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The Australian love story



Did you make the annual obeisance to St Valentine’s Day traditions [read purchases] on the 14th? Last year, Australians were projected to spend $1.1 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts as St Valentine’s Day was lauded and backed by marketers, glamorising Romantic ardour and infatuation, glorious, all-consuming passion, and a thirst for intimacy and transcendence.

But we are not renowned for our Great Love Stories, we Australians. CJ Dennis’ Bill the Sentimental Bloke and Doreen come to mind, perhaps, or Ramsay Street’s Scott and Charlene. But the ballad of Bob and Hazel, then Bob and Blanche, or the saga of Paul Hogan and Noelene, closely followed by Hoges and Linda, can serve to remind us the path of true love ne’er does run smooth.

We want to be part of a couple, and that is possible. But it has not always been thus. Think of poor Abelard, castrated for wooing Heloise. Mourn the wit and joy that was Oscar Wilde, monstered when his romance with Lord Alfred Douglas came to light. Lament the loneliness, shame and criminal abuse endured by code-cracking genius Alan Turing, who was chemically rendered inert sexually and driven to a sad death.

Our understanding of intimacy has deepened, as we’ve recognised that gender and orientation are more complex and fraught than various traditions and dogma allowed. Today’s famous lovers, be they Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi, or George Clooney and Amal Clooney (nee Alamuddin), demonstrate that Western culture is now more inclusive and accepting of difference, more generous of spirit, than in previous eras.

And yet rather than our loves being free to soar, I think most of us waddle, weighed down by the amassed sum of expectations we feel and place on our lover. We have never before put so much pressure on a solitary human relationship to be our all in all. Our monogamous ideal and our projected ideal relationship — our demanding love of love — means we expect our soulmate / best friend to bring us emotional, sexual, social, psychological and spiritual fulfillment.


'But the bulk of humanity are looking to belong to someone who values them and will cherish them. Someone who is ‘their’ mate; who wants them, needs them and will treasure them.'


This is not as it has always been. The 17th/18th century gurus of Enlightenment thinkers are said to have ‘pioneered the idea that life was about the pursuit of happiness. They advocated marrying for love rather than wealth or status.’ 

Therapist and author Esther Perel, in a popular 2017 Valentine’s Day Design Matters podcast, points to the fact that ‘Love was a byproduct [of marriage, and] Romanticism is the great engine of the Western psyche; it has captivated us like no other... we tried to merge the “love story” and the “life story”.’

‘For most of history, marriage was an economic enterprise, around duty and obligation. The marriage was between two families, not two individuals [so] love may be there, but it’s not the thing that organises it [and] the only exit was early death…

‘At the end of the nineteenth century with the rise of Romanticism, urbanisation, the move to the cities away from the villages, the rise of individualism, industrialisation, all these big movements, we bring love to marriage…

‘Then, not only do we bring love to marriage, but then we bring sex to love. For the first time we [linked] sexual satisfaction with marital happiness…’

Still, pledging your troth is a big ask, and an ongoing, reliable source of income for lawyers and counsellors. Weighed against the vagaries of fortune, of personality and circumstances, the demands we make on our significant others are often too much. Perhaps in our need and/or greed, we cry out for an archipelago of loves, not some solitary island.

Younger generations increasingly look with suspicion on the mating rituals of their parents and grandparents. Some consider marriage ‘outdated’ and hardly essential for fulfillment, especially young women, and parenthood holds a lesser appeal.

Of course, many people are co-habiting without the social rubber stamp of matrimony, or even the Romantic notion of ‘happy every after’. Post no-fault marriage in this nation, a sensible acknowledgement of our human frailty, we have increased the capacity to alter life choices. De facto relationships are matter of fact, not maligned. At least, not by many. In 1975, only 16 per cent of marriages were ‘preceded by cohabitation’. By 2017, however, more than 80 per cent of us were trying it out before we took the plunge into matrimonial shoals.

We all know serial monogamists who move on from experience to experience, searching for the perfect; the new; something authentic; something stimulating beyond their tiredness; hoping for a change or a freedom that they don’t think can be realised with their partner. De facto commitments, marriages, arrangements – they provide a harbour, as of course do platonic and non-sexual/romantic partnerships. The logical questions we never address are when and why did people pull into port? Why do they like where they are berthed? How long do they want to be there, before they set sail again?

In Australia, some 33 per cent of marriages end in divorce and 2019 statistics show the average marriage lasts a tad over 12 years.

Pressures and expectations aside, we can appreciate what it is to be close to someone; intimate with someone. To rely on them, laugh with them, hunger for them. The annual splurges to demonstrate that appreciation, even compounded and urged on by consumerism, don’t seem that big a deal when we think of what life would be like by ourselves. Alone, unheld, unheeded.

