What’s Love Got to Do with It?
In a week or so 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?
And what, if anything, does 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 Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II). Gothicus wanted a strong military and was dismayed by young men opting to marry and have families instead. He believed it was marriages that were to blame for men not wanting to die horribly in wars and such, and so, to rectify the situation, he simply banned marriages altogether.
Valentinus wasn’t going to stand for that nonsense and so he started marrying couples in secret. But it wasn’t long before he was busted, 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 and Valentinus’ ultimatum was no different. When he point blank refused to stop making folks man and wife, he was tortured and beheaded for it.
Oh, and the date of his execution? February 14th.
At least that’s what some sources say.
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. Turns out the Romans were great record keepers, but their records had a regular habit of going up in flames and destroying large swathes of their history, including the trial, true identity and fate of Saint Valentine.
Furthermore, some historians believe that February 14th already had historical significance for the 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 difficult to be certain about any of this. From what I’ve read so far, the origins of Valentine’s Day and their connection to romance are, at best, hazy, speculative, and uncertain.
On the one hand, we have the secret wedding stuff which is very romantic. Then, on the other, we have torture and decapitation, events that are typically absent from your average romantic comedy.
In fact, the more I read about Saint Valentine the more I think making him the namesake for “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 all the uncertainty. I mean, think about it, the day we celebrate the mysterious, elusive, hard-to-define feeling that is love may well be named after a man who didn’t even exist!
And, if he did exist, his connection to romance is kind of vague.
When I look back on my own relationship history and all the confusion, 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!