Commonwealth Journal

Columns

February 14, 2012

Word Play

Love is all around us... so don't take it for granted

Somerset — Valentine’s Day is something that you have to just sort of ... survive.

For single people, that’s particularly true. Speaking as perhaps Somerset’s most eligible bachelor — if I were to get any more eligible, I could probably finagle my own reality show on ABC — I can tell you just about every paragraph in the “Valentine’s Day Survival Guide” handbook.

Denial? Check. Decry the holiday as a crass invention of the greeting card/floral/chocolate corporate machine? Check. Stay indoors? Check. Board up the windows and barricade the doors, a la “Night of the Living Dead”? Check and check.

None of it really helps though, not when you’re subjected to the sights and sounds of Valentine’s commercialization for weeks in advance, pretty much as soon as New Year’s Day ends. There are times when walking into the grocery store and immediately being confronted with a wall of red, heart-shaped balloons and an army of diaper-clad cherubs pointing their bows-and-arrows at you firing squad-style makes you think, “This is what hell must look like.” You half-expect to be guided down all nine circles of the inferno, witnessing weeping, gnashing of teeth, and torture-minded demons in the shape of giant plush teddy bears (occasionally dressed like Elvis).

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But the point is this: Being exposed to secondhand mushiness is harmful to your health. If Somerset’s officials are really so concerned about things like smoking in public places, maybe they should do something about Valentine’s pollution in our stores and what it does to the mental health and blood pressure levels of the lovelorn. I’d rather have the smoke, frankly.

Of course, it’s no picnic for the attached among us either. We’ve all seen the guy — or maybe you’ve even been the guy — aimlessly wandering the candy aisle at 5:45 p.m. on February 14, searching in desperation for a last-minute token of affection meant to stave off a stint in the doghouse more than anything else.

Personally, I kind of enjoy having the excuse to do something sappy and frivolous when I have the opportunity, but I’m weird like that. For people who aren’t hard-wired that way, there’s a lot of pressure involved here. Take the worst part of Christmas — the expectations that you MUST get someone a gift and the anxiety many associate with that custom — narrow it down to the one person whose emotions have the most direct impact on your own well-being, and remove all the fun stuff about Christmas (Santa, decorating the tree, watching Charlie Brown and the Grinch every year). There you go. That’s Valentine’s Day ... for most of the guys lucky enough to have a Valentine, anyway.

The dissatisfaction around the day leads to an oft-heard protest: Why limit expressions of love to this day? Shouldn’t that be something you do every day of the year? It’s pretty sad if you only bother to declare your feelings in the form of a heart-shaped box of chocolates once every February.

And to an extent, that’s true. That doesn’t mean that Valentine’s Day can’t serve a valuable purpose, though.

I think we really do overlook the people in our lives whom we love. Not just significant others, but parents, adult children (or maybe even young children), brothers, sisters, friends, mentors ... there’s a lot of different types of love out there, but how often do we tell these people that we love them in that way?

The ancient Greeks — who were pretty smart, all things considered — boiled love down into four distinct types: Agape (unconditional love, as you might feel for family, for your children, or in a more religious sense, what Christians believe that Jesus Christ felt for us on the cross); Eros (intimate, romantic, passionate love — the kind that tends to get stressed on Valentine’s Day); Phila (brotherly love, as in “Philadelphia” — friendship, loyalty, and a sense of community); and Storge (typically referring to familial affection).

The point? Love isn’t just something sugary we share with a romantic partner. Not to quote the British rock band The Troggs (and Bill Nighy’s character in “Love Actually”), but love is all around us — opportunities to love, opportunities to show love, and opportunities to receive it.

I think we take it for granted. I know I do. My family has always been there for me, ever since I was a little child. My friends put up with a lot of nonsense from me but do happily. Even my co-workers make me smile numerous times per day. I can honestly say I love virtually all these people in some form or fashion ... but I very rarely tell them that.

The reasons why we don’t are many. Sometimes it seems awkward to say. Sometimes you’re not sure how to express it. Sometimes you might not feel worthy of their love, and don’t want to bring it up. Much of the time, you’re simply too busy with life to focus on these things. They know you love them, right? Right. We’ll worry about telling them that later. One of these days.

Except we shouldn’t take it for granted. Love gets twisted, abused — more easily than we’d like to admit. Sitting in a newsroom with a police scanner, you hear about this frequently. Domestic disputes happen just about every day in this county. Husbands and wives fighting. Custody battles. Ex-boyfriends showing up at someone’s house, unable to let go. Parents and children at war with each other.

Sometimes it turns violent. Sometimes tension in the home results in battered spouses, or abused children. Jealousy can easily turn friendships sour. Paranoia and distrust creep into our lives and tear relationships apart.

This thing we call “love” — whomever we feel it for — is oh, so fragile. So many things can cause it damage. Our human weaknesses make sure of this. How often do those weaknesses manifest themselves, however, in comparison to the frequency with which we tell our loved ones how much they mean to us? I’m guessing that the ratio for many of us isn’t so great.

So use this Valentine’s Day as an opportunity. Come on, it’s just one day, right? You can do this. Whether you’re single, dating, married, divorced, a mom, a dad, a friend, a brother, a sister, whatever — use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to make the time to share your feelings with the person or people you love.

No more putting it off. Give them a call. Go out to lunch. Write them a letter. An email. Post it on Facebook. Heck, give in and buy a greeting card. Just make sure they know you aren’t taking their presence in your life for granted — it matters to you.

It doesn’t have to be a hollow day for gratuitous candy purchases. It can be a chance to renew the bonds you share with the truly important people in your live — a day when we celebrate all loves, not just greedy Eros.

That way, the next time you see that ominous cluster of red balloons in the store, it won’t fill you with a sense of dread. You’ll see it and it will remind you that, hey, someone actually cares about me, and I care about them too. That’s really pretty remarkable when you really think about it, isn’t it? All the things in life that could go wrong, that tear us apart, yet you still have this very human connection — it’s pretty special actually.

Remember this, and Valentine’s Day isn’t just about surviving crude heart shapes — it’s about enjoying the shape of your entire life.

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