Valentine’s Day—it can be such a hard day for people, whether you’re coupled, or not.
A friend of mine who’s single, but doesn’t want to be, considers Valentine’s Day a harsh reminder that she’s still “alone.” Many couples I know who otherwise get along quite well have massive meltdowns on Valentine’s Day, because of the pressure to be romantic in a certain way, or at a certain price point.
St Valentine’s Day is Christian in origin, commemorating the life of the early Roman saint and martyr, Valentinus.
Very little is known about him, but in a few of his hagiographies, it’s said that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to persecuted Christians (for a period of about three centuries in the Roman Empire, Christianity was outlawed).
It only became a true romantic holiday in the sense we know it, when Chaucer started writing poetry about it.
I find it interesting that there’s a protest and revolutionary angle to Valentine’s Day. It was considered a “distraction to the mission of defending the Roman Empire” for soldiers to marry, which is why the ceremonies had to be conducted in secret. This reminds me, of course, of how gay marriage has just been legalized in most countries over the past few decades—what other types of love have been outlawed, which ones are marginalized now?
I love the idea that love is a groundswell—that in time, it will overpower all attempts to confine or label or stigmatize it. One of the greatest lessons of my life (the one that took me the longest to learn) is that love shouldn’t be winnowed down to just one idea of fulfillment.
While romantic love is lovely, putting all this pressure on an idea that’s fairly new itself takes the teeth out of love, and tries to invalidate all the different ways love tries to reach us.
On years when this day filled me with ache, I tried to see how love was touching my life and communicating with me. Friends and family, the right cup of tea at the right time—all of these little gestures that add up to breathing room for our hearts.
It helps, to count the ways that love is in our lives.
For me though, ultimately, this day is my mother’s birthday (the photo above is of her and I, taken when I was around two years old). Every year on this day she would always give my sister and I each a book: and I remember, as a kid, being astounded at that generosity—who gives presents on their own birthday?
My mother was strong and loving and kooky. She loved mysteries, both in book form and on (British) TV shows. She wore a lot of sweatshirts with cartoon animals on them, I think because she was a career kindergarten teacher. She was an epic friend.
She was very human, and she is very missed.
My relationship with my mother has always been the framework of Valentine’s Day for me, and from the very beginning of my life I’ve celebrated it differently. She was one of my first teachers in how to look for the different ways I am loved and give love, today and every day.
How about you? Will you leave me a few words about how love, in its different forms, revolutionizes and holds you? In what places is love about to wash over you?
Author: Bronwyn Petry
Editor: Renee Picard
Image: Courtesy of the author