With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, I am reminded that this day is not an easy one for many. Some of us are excitedly preparing that great night with the one we love and others of us are shuddering at the thought of another year alone. Many of us are only reminded of the heartbreak and betrayal that has pierced our hearts. Or, we may have lost a loved one through death and this day is an anguish filled reminder of that loss. Many, understandably so, have bagged this Hallmark holiday altogether. And friends, I am with you. I too have experienced excruciating heartbreak and loss during my life and, while I am proud to have come through it, I am not unscarred. This box of chocolates and roses holiday just doesn’t seem to cut it for me either. So, this year, I have found myself asking: Is there a deeper meaning in this holiday that seems so frivolous? What is the message of Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day, also known as the Feast of Valentine, was originally a Roman festival called Lupercalia, dedicated to the god Lupercus. Like many pagan holidays and festivals, the Catholic church eventually replaced the image of the god Lupercus with that of Valentine in attempt to override this pagan festival. Over time, this succeeded and the day became referred to as “Valentine’s Day”. So what made Valentine so special to have his own holiday? Valentine was a Roman priest who lived at a time of extreme persecution that included forbidding couples to marry. The idea was that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers and therefore, to advance the Roman kingdom, marriage was outlawed. Valentine was appalled at not only how this law promoted polygamy, but how couples who truly loved each other were forbidden from committing fully to each other. So what did he do? He risked his life by secretly marrying lovers in the Catholic Church. For years he snuck couples into the church and helped them make deep, lasting commitments to each other. And he was eventually killed for it. He risked his life to give others the chance for deep, committed love. Beautiful. I’d eat a box of chocolates in honor of him for that.
So, I’ve been thinking, if Valentine lived today, what would his purpose be? In many ways, like the lovers of St. Valentine, we are alienated from deep love. We live in a culture permeated with messages of “you will only be worthy of love if you_______”(fix this, slim down, bulk up, etc). Thanks to technology, we have exposure to more of everything we can grasp at to fill us. Instead of looking inward at our relationships and focusing on growing together, we have more access than ever before to other people who we think will “fix” us when we aren’t satisfied in our relationships (did anyone read the study that came out recently about the correlation of Facebook and divorce? If not, read a synopsis of it here). When our partners hurt us, all we need to do is turn to the next thing, or the next person, and we will be “fixed”. And in every attempt to keep filling ourselves we become….Empty. This is because what we really lack is true, nourishing self -love from within. As long as we are hoping for anything external to fill us, we will always come up empty. The more I ponder this, the more I believe that if St. Valentine were living today, his message would be about deep, soul full, self- love.
Contrary to what we tend to believe, deep love for others can only begin with deep love for ourselves. This is not selfishness- this is self- care. When we approach love without this nourishment, we can only grapple at others to fill us. And each time they disappoint us ( and they will disappoint us- here is the great lie of the 21st century- nothing external on this earth can fill us), we will turn around empty, looking for the next thing. Here’s the truth: Every one of you is a beautiful human who deserves deep love. And it waits right inside of you. You have the key to access it. You have the key to deep love.
This begins by creating space for nourishing, self compassion and care. This is NOT “I am going to binge drink this weekend because I worked so hard this week and I deserve it”. This is the kind of nourishing, intuitive “What does my heart, body, and soul need” kind of self -care. This is the “I think my body is asking for an apple instead of these Doritos”, or “I am going to give myself grace today by drinking tea and taking a nap because my heart feels broken and it’s okay to rest”, or “I feel good when I’m in the forest so I’m going to the mountains” kind of self-care. When we engage with ourselves in this process, we find a well of deep love and nourishment right within our own hearts. We fill our own love bucket. And what happens next? We are able to deeply love others. When our own personal love bucket is full, we can engage in true, authentic love with those around us.
So what would Valentine say? Bring on the self-love this week. Whether you are single or in a relationship, take time to love yourself. Take yourself on a date. Do it. I will be so proud of you for trying it. Buy yourself chocolates. Write a poem about how glorious you are.
And then, after you have done this, look around you. The world is beautiful. There are people in it who need you. Find them. And love them.
Happy Valentine’s Day.