Being single can be a gift, and can liberate, just ask those people who identify as asexual, or people who have chosen to be celibate for spiritual or personal reasons. But the bulk of humanity are looking to belong to someone who values them and will cherish them. Someone who is ‘their’ mate; who wants them, needs them and will treasure them. Against the odds, that does happen for many people. If that is your dream, then may it be so for you.


Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: A woman delivers roses in the central business district during Valentines Day. (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, 2022, St valentine's Day, Romance, love


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Existing comments

A meaningful and evocative article; thanks dear Barry.

Maybe there is something more, though, that could make all the difference. Being commanded to love one another to the limit, just as God in Jesus Christ perseveringly willed and wills to love us, surely enlarges our perspective.

We are helped when talented musicians show us a vision in today's idiom, of deeply devotional love, as a living benchmark, able to interpenetrate and elevate all those diverse behaviors spoken of as love.

Elle Limebear: First Love + Obsession (Live with Bright City) - YouTube

Ever in the grace & mercy of Jesus; love & blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 15 February 2022  

No doubt there are many pertinent points within your article but nevertheless, I do wonder why it is that longevity is so often implied as the main marker of success, rather than quality and honesty and the courage it can take to move on from a relationship that may have, for a range of genuine reasons, run its eventual course. Many people have had friendship, love, wonderful children and deep, worthwhile, learning experiences that - while not necessarily culminating in a lifetime relationship - have overall served them, those around them and the world warmly and well. To all those who have contributed wisely and bravely I say - you have most certainly not 'failed'.

Helen Linke | 15 February 2022  
Show Responses

This response might work for atheists. It doesn’t if you believe that the Christian God is real.

‘why it is that longevity is so often implied as the main marker of success’

Because Love is patient.

‘quality and honesty and the courage it can take to move on’

If Jesus used this excuse to divorce you, you wouldn’t be happy. Sacramental marriage isn’t a couple freelancing their version of affection. Human marriage is prefigured by the bond between Christ and his Church and humans are re-enacting that bond when they marry sacramentally.

‘a relationship that may have, for a range of genuine reasons, run its eventual course’

Love doesn’t die but it can be abandoned. There were, after all, some solemn promises made as preconditions for the sacrament. So, there are no genuine reasons, just a multiplicity of excuses for abandoning sacramental promises.

‘have overall served them, those around them and the world warmly and well’

In situations like these, look below and you’ll see only one set of footprints in the sand. The fact that consequences were ameliorated by Mercy doesn’t mean that the decisions which led to them were virtuous or that they were without grave consequence.

roy chen yee | 19 February 2022  

Very well said, dear Roy.

In leaning over backwards to please everyone, Catholics have forgotten our covenant is to please God.

If only the Church in Australia put those like you in charge of Marriage Preparation we'd see more unshakeable and lasting holy marriages in our land.

Ever in Jesus Christ; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 22 February 2022  

My wife and I have been married for 50 years (6 kids), still deeply in love and demonstrating it every day, it's just a choice to choose to love instead of choosing negative emotions, isn't that the reason we are all on this journey.

Neville Hunt | 16 February 2022  

Are there others who're surprised how few comments there are on this rich article of Barry's?

The lovely nuns who taught me my Catholic faith were full of reflections on love among us Christians.

Also, I recall a memorable summary of Faith, Hope, & Love: Faith follows; Hope rejoices; & Love gives.

This has just appeared on the web, and seems pertinent: Romans 13:8: "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." In what way is love the fulfillment of the law? The text in Romans goes on to explain: "For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:9–10).

St Paul says something similar in Galatians 5:14: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" In short, the Old Testament law was aimed at love. To love others, then, would be to fulfill the Law. Many of the specific laws detailed what loving others looks like in daily practice.

Jesus instructed us that love as the essence of the Law when He replied to a Pharisee's question about the greatest commandment. Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37–40).

Loving God and loving others essentially sums up the Mosaic law. Thus love is the fulfillment of the Law.

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament law in its entirety (Matthew 5:17–18). He lived a perfect life, died on the cross as a payment for our sins, and rose to life victorious over sin and death. Christ made the old covenant obsolete and instituted a New (and better) Covenant (Hebrews 8:1—10:25). But love is still God's command for the godly. Jesus tells believers: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34–35). Doesn't that mean Catholicism is all about love?

Since we are saved by God's grace through faith (Ephesians 2:1–10), it's not through any law nor our ability to love others. When we are reborn, we are made a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We receive the indwelling Holy Spirit who works to transform us to be more like God (Ephesians 1:3–14; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:12–13; Romans 8:28–30). We have freedom in Christ and are not bound to Old Testament laws, but God still has expectations. We obey Jesus out of our love for Him and because of the changes He makes in our hearts (John 15:1–11). We are freed from sin and to righteousness (Romans 6:15–23). The more we grow in the love of Jesus Christ, the more we reflect Him; the more we develop a life of self-giving love for others, even for our enemies. The more Catholic we are?

