I have to be honest. I am a Valentine’s Day grinch. I’m convinced this tragic ‘festival’ has very little to recommend it. It’s time we collectively stopped celebrating it. Capitalism has hijacked love and no one is better off.
After all, who has ever received an oversized cuddly toy and thought, ‘Finally, exactly what I wanted’? The supermarket shelves are currently creaking under the weight of mountains of heart-shaped chocolates that taste remarkably similar to normal chocolates but cost more. Tacky window displays litter the high street, with every retailer trying to find a tenuous link with this ‘holiday’. I’ve seen heart-shaped steak and soft cheese and Valentines whipped cream. The mind boggles.
If you’re in a relationship, the day comes with a looming sense of guilt to find a gift for your significant other. And despite your best efforts, your ‘celebrations’ will no doubt feel tokenistic at best. There’s only so much fun one can have with an M&S meal for two.
Cards are written today but forgotten tomorrow. Before you assume I’m a bitter singleton, I should state that I believe in love and am very happily married (pity my poor wife). But I don’t see why we need a commercialised day to express our love to each other.
Perhaps more seriously, I hate the way the day makes my single friends feel like their lives are less than complete. If you were happily single before the day, you certainly won’t be afterwards. Don’t take my word for it. Our editor, Naomi, has described the experience in tortuous (and hilarious) detail here.
So, why do we put ourselves through this collective ritual? Cynically, I’m sure part of this is commercially driven. In 2017, the British public collectively spent £1.5 billion on Valentine’s Day. But they’re not exactly being forced into it. Even if we do think it’s too commercial, something about Valentine’s Day resonates with us. I’d argue that retailers have recognised that love is an intrinsic part of who we are. In this ‘no strings-attached’ age, the desire for love still runs deep. However much we resent the day, who of us isn’t secretly hopeful that the flowers/chocolates/gifts being delivered to the office aren’t intended for us? We all desire to love and to be loved.
Whilst we typically understand this in terms of romantic love, this need to receive love begins much earlier. We have an 8-month-old little boy. As we’ve observed him growing, I’ve been fascinated by how reliant he is on my wife and me. From the parenting classes before his birth, much of the advice we’ve received has been based on ‘attachment theory’, where scientists observed that when babies experience strong attachments (i.e. loving relationships with their parents) early on, they’re more likely to flourish physically and emotionally in later life . The same is true in later life where stronger social relationships are associated with stronger immune systems, longer lifespans, better recovery from surgery and lower risk of depression and anxiety . We’re hardwired for loving relationships.
And yet, our contemporary philosophies cannot make sense of this intrinsic need for love. Eastern philosophies specifically downplay this human need for love. Buddha said, ‘so long as a lustful desire…of man for women is not controlled, the mind of man is not free, but is bound like a calf tied to a cow’ . Attachments (i.e. loving relationships) must be broken in order to enable spiritual progress.
Secular social scientists would recognise the reality of our need for love, but cannot explain why such a desire exists. Evolutionary theory alone cannot make sense of this phenomenon. Why do humans evolve with the need to be nurtured for the first 12–14 years of their lives? Why is love, manifested in the care of our parents, so essential for our development? How do we account for the non-romantic love we enjoy in friendships and platonic relationships?
How do we make sense of this intrinsic need for love? I’m convinced the Christian worldview makes the most sense of this phenomenon.
At the centre of the Christian faith is the idea that God is Trinitarian (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). This means from before anything else existed, God himself is a community of love, where each person of the Trinity loves each other. God is love himself. And he made all of humanity, with a desire that they would enjoy and experience this same love. In essence, God is the source of all love and created us to share in it.
The only worldview that can explain our need for love is the worldview that puts love at the centre of our origins. In simple terms, it says you desire to be loved because you were designed for a loving relationship with the God who made you and loves you.
This is good news for the Valentine’s sceptics like me. Even if you find the whole idea a little bit tragic and underwhelming, your desire for something more points to a greater and more satisfying love. Heart-shaped soft cheese and steak are, at best, symbols that point to a much more significant reality.