Well, it’s February. Not that you need to be reminded – if Groundhog’s Day and the Superbowl weren’t big enough clues, then the metric tons of massive stuffed animals and miles of heart-shaped chocolate boxes lining store walls since New Year’s probably were.
Who’s excited for the relentless sense of pressure to indulge in commercialism to fulfill societal expectations of professing adoration for your significant other on the 14th of February?!
Yeah, me neither.
Understand, though, that I have zero problems with Valentine’s Day. I do not object to the buying of roses or the giving of cards or the gathering of friends to celebrate each other’s company. I do, however, have a problem with how society has distorted the meaning of romantic relationships. The problem is not rooted in Valentine’s Day itself – it is rooted in selfishness.
What is Love?
Baby, don’t hurt me – oh, wait, sorry, that’s an iconic song from the 80’s. It poses one of the greatest philosophical questions, there’s no doubt about that. Unfortunately, it’s a question nobody seems to be asking anymore. Nor do they appear to consider the potential carried in the follow-up phrase: “don’t hurt me”. My general impression of the world is that it works on the assumption that love is a feeling, a rush of adrenaline and serotonin through the brain, an impulse worthy of pursuing to the ends of the earth – so long as nobody gets hurt.
None of these assumptions are wrong. However, none of these accurately describe love. If anything, these only describe the intense desire to get something from someone else in a relational context. And relationships built on a foundation of self-gain, of “what’s in it for me?”, do not stand the test of time. The adrenaline fades, reality come back into focus, and the rush to get together is suddenly a rush to stay on top of your responsibilities. These lead to frustration, then anger, then resentment, and you fall out of love, love that was never there. If you haven’t experienced this yourself, you’ve almost certainly watched it unfold. And the hurt left behind is not a pretty sight.
What Love Isn’t
Love is a many-splintered thing, but more so is the societal distortion of love. Current cultural norms assert that love is both inherently romantic and universal, that you can and should love anybody you want, including – if not especially – yourself. This final assertion is the core of the problem. Self-care is one thing; self-love is another. Self-obsession will likely cause all other relationships to suffer, breeding resentment and disdain and breaking down all lines of communication. Don’t believe me? Scan social media for thirty seconds and you’ll see what I mean.
Demeaning yourself to make someone else feel better is the equally problematic counterpart to self-love. Allowing another person to fully control your life to make them feel whole is dysfunctional at best. Accepting the notion you are the inferior being in the relationship and that you’ve lucky they still look after you is accepting a caustic attitude that will erode you from the inside out.
The great irony of both cases – self-obsession and self-oppression – is that the focus is on the self. Both cases inflict harm on themselves and those around them because they cannot see, hear, or sense the needs of others. Self-centered people can only focus on themselves and what they want from a relationship. Thus, we reach the core of the issue:
Love is not what you want to get – it’s what you are willing to give.
What Love Is
Let me say it again: Love is not what you want to get – it’s what you are willing to give. In other words, love is an attitude in action.
Love is not inherently romantic. Defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as strong affection for another, love can be shared between boys, girls, friends and family. It is not segregated by age, race, or creed. Love is not guaranteed; love is a choice.
Love is taking time to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return.
Love is volunteering for something you’d rather not do to help someone you don’t even know.
Love is fully recognizing a family member’s extreme dysfunction and choosing to continue loving them – without sacrificing your own mental and physical health at the altar of their ego.
Love is calling someone out on their poor decisions and stinking thinking, but with the offer of a helping hand if they are ready to help themselves.
Love is giving up everything to be of service to someone else. Love is putting others first.
The men and women of our military make this commitment most often – giving up family, security, sanity, and sometimes life itself to protect our country and to save others. But it is a commitment we don’t acknowledge enough. It is far easier to continue our daily routines without considering the sacrifice required to do so. Yet these actions can also be found far closer to home. People risk their lives to save dogs from rivers, children from burning buildings, and each other from perilous situations.
What love should be is instinctive. Unfortunately, that kind of love can be very hard to find.
Attitude in Action
So how do we make love less scarce?
Well, we start by giving more.
Like all intentional changes in character, we begin by deciding we want to change. Then, we consider the habits we can instill that will nurture this new character. Perhaps that means putting down our devices and spending more time face to face with our siblings, parents, neighbors, and coworkers. Perhaps that means volunteering at an animal humane society, homeless shelter, or after-school reading program. Perhaps that means something as simple as reflecting on the good things that happened that day, that week, that month, that year… and instilling a positive mindset in ourselves and those around us.
To give of ourselves is a true commitment. It can be draining, time-consuming, and downright frustrating at times. Yet seeing the positive impact we have does something paradoxical – it makes us want to give more. Simply choosing to reflect on the good does wonders to our attitude. Attitude is everything, and attitude in action makes an impact magnitudes greater than we can imagine.
The day’s origin – Saint Valentine’s execution for his Christian faith – is a powerful and sobering reminder of the cost of attitude in action. Yet if we reap even a fraction of what we sow, then I would much rather sow love than hate, compassion than disgust, calm than discord.
Share the Love
So this Valentine’s Day, celebrate with your friends. Congratulate those in healthy relationships, party with the single ladies and laddies that are happy to be single. Comfort those who can’t be with those they love. Encourage those who feel they should be with somebody and aren’t. By bringing a loving attitude to your own relationships, you demonstrate love’s true nature: selfless devotion to the welfare of others.
The Bible states that there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for one’s friends. May we all seek an attitude of love that is so instinctive, so natural, so deeply written on our hearts that – if called to do so – we would do the same without hesitation.