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On love, money and Valentine's Day



After 18 years of nuptial bliss (and dross), it's difficult to think of different gifts or ideas for Valentine's Day. What's your take on it all? The cards and gifts? The meals and moves?

Figures representing different types of love. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonWhile I enjoy dining sans kids, I'm no besotted swain looking to win over a paramour. Cupid shot me in the arse a fair while back. I like the act of giving gifts — in some ways it's a way of expressing a symbolic debt — but, for me, Valentine's Day is a chance to say thanks to my partner for still being there, and for helping raise our kids and build a life. It's not so much a grand romantic gesture, then, as an annual placeholder for the heart.

To be fair, Australian males are not necessarily recognised the world over as the most ardent or demonstrative of lovers. And to be candid, Valentine's Day is built on some fairly shaky historical ground.

There are at least three Valentines (all martyrs, ironically) who are recognised as saints by the Catholic Church. One Valentinus was said to have ignored a Claudian edict for soldiers to be single, by marrying young lovers on the sly. The historicity of that account may be on a par with the various Saint Nicholases paving the way for Santa Claus to barge his way down our chimneys each Christmas.

A more likely suggestion is that the early church popped St Valentine's feast day on to appropriate the 'Lupercalia' fertility rites (15 February), when the pagans would get down and dirty to honour their agricultural deities.

Rather than honouring a prelate offering bridal trysts, or hoping for a good harvest, I'm inclined to spare a thought for the Greek philosophers and poets who set up shop well before Romulus and Remus; I like to muse over their various efforts to pin down love.

The word philía, which we use left, right and centre as a descriptive suffix, means a deep affection; an abiding friendship between equals. In these respect-driving, Me Too times, this is a much more realistic description in relationships; it's especially true in most long-term relationships when ardour is on a slow burn rather than a blaze. The laughter and conversations I share with my significant other are just as valued as our caresses and embraces.  


"The long-standing bet for us, on those rare occasions my wife and I escape for a bite together, is to see who can go the longest without name-dropping the progeny. The loser picks up the cheque."


That's not to say that I (or we, more aptly) have forsaken éros: the sensual, sexual intimacy of shared breath and entwined bodies. Passion is the origin of us all and the sustenance for many people, and the motivator for Valentine's Day's countless bottles of vino, strawberries, oysters, boxes of chocolates, bouquets etc.

Singleness is a gift for some and a curse for others, as are intimate relationships; it's a deeply foolhardy move to look at someone else's life and attempt to gauge their happiness or sorrow.

That relative latecomer to lust, the scholar, Christian apologist and Narnia writer C. S. Lewis, was deeply suspicious of 'Eros in all his splendour [who] may urge to evil as well as good ... mercilessly chaining together two mutual tormentors, each raw all over with the poison of hate-in-love'. Ouch. I'm inclined to think life was a lot sweeter for old Clive after he met, wedded and bedded Joy Gresham, but that's between them. Their story, as with all of our stories, has enough twists and turns to put philosophers to shame.

Lewis was much more comfortable addressing agape — a selfless, Celestial love attributed to the mysteries beyond human ken. Thomas Aquinas defined loving agape style as choosing 'to will the good of another'.

On my best days, I exercise that kind of selflessness. Like most of us, however, I'm much more familiar with the concept of philautia — love for one's own self. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as 'self-love; self-conceit; undue regard for oneself or one's own interests'. You can pop my photograph there for illustrative purposes most days. Are you any different?

For couples with kids, storge (generally accompanied by fatigue and fiscal woes) is a constant emotion; the abiding, tender love of a parent for a child. In some relationships, one adult treats the other like a child; not the desired emotion I'd suggest. Storge brings out the best in me and my partner; being a parent has made me a lot less selfish as a partner.

The long-standing bet for us, on those rare occasions my wife and I escape for a bite together, is to see who can go the longest without name-dropping the progeny. The loser picks up the cheque (I generally win that wager).

If you are in a relationship, whether or not you spare a thought for Saint Valentine, I wish you pragma: the love that is demonstrated in years lived in happiness and spared resolve, outliving the hormones and adrenaline of those first heady encounters.

Regardless of your relational or marital status, I wish you peace and fulfilment. Happy Valentine's Day.



Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Valentine's Day



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Existing comments

For some strange reason the first thing that springs to my mind on Feb 14th is the St Valentine's Day massacre in the American gang wars of the prohibition era!

john frawley | 13 February 2019  

One needs to take St Valentine's Day seriously. And so I have consulted my Penguin Encyclopedia. I am informed that there is a traditional English belief that birds choose their mates on this day. Tellingly, St Valentine's Day occurs after St Tropez, the resort on the Mediterranean Sea and before St Vincent, the island (volcanic in origin) in the Caribbean. Very helpful!

Pam | 13 February 2019  

In 1950s Melbourne the practice among us teenagers was to let a teenager of the opposite sex know, anonymously, either by sending a message (usually an illustrated note in verse) or a small present (beautifully wrapped), that she/he was the object of one's interest at some point on the Love spectrum from admiration or attraction right through to yearning or zealous desire. If one didn't receive feedback by lunchtime, then sad to say the Cupid's arrow one had shot had not hit its mark. I don't know when Hallmark or some other greeting card company realised the commercial potential of this message sending business, but I think it took all the guesswork (The Mystery and the Romance?) out of the transaction. Nowadays IT has rendered messaging absolutely devoid of Love, Mystery and Romance. And so I sit here, typing this comment, while waiting anxiously for my mobile phone to notify me that there has been a reply to my Valentine Day's e-card greeting. And so I conclude: "Good morrow, friends, Saint Valentine is past Begin these wood-birds but to couple now." (A Midsummer Night's Dream: Act IV)

Uncle Pat | 14 February 2019  

Thanks Barry for that overview. I love your yearly bet over dinner!

Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 14 February 2019  

Thank you for Tis reflection on St. Valentine'. I am actually a religious sister. I find your reflection both moving and uplifting. God bless you and all faithful parents who are such an example of God'unconditional love. Margaret

Margaret lamb | 15 February 2019  

It’s all about sex. St Valentine Day cards are a runaway commercial success, all because of sexual attraction. But my description is far too crass, to express something so awe-inspiring, even threatening. So we wisely dip our toes into our relationships by writing our own personal message (or even by a mass-produced email), or by a little present, a shared meal, an invitation to walk together. The important thing is that we reach out to him/her and it involves an element of risk – we never know exactly how the other will respond. But what a gift from God! As for St Valentine, let’s not allow the facts to spoil a good story – that would be like focussing on why we celebrate Christmas on 25 December instead of enjoying the wonder of the event. Ron 14 February 2019

Ron Pirola | 16 February 2019  

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