is a multi-faceted emotion. It does not deal in strict boundaries. Look at the synonyms: lust, respect, fondness, friendship, ardor, tenderness. These are loves that speak beyond the strictly romantic definition we work from. These are the loves so often cited as “Greek loves”: agape, storge, philia, and the like. Just as with our own word for love, however, the Greek words for love are similarly multi-facted. They are interchangeable within context and relationship. The love of a parent to a child or a child for a parent. The love for a deity. The love between siblings. The love between mentor and mentee. The love between companions on a like journey. The love between friends. The love between partners. The love between first-time lovers. The love between those long-married. The love between creative muses. The list is endless. Love itself is not constrained by our arbitrary definitions, it springs up between the cracks of the walls we erect and the rules we attempt to enforce. “Love is a many splendored thing, love lifts us up where we belong, all we need is love,” as Christian so passionately declared to Satine in ‘Moulin Rouge’, defining the power of love without fencing it in.
This Valentine’s Day, celebrate the fullness of love in your life. Whoever it is that you love – your parent, your child, your sister or brother, your best friend, your creative partner, your inspiration, your spouse, your lover, your idol – whoever it is that makes this life sweeter, makes you smile, makes the sun shine brighter and the struggles less difficult: that’s your Valentine. That’s your love. That’s who this day ought to be for.
To quote the inimitable David Bowie himself, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
- Corinne Simpson