February 11, 2004

Valentine's Day, and its Cruel Stings & Arrows

WE WERE NOT SURPRISED TO LEARN that St Valentine, whilst best known for overseeing the affairs of lovers, the affianced, and happy marriages, has taken on many additional spiritual roles necessary in our modern era. For instance, he is the patron saint of bee keepers, in addition to travelers, and also for young people as a whole.

We did, though, find it funny that some of these modern roles fit in well with St Valentine’s original oversight over love. Consider that he is the saint to invoke if one wishes to avoid fainting in front of one’s betrothed. Consider that, at least indirectly, he is the saint to invoke if one wants to find a nice Valentine’s Day card at the stores; for he is the patron saint of greeting card manufacturers. And finally, consider that Valentine of Rome is also the saint to invoke against plague.

Gad. One can only imagine the prayer for that:

St Valentine, the saint whom love hails
Last night I had much wine and ale
This rap let me beat
The clap let me cheat
It’s my ass on the line should you fail

That sound you hear? It’s St Peter writing up an order for us to spend an additional million years in Purgatory. However, before we go off to practice our agnus Deis in preparation, we would like to address certain issues surrounding Valentine’s Day and our own thoughts about the holiday itself.

***

NOW THERE ARE SOME FOLKS who say that the holiday was invented recently on commercialist grounds; but this, we would argue, is not true. As the Catholic Forum’s Patron Saints Index says, the holiday may actually stem from the Christian usurpation of a pagan rite focused on Februata Juno, the Roman goddess of sex and fertility. It was also formalized in a more modern way in the 15th century.

For us, these religious and historical overtones to the holiday give it more meaning; and should there be Christian readers of ours who do not care for how the holiday is presently practiced, we would submit that studying the religious aspects of Valentine’s Day could make it a more meaningful and substantive experience. Certainly no one could deny the blessings of love and passion were anything less than gifts from God. Furthermore, while we agree that a man who devotes himself to such things only on this day is a cad, we do believe that setting the day aside as special, as important, can do much to strengthen the bonds which exist between lovers.

That said, why this strengthening must happen in public is another thing entirely, and we’ve bloody well had it up to here with it! God’s truth! it’s enough to turn a perfectly well-adjusted single man such as ourself into a caustic, embittered wretch who wishes nothing but doom and gloom upon his luckier brethren. Please, people! Enjoy your bliss in private. We’re begging ya.

For we can assure you that we single folk have very long memories indeed, and shall remember your unthinking pride months or years hence, when you are crying in your beer and proclaiming – like Rutebeuf of Troyes – that God has made you a companion to Job. Don’t get us wrong, of course; we have no complaint with you being happy – we want you to be happy. We want you to enjoy your nice dinners out, and your walks afterwards, and your shared, blissful congress long into the early morning. We only ask that on this feast day of St Valentine, that you not wander into our smoke-filled drinking dens, looking all chipper. We only ask that you not make pointed references to our marital or relationship status. We only ask that you not engage in lustful passion where we can see it. For we do not mind holding hands, or walking arm-in-arm, or even long hugs and kisses. But we very much mind it when you two are going at it like dogs in heat, all social caution thrown to the wind in your animalistic frenzy. Take that inside! Have at least some common decency, if only for the rest of us! For we can assure you that we are not going to be thrilled if simple manners force us to shout warnings about the presence of children, the elderly and the prudish; if the social compact requires us to icily tell you to get a frickin’ room. You see, some of us do not overly care for Valentine’s Day.

Now, Sheila O’Malley is one such person. She informs us that, as a single person, she finds the day “supremely obnoxious;” and further says that her temperment is not attuned to such things:

“My temperment is more ironic, more cynical and does not tolerate overt forms of sentimentality. This seems to be an Irish thing, frankly (Think of the raucous partying that takes place at Irish wakes. I submit that this is a cultural mindset.) It’s not the same thing as being uncomfortable with emotion, or keeping a stiff-upper-lip, or anything like that. I just, for whatever reason, feel very ITCHY when someone is showering me with romance, romance, romance. My entire psyche screams, as some poor man is proclaiming his devotion through the flickering candlelight: MAKE A JOKE.”

Sadly, we are unsure how our own culture may impact our own romantic temperment; the Old Continent has been mostly scoured from our system. Even our present culture – which, for lack of a better word, one could say is Western Pennsylvanian – is being lost. This is not to say traces of it don’t remain in us – such as our unflagging ability to eat sauerkraut, scrapple and like foods –- Foods It’s Best Not to Think Much About. But there is little of that left.

Cultural issues aside, though, we can assure you we do not presently care for how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States.

The reason why is not, as with some, that we are overtly opposed on sentimental grounds to the day. Nor are we all that upset about its commercial aspect.

For at our core, we are hopeless romantics to the point where our fellow men would turn nauseous. Indeed, it is almost effete, we have such a bad case of it. Consider: not only do we like and enjoy buying roses, we actually do our best to use the colors of the roses to convey our intention: red for love, yellow for joy, white for true-we’re-not-going-out-yet-but-I-very-very-much-like-you, and red and white roses when gasdgawrevffffff –

Sorry. Commitment reflex. Guy thing.

Anyhoo, as we said, this romantic reflex is deeply engrained in our psyche. Of course, we do know and appreciate the difference between this and wasteful extravagance; by which we mean in many ways we are downright cheap. Romantic or not, we’re still part Scots. But this frugality is largely personal; we have tasted the joys of self-deprivation and long-term thinking, and have seen that they are good. When it comes to spending our money on a lady – provided it is affordable and within our long-term financial plan – well, that’s a different story.

