Of course, it goes without saying that single people do not. February 14th seems to be the day specifically set aside to remind us that the world moves in pairs, and that we’re missing out on some vital element of human existence if we’re not basking in the glow of romantic love.
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
So we spend Valentine's Day sitting at home, eating our Ben & Jerry's, feeling sorry for ourselves, and thinking about all of those happy couples out there enjoying their wonderful evening of romance.
But are they really?
My happily married sister hates Valentine's Day. She says it ranks right up there with New Year's Eve as an evening of expectations that are difficult if not impossible to meet. It has to be romantic. Everything has to be perfect. God forbid if the card is lame, the restaurant is crowded, or the romantic partner is in an annoying mood.
That just won’t do.
So basically, Valentine's Day exists to remind single people that we're supposed to be in relationships, and to remind people in relationships that those relationships are supposed to be happier and more perfect than they actually are.
We’re All Doomed!
It wouldn't be so bad if the whole thing were limited to that one day. But no the buildup starts a month earlier. We're exposed to an absolutely alarming amount of truly inane drivel. Everyone is suddenly a love expert. Every article either assumes that we're coupled, or condescends to us because we're not.
Let's see, what have I seen in the past month? Umm, there were the couples' stretching exercises, the couples' workouts and the couples' recipes. Oprah's magazine, on the to-do list for February 14th, suggested calling a single friend to see how she's doing. As if it were the anniversary of a loved one's death or something heinous like that.
But my very favorite was an article I saw on msn.com several weeks ago. Apparently some English professor has come up with a mathematical calculation to determine the perfect age to marry. (28 for women, 31 for men in case you’re curious.) The author of the piece warned that it is very important to get the age right. Marry too early and you risk making a bad decision. Wait to long and you miss the boat. Then you're “doomed to a loveless life.”
I am not making this up. This is really what he said. Those of us who aren't married are “doomed to a loveless life.”
This is the crux of the problem. The world seems to believe that “romantic love” is the only type of love that really matters, and that if we don't have that, we're doomed. Note that’s “romantic” love not even just married love or committed love. It has to be romantic.
I Have a Little Surprise for You
Now, in all of my study on the subject of love (and there's been a lot of it) I have found absolutely no serious discussion of “romantic” love. And there's a reason for that. It doesn’t exist. Romance is about a feeling, an experience. It's not about the other person so much as it is about what's going on inside of ourselves. And that is the antithesis of real love, which is totally self-forgetting and other-directed.
One of the best books I ever read was Surprised by Joy, the autobiography of C.S. Lewis. In it, he talks about the experience of true joy, and how it is impossible to seek or to manufacture. It comes when we least expect it, when we are most self-forgetful and focused completely on something outside of ourselves. And, as soon as we become aware of that joy and try to enhance or prolong it, it vanishes.
Romance the intense “feeling” of love is very similar. I’ll bet that most of us have been in a situation where romance was manufactured. The mood was right, the music was right everything was perfect. But we felt nothing. Why? Maybe the person wasn't right. Maybe we were distracted by worries. Maybe we just wanted the romance so danged badly that the reality just couldn't live up to the expectation.
Romance can't be forced. We all want it, but it can't be forced. Perhaps that explains our obsession with it. It's elusive. We single people think the married couples have it. The married couples think the unmarried couples have it. The unmarried couples know they're expected to have it, but they don't. The couples who have all of the “trappings” of it wonder why it isn't working.
So we all read articles and watch commercials and think, “If he'd just gone to Jared…”
I believe the secret here is to forget about romantic love altogether and to focus on the love we do have in our lives. I don't know about you, but I don't feel “doomed to a loveless life.” I have a network of friends who care deeply about me, and who mean the world to me. I have a sister and two brothers who know every annoying flaw I have, and still stand by me no matter what. I have the greatest parents in the world. And best of all, I have a two-year-old niece who wraps her arms around my neck and says “I love you, Aunt Bop.”
Love doesn't get much better than that.
So, this “Valentine’s Season,” let's all forget about the romantic love. In fact, let's forget about our own personal “feelings” of love altogether and focus instead on the people we love, and on the Author of love who makes it all possible.
And let the feelings take care of themselves.
(c) Copyright 2006 Catholic Match, LLC. This article may not be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted, or distributed in any way without written authorization of Catholic Match, LLC
Mary Beth Bonacci, in addition to being a Catholic Match columnist is an internationally known speaker. Mary Beth holds a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a Master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. You may visit her website at www.reallove.net.
This article has been re-published with written authorization of Catholic Match, LLC.