David Bouchier: The Valentine Contract

Feb 11, 2019

Just three days to go, and about half the population is worrying about what to do for Valentine’s Day, while the other half doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. It’s a difficult time, for romantics and cynics alike. The avalanche of red hearts, chocolates, sentimental cards, and expensive flowers that precedes Valentine’s Day can turn your heart to mush, or to stone. 

Valentine’s Day began in the 1800s as a special day for lovers, and would-be lovers. Things were very intense back then, between women and men. You only have to read Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontё, or watch any one of a dozen historical romances on TV, to appreciate the enormous importance attached to the intersection of money, love, and marriage 150 years ago.

We still attach enormous importance to money, love, and marriage. These themes dominate television soap operas, the pop music scene, and the huge romantic novel market. Never has love been so intensely promoted, and never has it been so difficult to find in real life.

The problem is that romantic love takes time, and nobody has any time.  This explains the enormous success of online dating services that cut through the tedious business of finding Mr. or Ms. Right and bring two hearts together electronically, with a minimum of time wasted. Even seniors citizens know that they don’t have time to find love the old fashioned way. 

Romantic love depended on suspense, distance and mystery. Long courtships were common, often carried on by letter, and sex was only a remote fantasy. Now there’s no suspense, no distance, and no mystery. Once the computer has brought them instantly together, lovers are as closely connected as any married couple.

But we don’t have problems with love just because of high-speed technology or our busy lives. We have problems because we don’t know what it is any more. Not only do women and men define love in different ways, but everybody defines it in different ways. You will love our burgers, says the fast food industry, and we are constantly invited to love cars, pop stars, smartphones, and floor wax, among many other things. The President, during his campaign, liked to open his arms and say, “I love you people.” Well, yes, I’m sure it’s true, but love in the 21st century takes some strange forms.

Because nobody understands love, if they ever did, it has been largely replaced by the term “Relationship” (with a capital R). A Relationship can be just about any affair that goes beyond a single night in a ski resort motel. A Relationship is more like a contract, which everybody understands. You can ask: is it is it enforceable, is it fair, do I lose or gain by it? Such questions rarely occur to the heroes and heroines of romantic stories.

The chilly legalistic language of Relationships makes one almost nostalgic for romantic love – the old-fashioned, uncontrollable, eternal kind that didn’t fizz out like a cheap firework on February 15, but lasted, if you were lucky, the entire year.

Copyright: David Bouchier