Tuesday 10 February 2015

Valentine's Day is about Affection

Edinburgh has been covered with bigger-than-life-sized pornographic photos. These photos cover whole walls of bus shelters and the sides of buses. It's the same image, again and again: a tired-looking woman with her arms lifted--hands tied over her head--nose-to-nose with a man who is caressing her face.  ("Lose control," says the caption, in witty homage to the bondage.) The actress has been paid for this photograph of herself tied up in an obviously sexual encounter so, even though both parties are  wearing clothes, I think it is fair to call it pornographic. Every man, woman and child walking down a public street in Edinburgh is forced to see it.

The point of the photograph(s) is to entice men and women into cinemas to watch Fifty Shades of Grey--a porno film--on Valentine's Day.  Valentine's Day which, I will argue, is about tender affection, has been perverted into a day to "celebrate" kinky sexual behaviour. As annoying as all the couples' lovey-doviness as been, this innovation strikes me as a lot worse.

What is WRONG with us? (She bangs her head on her sister's desk.)

When I was a small child, I thought Valentine's Day was mostly for kids. Schoolrooms were decorated with red, pink and white, and we made valentine themed projects in art class. On Valentine's Day, we brought in little pre-made valentines punched out of books with the names of our classmates written on them, and passed them around regardless of sex. It was probably weird that 6 year old Michael gave 6 year old Patrick a valentine saying "Be Mine", but as he and Patrick gave such valentines to all the other boys, and the girls gave valentines to boys and girls alike, it didn't seem weird. It's just what we all did. It's what we were supposed to do. I liked getting valentines, which were cute, and I recall kids counting theirs to see who got the most--though technically we were all supposed to get the same. They were expressions of good-will, enforced by our parents. The cupcakes, the chocolates and the candies were more exciting.

At six the children in my class could be fond of each other without the confusion and aggression that seem to mar relations between human beings ever after, particularly in relationships charged with sexual feelings. Once we started being  rudimentary sexual beings, i.e. about the age of ten, that was the end of valentines for all and the beginning of valentines for the chosen favourites. And that is when some children started feeling excluded or oppressed by valentines, whereas others started getting more of a thrill from them than from the candy teachers kindly handed out.

My annual proposal is that Valentine's Day be celebrated by Singles by expressing affection for their other Single friends, without expecting anything in return. Expect nothing on Valentine's Day, but express affection for someone you really love, and you are guaranteed a better day.

This won't make much sense for Polish and other Continental readers, but Valentine's Day is really a big deal in the English-speaking world, especially in Canada and the USA, where it is a HUGE commercial deal. Many women--including married women--make themselves very unhappy about it. I used to build whole fantasies around it when I was a teenager. Maybe today I'll meet a boy who falls madly in love with me. Maybe today I'll get a valentine from a Secret Admirer. Et cetera.

 I am as romantic as the next woman. In fact, in some ways I am incredibly romantic---in the 19th century sense of the term. I love wild gardens, Gothic castles, tortured artistic geniuses, heightened bursts of feeling (all the more dramatic for their rarity), Chopin, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Latin Mass, Sienkiewicz, atmospheric cafés and the almost impossibility of learning Polish. But all this needs to be reigned in by God-given reason, and God-given reason tells me that a life of romance is like a diet of chocolate pudding and whipped cream. It's a nice treat, but a lousy diet. A good diet needs homely old vegetables, grains and proteins. A life well lives needs dear old affection.

Affection is what you feel for your nearest and dearest, even your spouses, quite apart from any sexual tie. You can feel strongly attracted sexually to someone while completely despising them. But you cannot feel genuine affection and disgust for someone at the same time. The love that is stronger than death is not sexual infatuation--which so often passes away like a head-cold--but genuine affection.

I am deeply sorry if there is no genuine affection in your life, for this means that you yourself are not fond of anyone, not even the funny server from whom you buy your morning cappuccino. (I once got a thank you not from a morning-coffee regular, who had apparently been going through a tough time in his marriage--and that thank-you note has stuck with me all my life. Apparently the fact that there was one woman in the world who was happy to see him and remembered what he drank was of enormous comfort.)  Whether or not it would be wise to give your favourite server a valentine on Valentine's day I leave up to your prudential judgement. Maybe offering everyone behind the counter an individually wrapped chocolate would be a better idea.

On the run-up to Valentine's Day, there are three universal memes: one in which people complain about how lousy Valentine's Day is for the Single; one in which couples are sold a lot of crap; and one in which the media once again talks about sexual stuff, only with cartoons of Cupid.  Well, I offer a fourth: Valentine's Day as a day in which you express affection, in card and/or chocolate form, for those people you sincerely like.

