Valentine’s Day 2019.
In less than a week it’ll be Valentine’s Day and, as a single woman, that only means one thing: hiding under a blanket with a book and a torch until it all blows over.
Just like I do during The Purge.
If I were a character in a romantic comedy on the Lifetime Channel, the thought of spending Valentine’s Day alone would catapult me into a frenzied search to find THE ONE.
This would lead to a series of scenes in which I meet a procession of hilariously incompatible men by day, while I violently ram my supermarket shopping trolley into those of single guys by night. All in a desperate attempt to find that one person who really gets me…a card, a bunch of wilted flowers and Whitman’s Sampler box on February 14th.
Thank goodness my life isn’t a Lifetime romantic comedy, because that all sounds like a lot of effort in service of a day that has more to do with commerce than it does love and romance. At least in its current incarnation.
But what about its origins?
Where did this all come from anyway?
And, what, if anything, did love have to do with it?
SAINT VALENTINE: THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND
Saint Valentine, or Valentinus to his Latin bros, was a Christian priest who held ministries during a period in Roman history (around 270 AD) when to be a Christian was to be tortured and executed for public spectacle.
During this time, it’s said that Valentine married couples in secret as an act of rebellion against the Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus, who had forbidden young men to marry. Gothicus reasoned that if they were unable to marry they’d join the military instead. Which sounds like solid logical reasoning to me.
Anyway, Valentine was caught, imprisoned and given an ultimatum: stop marrying people or find yourself on the pointy end of a Roman spear.
Now, as any relationship expert will tell you, ultimatums are NOT ROMANTIC.
They are also the kiss of death and this was certainly true for Valentinus who refused to stop making people man and wife and was subsequently tortured and beheaded for it on February 14th.
Maybe. See, neither the manner of Saint Valentine’s death, nor its date are 100% certain.
There’s even speculation as to whether or not Valentine even existed. The Romans were great record keepers, but their records had a habit of going up in flames. This meant large swathes of the history of the Roman Empire, such as the true identity and fate of Saint Valentine, are open to speculation.
Also, some historians believe that February 14th already had historical significance for Romans as it was the date of an annual Pagan fertility rite dubbed the ‘Love Lottery’. During this event, men would draw the names of their future partners out of an urn because apparently hats were not good enough for them.
Later, when Rome adopted Christianity as its official religion, they kept the date but replaced the Married At First Sight style shenanigans with something more appropriate like a chaperoned dance, or an ice cream social.
They then re-named the day after the martyred Christian Saint and presto !
It’s a struggle to get certainty about any of this. In fact, from what I’ve read so far the origins of Valentine’s Day and their connection to romance are hazy, speculative, and uncertain.
On the one hand, we have the whole secret wedding thing, and on the other we have torture and decapitation, events that are typically absent from your average Mills and Boon novel.
In fact, the more I read about Saint Valentine the more I think making him the namesake of “Love Day” is a bit like making Slenderman the mascot for World Children’s Day. Sure, he kind of has a connection to what we’re celebrating, but it’s not a pleasant one.
And yet, as someone who’s been both cynical about and swept up by romantic love, I can’t help but get a perverse kick out of it all.
I mean, think about it, the day we celebrate the mysterious, elusive, hard-to-define feeling that is love, is named after a man who may not have even existed !
And, if he did exist, his connection to romance is at best, vague.
Looking back on my own relationship history, the vagaries, inconsistencies and frustrations within it, I can’t help but find that oddly fitting.
Then again, I could be reading too much into it.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!