In a few days there will be Valentine’s Day, a day of frenzied chaos for some or a day of soothing quiet for others. It’s a day of chaos for those running around looking for last-minute restaurant reservations or a shop that still has some red flowers. It a day of serenity for those who turn their back on it and instead curl up and read Jane Austen.
It’s clear to anyone alive, even to a 120-year-old women like myself, what the focus of Valentine’s Day is. There are glimpses of headlines of advice columns that try to convince a wife to not be too hard on your husband for getting the “wrong” gift.
There are suggestions of why a couple should stay at home instead of going out.
There are endless recipes for heart-shaped desserts that include such unchocolate ingredients as pistachios, fennel, or ginger.
But, in the end, we have, in reality, turned romantic love into something that needs to be celebrated once a year.
Because like having a mother, or a virgin giving birth, or even the act of potentially warring cultures reaching out to give and to receive, holidays celebrate what confounds us.
And romantic love, most certainly, confounds us.
But it was this year’s growing list of helpful suggestions on how to grab hold of this concept of romantic love and shake out all the ways of getting through the celebration intact that finally made me sit and sort through the messages.
First, it is most clear that romantic love is about fulfilled expectation.
That’s what Valentine’s Day is for, it seems. For your partner to bring you What You Expect. (There are, in fact, a line of soldier-like exclamation marks that follow that phrase, but I just didn’t have the heart to insert them.)
I didn’t WANT an orange zazzle, I WANTED a lime-green zazzle with an orange edge! (Yes, this, too, could use more exclamation marks.)
Valentine’s Day has become chaotic because it has become all about meeting someone else’s expectations.
Demands. That come attached with a review sheet that assesses how well the partner has met that demand.
And so I wondered about it all.
And I came to the realization that, as with most things confounding, we, the people sort of miss the point of the concept.
But why shouldn’t we? There’s no manual sent to us when we reach that age to experience romantic love. And, like faith, there are few real words that can be used to explain it all.
So, I’ll rehash what I’ve come up with so far, and then extend it.
First, romantic love cannot be an emotion. It may stir up our emotions. But then, it stirs up our bodies, too. And our thoughts. And even our actions, sometimes. It’s a complete something (whatever that something is). A total, consuming something. That leads.
Us around by the nose.
Perhaps that’s one of the most confounding elements of romantic love: that it leads us. Not the other way around. We don’t fall in love with whom we have pictured we would fall in love with – if we even ever bothered to picture someone. No. We fall in love with whom we fall in love with.
(This kind of makes me think that love is some kind of virus. Something that gets in you, replicates itself, and then takes over.)
But since we naturally want to control our lives, we want to edit all that is around us, continually, love comes along and we want to grasp it. Mold it. Tame it. Teach it.
And romantic love, it seems, will have none of that.
It is what it is.
So in a relationship, how does a system of having two (count them, two) anarchic systems existing at the same time in the same place work?
Service, I think, is the key.
I (person one) serve you (person two).
And I (person two) serve you (person one).
Which means that both people have to surrender to the other in order to learn just how to serve the other.
It means having to study how to say and then to apply the word, Yes.
(There is the discipline of learning that when one says, Yes, one isn’t necessarily going to have to go down the road indicated. Take Abraham, for example. He’s the perfect example of how willingness is the key to obedience. Saying, Yes, and then doing your best doesn’t mean that at some point you are not able to say, Here is as far as I can go.)
So, fundamentally, if one’s focus is on service, then it can’t be on making demands. You say you love me, then what I want you to do for me is. . . becomes, What is it that I can do for you?
Romantic love is, in the end, a means of finding your way out of selfishness. Which is, interestingly, what aesthetics attempt to do by their disciplines. Learn to no longer put their self first.
But this process goes in both directions at the same time. I have to be unselfish with you while you find your way of being unselfish with me.
It really is confounding.
The bottom-line really is: I want to give to you but what you want me to give you is a way for you to give to me.
A complete circle.
Instead, what we have surrounding us are endless examples of supposed romantic love that are more like tennis matches, smashing things at each other until the other misses the return and the “winner” gets to celebrate. (More exclamation marks needed here, it seems.)
The Bible has a lean outline of how it could stack up: the wife should respect her husband; the husband should understand and honor his wife.
Respect. Understand. Honor.
In the end, then, what the outcome would be if these behaviors were applied religiously is gratitude.
So a truly complete circle.
Service. Respect. Honor. Gratitude.