Naturally you will have to be prudent, as most of the rest of North American (for example) society has been seduced into thinking Valentines Day = Sex Day. However I think women are on safe ground sending cards and chocolate to their dearest female friends and their relations. Meanwhile, I beg married women or women with fiancés not to build up expectations. If you REALLY REALLY want a romantic restaurant supper and your husband or fiancé never ever takes you out for a romantic restaurant supper on Valentine's Day, make the reservations yourself.  When you tell your h/f, tell him without exasperation. "Say, hey, I hope you don't mind, but I've reserved a table at the MOST EXPENSIVE JOINT IN TOWN! Just kidding. It's just [Such-and-such]."

And now some tough talk for the not-100%-Single:

Anglosphere women who are dating men who give them absolutely nothing for Valentine's Day (that means, not even a card) should break up with them. You have been wasting your time on a guy who just isn't that into you. Men in love, love giving stuff, no matter how small, and they do so without resentment. (Men not in love resent it like hell.)

How small is small? Well, one cash-strapped V-Day, my husband went into the woods and picked me a bunch of snowdrops. It was the most romantic present ever---until last year when he sent a valentine to me in Canada with one bedraggled snowdrop taped to it. That small bedraggled snowdrop is now my favourite present ever.

(Yes he is awesome and was worth the thirty-seven year wait. Thirty-seven YEARS, people. And yet here I will be on Valentine's Day away from him because, honestly, we don't need to be together that day. Usually I have a pedicure with my pal Lily and meet up with Trish and readers afterwards.)


  1. Hear hear!

    (For some reason, maybe because of planning or speaking at the Edith Stein Project for 7 years, usually that weekend, I'm not super into valentines day as a romantic idea. However that means i love it all the more when my husband plans something nice! My favorite valentines day may have been my senior year of college when a friend wrote me a note a few days before asking if I'd be her valentine. She made me a cd and we had a nice dinner.)

  2. Aw! That's really nice. One thing I like about female friendship--especially in Catholic circles--is girls can just do affectionate kind of things men just can't do or just can't get get. For example, pajama parties in which all the girls just fall asleep in the same bed like a bunch of kittens. (She thinks.) You probably have to have been friends at a relatively young age for that, though. I

  3. Good post.

    I think that celebrating Valentine's Day officially at school (especially primary school) is flat-out completely insane, to be totally blunt. Perhaps not being a North American, I am missing some cultural subtleties here, but I simply cannot see the point. It seems like a really good way to brainwash kids into thinking that Romantic Relationships > All Other Relationships, or that You're Nobody Until Somebody Loves You (and of course they always mean LUV, not agape, not caritas.) So I am mad on behalf of North American schoolchildren.

    Luckily for me, I don't perceive Valentine's Day to be a big deal in Australia. It's high summer in February, and there are other things going on. The streets are not festooned with red, pink and white. Valentine's Day is pretty easy to ignore or forget about. Unfortunately, though, we have not been spared the release of F*fty Sh*ades of Gr*y.

    "Anglosphere women who are dating men who give them absolutely nothing for Valentine's Day (that means, not even a card) should break up with them."

    I'm not dating anyone, but if I were it'd probably be an Australian man, or I guess possibly a Kiwi. I wonder if this still applies. Considering that V-Day is not a huge deal in Australia or NZ, do you think that a Kiwi or Aussie man in love might just not think to get anything for V-Day? Do any fellow Aussies/Kiwis have some thoughts on this? (For example, I can't really imagine an Aussie Young Fogey who goes to Latin Mass really bothering with V-Day.)

    1. I hesitated over my use over the sweeping word "Anglosphere." What I said most definitely applies to Canada and the USA, and most likely to the urban UK. To be honest, I don't know enough about ANZAC territory.

  4. "The love that is stronger than death is not sexual infatuation--which so often passes away like a head-cold--but genuine affection"
    Ahaha! What a great comparison.

    Julia, the primary school Valentines is mostly an excuse to have a good class party with cupcakes and candy. At that point in life, it isn't really anything to do with love, except maybe a love of chocolate cake. It certainly does get twisted into what you state at a later age.

    Interesting comment on V-day in Australia... I didn't realize it wasn't a thing there. I should probably let my new brother in law know about American expectations.

    1. I wouldn't worry too much about your Australian brother-in-law. Australian men who are in relationships know that they are expected to mark V-Day in some way or another. If your BIL has just moved to the US, however, he might be surprised that it's a far bigger deal in the US than it is in Australia, at least in terms of public awareness of it.

  5. I think this was the first time I have ever given anyone a Valentine's Day gift, but this week I mailed a package with a book, some candy, a card, and a pretty mug to my friend who is separated from her husband and is taking care of their five young children by herself, and who I think gives far more than she receives.

    I don't really know how I feel about Valentine's Day. It's only a week before my birthday, so I prefer to skip Valentine's Day in relationships so my birthday can be more special.


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