Jesus emphasized: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:12–14). Jesus is the perfect example of love. When we love like that, we demonstrate Christ to the world. The Old Testament law reflects God's character, and it is summed up in love. We who have been made children of God through the New Covenant (John 1:12; Galatians 4:4–7) should reflect our King, by our manifest love.

1 John 4:7–12 explains, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and divine love is perfected in us." Could it be any clearer?

In short, love is the fulfillment of the Law in that the Old Testament law relates to interactions with others, encapsulated in the singular command to love. Love is the command of Jesus. When we love others, we are doing the will of God.

It must be obvious that this love is God's own love: a self-sacrificial love aimed at the good of the other. In Greek, it is the word agape. As Barry shows us, many today use the word "love" to mean a variety of different things, including even affirming others in rejecting God. But that is not loving in the larger perspective.

For Catholics, genuine love is rooted in the truth of who God is (Ephesians 4:15–16). The love that fulfills the law is love that reflects God's character and attributes, including mercy, grace, holiness, and justice. If "love" is not rooted in the truth of God, it is not godly love; not a love able to sweep us of our feet and into eternal union with Christ and the millions of women and men of every culture who have learned to love God with all their heart and mind and soul and strength.

In these days of 'sexual revolution' we increasingly befuddled without the Divine perspective, instructing and validating our own diverse efforts at loving others, including (especially) loving the so-called 'unlovable'.

Dr Martin James Rice | 17 February 2022  
Show Responses

‘For Catholics, genuine love is rooted in the truth of who God is (Ephesians 4:15–16). The love that fulfills the law is love that reflects God's character and attributes, including mercy, grace, holiness, and justice. If "love" is not rooted in the truth of God, it is not godly love….’

Thanks, Marty. And for a Catholic to know God, s/he has, at least, to have a sense of epistemology and ontology, if not to be an epistemologist and ontologist. Christianity is an intellectual pursuit, even if atheists scoff at it as being mere emotion and wishful thinking.

Dr. Ben Rich, who writes a contemporaneous article, has, among other research interests, something called the ontology of security. If the concept of ontology is necessary for the temporal realm, why is it not so for the spiritual realm into which the temporal realm will eventually dissolve?

roy chen yee | 18 February 2022  

Thanks, dear Ray,

You are right: could there be anything more ontological than our certainty that God, who is Spirit, is love, and the source of all that is . . .

Blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 21 February 2022  

Actual historical details of the life of St Valentine are thin. He was martyred. 'Love' is one of those words. I think it was C S Lewis who said you can attribute many meanings to it. 'Love' can redeem and vivify, or destroy. Somerset Maugham, in his Malaya stories shows how destructive 'love' can be. I remember, years ago, in the foetid heat of Jakarta, being with a friend writing a letter to his exwife to enclose with the alimony cheque. It began: 'I am writing to you to tell you I have nothing to say'. My friend had and has a number of problems. I have to be very careful not to play Fr Brown to him. 'Love', at least in the Christian context, is ultimately about Redemption. Redemption cost. Few people IMHO are prepared to pay the price.

Edward Fido | 19 February 2022  
Show Responses

Thanks for that truly-heartfelt cry, dear Edward.

You are SO right in saying that "love costs"; few knew the extent and severity of that cost more than Paul the Apostle, yet he instructs (1 Cor 14:1a): "Pursue love . . . ".

Some translations have: "Chase after love . . ." The Jerusalem Bible instructs: "You must want love more than anything else . . ." Paul also teaches us that the most enduring part of our lives will be our genuine love of God and others.

Having experienced a massive conversion to Christ, Paul knew our need for a detailed program to help us learn to pursue love, so he teaches (1 Cor 13:4-7): "Be always patient and kind; never jealous, boastful or conceited; never rude or selfish; never taking offense nor being resentful; always delighting in the truth; never pleased by other people's sins but ready to find excuses for them; facing up to the manifest challenges of life with an ever-growing trust and hope in God."

Many churchgoers and clerics are intimidated by this. They fail to grasp it is a process fostered by Jesus Christ in our hearts (2 Cor 15:5). We are never alone but have unlimited resources to help us grow in love, no matter how unloving our initial state. Do we have faith in what God has provided?

In that sense, the only real sin is to refuse to allow The Shepherd to guide us, day by day, year by year, into God's way of self-giving love.

God is not looking for perfect people but for we, imperfects, who need healing and are ready to accept a helping hand to guide us in the way of love. This is the way that cannot fail!

As beloved apostle, John, eulogizes: "It is not that we loved God but that God loved us."

Always in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ; love and blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 21 February 2022  


Please read 2 Cor 13:5 rather than 2 Cor 15:5.

Dr Marty Rice | 21 February 2022  

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