What's the Point of Valentine's Day?
By max dubinsky
February 14, 2012
The first time I saw my wife in person, I was standing across the street from her apartment. The sky was gray and about as dark as it should have been for a March afternoon in the Midwest. She came out to the front porch—and I ran across the street. Cars screeched as I held up my hands in hope it would prevent an impact. I reached her side of the sidewalk as she came down the front steps. We smiled at each other ... I think. I'm a little foggy on the details, but I absolutely remember what happened next: I took her face in my hands and I kissed her. Standing there face-to-face, I kissed her before we ever even had the chance to say hello or exchange a single word to each other. (You're probably thinking this is either the most romantic thing you've ever heard or you're asking your co-worker if leaving, "Get a room!" in the comment section still has the same effect as it would in person.)
However, every time I recall this story, I can't help but wonder if I'm putting romantic love on a pedestal. Does it deserve more attention in our lives than any other form of love?
What of sacrificial love? Unconditional love? Comfortable love? The love Ryan Gosling had for Rachel McAdams in The Notebook? Are they all one and the same? And does love begin and end with romance? I love my sisters and parents, the homeless and the broken, but not nearly in the same way as I love my wife.
On Valentine’s Day—a holiday set aside for a chocolate-fueled celebration of all things romantic—the question resounds deeper than ever: What is love?
What Love Isn’t
Since we have the unfortunate disadvantage of being fallen humans, we are the last ones who should be able to define love. We have broken what love was intended to be.
Humans have made love conditional. It has become an entity that judges and asks too much. Spouses and significant others have made it physically and emotionally abusive, and the entertainment industry has turned love into an emotional fairytale of perfectly unachievable bodies always ending in Happily Ever After.
Which is perhaps why so many confuse love with lust and infatuation. An individual sees anattractive person on the street and declares, "I’m in love," withoutknowing what love really is. They love him or her for being beautiful,but beauty is only temporary, and makes for an equally fleeting form oflove.
And then, of course, people are prone to using the term loosely. We “love” the drama of the Kardashians and the music of Coldplay. We “love” frozen yogurt and we “just love” to gossip.
The root of this perception problem is that everyone just wants to be part of a tangible love that is returned—even if it is sometimes destructive. People "love" alcohol because in return it alters their state of mind and makes everything seemingly easier to tolerate. They "love" pornography because the actors don’t talk back and do whatever the viewer likes. They "love" movies because they offer an escape and help them temporarily forget. They "love" food for its ability to fill stomachs and give energy.
Yes, these things we love offer us something in return. It’s easy to fall for them. The problem is these things keep us coming back for more because they never really satisfy. They promise what they cannot deliver. We love them and they end up owning us—forgetting that real love frees, rather than enslaves.
Redeeming Romantic Love
Romantic love is perhaps most glorified because it feels like the truest form of returned love. A romantic story, a romantic dinner and a romantic first kiss—these things make people fall in love and feel loved.There is the promise of mutuality and commitment—even when we've seen (or experienced) it fail before.
Unfortunately, Hollywood and Hallmark have led consumers to believe this romance is the main event, and if you are alone on Valentine’s Day, you are unloved and unromanced.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to spend Valentine’s Day with someone else. Human beings were built for companionship. After all, life is meant to be done together. The good news is, whether or not you are alone this Feb. 14, each and every one of us is already part of a romantic story—a story we can in turn invite others into. God has been romancing us with every sunset, every blossoming flower, every crashing wave and every star in the sky since the moment we entered this world.
God knows the desires of our hearts better than anyone. Like a lover, He wants us all to Himself. He offered His Son because He loved us, and this sacrificial love made the love we so desire possible. It provided an example and an incentive to love, romance and sacrifice ourselves for others—friends and enemies, spouses and significant others, strangers and family, rich and poor, near and far. We love because He first loved us.
Having romantic love on a pedestal isn't inherently wrong. I love to make my wife swoon. Romance keeps relationships fun and exciting, and should be desired and elevated. But love is more than that.
Perhaps our culture isn't guilty of raising romantic love up. Perhaps it is instead that we are guilty of pulling down and cheapening what love really is—truthful, continuous, unconditional and sacrificial.