It’s Valentines Day again! A marvellous occasion with something for everyone, regardless of your relationship status. And very much like Christmas or Australia Day, Valentines Day is an event that means a lot of things to a lot of people.
For the hopeless romantic in your life it’s a second Christmas; all the planning in the lead up, the anticipation that Mr or Ms Perfect might be waiting in the wings this year to sweep you off your feet, and an excellent reason to indulge in a couple of litres of ice cream should they fail to materialise.
For the socially inept it’s the socially-mandated justification needed to risk opening up to other people, and the excuse you can fall back on when your terrifyingly serious proposition to the object of your affections comes across as a bit more creepy than intended.
Where would those in long-term marriages be without the yearly reminder to pull their fingers out and put some work into the relationship? You might forget your anniversary, but with global advertising campaigns you’re going to really have to try to forget about Valentine’s Day!
And of course for the self-righteous cynics like myself, Valentine’s Day is pure gold. What better chance to demonstrate your intellectual superiority by proclaiming the whole thing a ‘Hallmark Holiday’, and to try out all the creative disparaging noises you’ve been working on? (My favourite is the ‘dignified snort with half eyebrow-raise’)
But while this cynicism is excellent fun, and Valentine’s Day definitely involves all kinds of commercial crap, there’s some real, legitimate beauty to it all. Sure, in some cases it’s a day of token flowers, horrifyingly intense proclamations of devotion, and an excuse to creep on the opposite sex, but underneath the glitter and pink Valentine’s Day is all about love. And love, I need hardly tell you, is kind of a big deal.
As everyone from The Beatles, to the Dalai Lama, Shakespeare and Jesus will tell you; love is what it’s all about. Love is what is truly important in life, it is the soul and centre of our existence. Nations have gone to war for love, proud men have abased themselves and rich women have thrown aside their comforts for it. It is the one thing that unites us regardless of colour or creed – the ability to love is available to all and underlies all the greatest human achievements.
Love forms the main theme for the vast majority of art; whether it be music, film, paint, computer games, sculpture or interpretive dance, you can bet that love (or its absence) will probably show up at some point regardless of whether it makes any sense or not. And when you begin to look at the ways we establish our worth as people, the theme becomes even clearer. High-flying careers, fast cars, flashy clothes, profound opinions, worldly travel, sporting excellence, impressive awards; how often are these things simply ways of showing the world that we deserve attention, are a good candidate for a relationship, or are just worthy of being loved?
Love is the purpose of life. Love is all you need. Without it, we are nothing. But with love, we can do anything. Many have gone so far as to say that all hope for the future of humanity depends entirely on whether we can learn to love each other – if we cannot, then we are surely doomed.
To this I can only say: What a load of utter crap.
This is not as cynical and jaded as it may first appear. Love is, and always will be, an incredibly important part of human life – the simple fact that we based so much of our effort on it proves that alone. But love is the meaning of life? Love is all we need? Love is only thing worth having in life and the solution to all our problems as a species? Yeah, we’re going to need to talk about that…
Have you ever met someone that talked about their ‘soulmate’? Someone who was convinced that they had either met, or would one day meet, a person so perfect for them that the universe itself had ordained it? On paper that seems like a lovely concept doesn’t it? But put more than 10 seconds of brain power into it and some serious cracks start showing up – horrible, psychotic cracks.
Never mind the statistical improbability of meeting your precise soulmate among 7.14 billion human beings – I’m sure this is a practicality the universe can see fit to overcome – but what if your soulmate isn’t…quite…perfect? What if they hold different opinions to you on say, politics or religion? Or what if they have certain flaws like pride, or anxiety, or just aren’t very smart? What if they have different interests? What if they’re complete arseholes?
People who claim to have met their soulmate tend to sweep these extremely likely differences under the rug; “Love conquers all” after all. What are these tiny things compared to the hugeness of our love?
Complete disasters in the right circumstances, that’s what. Disagreements on minor things like how you spend your leisure time might seem pretty insignificant in the scheme of things, but those little things tend to compound over time and can make your life hell when something serious comes along. Like children. Or a close friend coming out as gay. Or financial troubles. Or just wanting to sit on the couch and watch TV for like five freakin’ minutes, goddamnit. But if your partner really is your soulmate, then how can you address those problems without implying that your relationship isn’t actually perfect at all?
These might seem like a bit of a strawman argument, but the standards of ‘soulmate’ and True Love (note the capitalisation) are what we are surrounded by every day of our lives. It’s not enough that we just find a degree of love, or affection or pleasure in each other’s company – no you have to have True Love. The sort of love that occurs once in a lifetime, that you’ll do anything for, the sort of love that is heralded by a choir of angels and your heart actually, physically stopping when you see that person. Anything less than that just don’t cut it bud. No one’s going to see a film about a couple that met and enjoyed each other’s company, but maintained different interests and are ok with only having sex every now and then.
True Love sets an impossible, toxic standard that cannot be fulfilled – odds are extremely good that you will never meet someone who fills your ideal, never have a ‘moment when your heart stood still’ or any other clearly defined moment to designate that this is the person you are meant to be with. Not only does that leave you second-guessing every dating experience in case they’re not ‘The One’, but how the hell is any mortal human with mortal human flaws ever going to compete with the perfect picture in your head? And so you are doomed for an endless hunt for a non-existent trope, or settling for a lesser mortal that disappoints you every day simply for being who they are.
And you know what? If you do find True Love/your soulmate/The One, then it actually gets worse because you’re about to become a textbook example of denial! We have all met someone in a relationship that ranges in quality somewhere between ‘fiasco’ to ‘abusive nightmare’, but who swears up and down that everything is “amazing!”. It is a sad fact that those who are the loudest, most persistent and sincere about how incredible their relationships are to anyone who will listen, are also the ones that crash and burn with disturbing frequency. Psychological issues aside, the ridiculous ideal of True Love has a lot to answer for in situations like these – when a person spends their entire life being told they need to find the perfect partner, why are we surprised when they try to see it where it doesn’t exist?
The simple fact is that, while it is a critical part of our lives, love alone is not enough. And in the wrong circumstances, love can be outright destructive.
There is no denying that there are extremely strong relationships out there that work well; couples that seem almost too good to be true, or made for each other. But attributing the success of these relationships purely to love is as ridiculous as it is simplistic – compromise, good communication, similar interests, physical attraction and compatible personalities are all at least equally important and have sweet bugger all to do with love. Expecting love to fill these roles is just as ridiculous as expecting ‘good communication’ to replace love.
So this Valentine’s Day, as you’re staring doe-eyed at your Romeo or Juliet, bear in mind that the ‘greatest love story ever told’ lasted three days, killed six people and ended in mutual suicide because a letter arrived slightly late. Perhaps we need better role models.