On multiple occasions, I have heard cynics of Valentine’s Day say something to the effect of, “Valentine’s Day is just a holiday created by card companies to make money.”
While this quip is incorrect (Valentine’s Day has its origins in the fourth century), card companies and other retailers have certainly benefited from those on the other side of the spectrum, who hold Valentine’s Day as the pinnacle for extravagant displays of affection. According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately 145 million Valentine cards are sold each year in America. Moreover, last year’s Valentine’s Day spending was expected to reach nearly $19 billion (U.S. News and World Report).
I don’t mention these extreme views to deem one holier than the other. Rather, I highlight both sides to draw out some underlying presuppositions in both perspectives:
The cynic assumes that to buy in to the hype of Valentine’s Day is to set oneself up for disappointment and disillusionment. The cynic’s response to external pressure, then, is to overtly condemn the holiday, to not try, and to keep expectations low. The truth that is missing from this perspective is that there is no fear in real love that has been perfected by faith in God (1 John 4:18).
The enthusiast assumes that the degree to which they materially invest in making Valentine’s Day an extravagant display of affection for appearance’s sake is directly correlated with the quality of their relationship. Therefore, the enthusiast’s response to the pressure Valentine’s Day creates is to try and create a grandiose experience that exceeds unsustainably high expectations (at least for day). What is missing in this scenario is a true picture of what love really is:
“…Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:2-3).
For me, both responses to Valentine’s Day pose the same question: If we are inadvertently responding to Valentine’s Day out of external or social pressure rather than Christ-like love, are our efforts really creating lasting positive effects in our relationships?
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy Valentine’s Day. I sincerely appreciate the meaningful tradition and forethought of expressing affection to those we love through this celebratory holiday. However, I think we miss the point of the holiday entirely…
- when we try to buy sentimental feelings with sentimental things (i.e. when we buy into marketing messages that the perfect jewelry or romantic restaurant will somehow produce heightened feelings of romantic love);
- when in response to social pressure, we scrape together a plan to appear like we have it all together for the sake of those watching, not our loved one;
- when we place unrealistically high expectations on ourselves to execute the most romantic night of the year, in hopes that our one culminating outward expression of love and affection will be sufficient to keep our loved one’s expectations at bay the rest of the year;
- and when we refuse to try at all to create romance in our relationships for fear of being hurt or disappointed.
So, as you think on and prepare for February 14th, I would like to propose a new idea for Valentine’s Day:
Instead of responding to Valentine’s Day in pretense (whether by an extravagant public display or a holier-than-thou attitude), why not make this Valentine’s Day an authentic celebration of being present and purposeful with one another, for the sake of the one you love (rather than yourself or others)?
In this way, you will maintain your integrity by being genuine and humble with who you are and where you are as a couple. Beyond that, you will bear witness to what Christ-like love, what deep relational intimacy, looks like.
If you want to create lasting memories that go deeper than appearances, create an environment this Valentine’s Day that elicits true connection between you and subsequently, the positive emotional response you desire, without pressure, fear, or unreasonable expectations.
Here are three simple, practical suggestions:
1. Write a meaningful note, letter, or card. Your loved one wants to know how you feel about him or her more than how a card company thinks you feel. If you love your partner, you have something within you to offer. If you need some inspiration, Song of Solomon has a reservoir of poetry waiting for you…
2. Use your cell phone appropriately. Use your phone to text your loved one throughout the day and anticipate your time together. Use your phone to take pictures and create lasting memories. Don’t use your phone to check social media or game scores during your time together! (Some free marital advice: You will never experience what Song of Solomon describes if you’re more consumed by your phone than your significant other).
3. Get to know or re-engage your loved one’s internal world. Marriage researcher John Gottman, maintains that couples must create “love maps,” or ways of engaging their partner’s inner world, as a foundation on which to build a strong marriage relationship. To make this easy, the Gottman Institute has an app available with questions for getting to know your partner better, whether you’ve been together 6 months or 30 years.
Please, be intentional this Valentine’s Day in expressing your love and affection, and go out of your way to do it; but also use it as a starting point for more Christ-like love and truer intimacy in your love relationship this year.
Image attribution: white_caty / Thinkstock