For us, at any rate, we could no further be prevented from doing that than the damned could escape from Dante’s Hell – indeed, like those wretches, it is a case where initial fear turns into complete desire. And besides, what better things could we spend our limited money on?

There is, of course, a catch to all this – and not merely that we do need to fund our retirement accounts. That catch, of course, is that such things come from our own heart; they are not things which can be compelled. For material goods mean nothing in and of themselves; one cannot buy love, one cannot buy affection, one cannot buy happiness or good spirits or true friends. For those things come from deep within the souls of men; to argue otherwise is to pose an unallowable contradiction.

In short, it’s the thought that counts – but it is important, we think, for a man to make clear that he has taken rather a long time to think about such matters.

***

SO IF IT IS NOT the sentiment and not the commercialism that causes us to dislike Valentine’s Day, what is the cause? Well, it’s simple, really.

First, we are getting tired of being left out in the cold.

We would very much like to take part in all these joyous outings and bacchanalian festivities, but Fate and our own foolishness have yet again combined to ensure that we shall not. Of course, we realize that it is patently unmanly to wail and gnash our teeth as we are doing, and we hold no one but ourselves accountable for this state of affairs. Our faults have indeed undone us. But still, this is all somewhat bothersome. For this is the one area in our life where we have – thus far – truly and utterly failed; and that failure gnaws at our soul like sulfuric acid.

Second, we are sick of being reminded of this fact for weeks upon weeks before Feb. 14.

It is the cultural equivalent of being forced to watch inappropriate public displays of affection. It is rot and ruin and decadence, all wrapped up into one miserable gauche package. We do not mind a culture that encourages consumerism around Valentine’s Day; but we do find it annoying when we are subjected to that from the day after New Year’s.

Third, we are dismayed that what should be a happy day for so many couples is turned into a day of misery and grief.

Now, we certainly do not mind advertisements that entice people to buy nice things; but we detest the fact that millions of people will try to meet some impossible standard this Feb. 14, and fail miserably at it. We detest the fact that on Valentine’s Day this year, millions upon millions of otherwise well-adjusted men and women will look at the gifts from those special to them, and sneer because on some materialist level, it does not hold up to expectations.

Now, we’ll admit that sneering – or worse – is an acceptable response if a lover buys his beloved a kitchen appliance. But barring that or some other inexcusable fault -- if these men and women do not realize how lucky they are, then God help them.

As an example of this state of affairs, we cite an instance which Ms O’Malley once saw with her own eyes, as she was riding the train with friends one Valentine’s Day. It is a particularly odd example of the above phenomenon:

“The train was filled with couples. And - it was like a zombie movie or something -everyone had the same expression: all the girls looked smug and happy, clutching their bouquets, and all the guys at their side looked like twitchy hunted animals.”

Now, if that is not exactly the type of skewed thing we’re talking about, then Bob’s your uncle. And it is very sad that our society can and does take what should be a happy day for all concerned, and ruins it.

***

BUT THEN AGAIN, WHO KNOWS? Perhaps we are being a bit curmudgeonly about the whole thing; perhaps we ought lighten up a bit. For we should know that when it comes to the ways of love, they are as irrational and complex and maddening and wonderful as anything in this life. Clearly this is a realm, where despite our fondest wishes, the intellect does not reign supreme and the sweet light of reason holds little sway.

For was it not Carlyle who said that love, while not altogether delirium, had many points in common with it? Was it not Hugo who said that love caused the stars themselves to pass through a man’s soul? And did not Dante, he who channeled the soul of Virgil, write amazingly of love’s irrationality?

Your science cannot take account of her
She controls, takes decisions, executes them
In her kingdom, as other gods in theirs.

Her permutations go on without trace
Necessity ensures that she is rapid
So you no sooner have a thing than you lose it

And this is she who is so crucified
Even by those who ought to praise her most
They blame her, but it is nothing but defamation:

But she is blessed and she does not hear
With the other primal creatures, she is happy
She rules her kingdom and enjoys her blessedness.
(1)

Well, no, actually, he didn’t. These words dealt with the vagarities of fortune. But we would submit that those words, which Dante has Virgil say so that God’s plan may be explained, could in many circumstances apply to love as well. For Dante knew, perhaps better than any man, of love’s cruelties. But he also intrinsically knew, deep in his heart, that earthly love is in itself a facet of that primal Love, the Love "which moves the sun and the other stars."

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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(1) See Inferno VII, 85-96; also the the final line, Paradiso XXXIII, 145.

NOTICE: If you really don't like Valentine's Day, we suggest that you visit the good people at despair.com. Especially check out their "Bittersweets" collection of rueful candy hearts in six sad flavors -- they're emblazoned with sayings like "TABLE FOR 1," "I CRY ON Q," and "U C MY BLOG?"

Hey, wait a minute.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at February 11, 2004 09:54 PM | TrackBack
Comments

I remember seeing one of those despair.com candies that read "we need 2 talk". Chuckle.

Posted by: Emily at February 13, 2004 01:03 PM

I have never liked those candy hearts, primarily because they taste like chalk dust. So I was pleased to find a new version of them with folks like me in mind.

Also, by the way, thanks very much for the link on the Crusades post a while back. Much appreciated!

Posted by: Benjamin Kepple at February 13, 2004 06:22 PM