There are few things better than raiding the shelves of Walgreens the morning after Valentine’s Day in search of the half-off candy and chocolate hearts. And, of course, to witness the inevitable changing of the seasons as the chocolate Easter bunnies are immediately rushed out from the back room to be put on full display.
With the end of the Valentine’s season and the warmer days that follow, the entire fiasco of the holiday tends to sharpen into focus. Traversing the aisles of Walgreens, I often find myself asking — what was that all about?
This year, I found myself thinking about the many faces of love.
During the Valentine’s season, there are many platitudes thrown about in the air. When asked how she was spending Valentine’s Day, my friend responded, “probably go out for drinks with a few friends…” The look on the face of the person who asked the question (she was attached) said it all. She responded with a half-hearted “Oh it’s fine, Valentine’s is for the girls anyway…” almost sorry that she even asked the first question.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, in the deepest recesses of our hearts we know that Valentine’s in its modern form is not, in fact, “for the girls.”It is still very much defined “pair-wise” (as my Economics professors would say). Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I once wrote a column on how “Marriage is not dead.”
Yet, I think, it misses the point of a holiday that is meant to celebrate love. As an English major, my professors never let me forget that words have power. But as I quickly realized in a class I took last spring on literary translation, words also limit our field of vision. Contained within the word “love” exists dimensions and planes of understanding that the English language simply cannot capture. For example, the thinker C.S. Lewis wrote about how Classical Greek has no one single word for love.
There exists, of course “eros,” love in the romantic sense that we all are familiar with. Yet, there also exists “storge,” the sort of love that exists between family members or people who are bonded by chance. Consider for a moment how this flies in the face of all the messaging that comes with Valentine’s Day or things like Data Match. These things preach that in the realm of love, choice is king. If the algorithm can somehow magically best approximate a best partner for you by asking you about your favorite foods, MBTI, etc., then you will somehow be happy. But the radical proposition of “storge” is that profound love can exist even in relationships we did not actively choose. Though I did not choose to be born to my parents, I am fortunate to be able to say that I love them, and they me.
Then there is “philia,” the love between friends. “Philia” proposes something that is radically counter-cultural too. We might think that “Galentines” is inferior to “Valentine’s,” and “Friendsgiving” to “Thanksgiving”. After all, the way that these words are constructed inherently build upon and adulterate the original word. But especially to the Ancient Greeks, the sort of companionship and appreciation that one can find in friendship was not something to be belittled or cast aside.
And of course, as always, the punchline in Lewis’s writing — “agape”. Or the unconditional love of God. In Hebrew, it finds its parallel in the word “hesed”, commonly translated to mean “loving kindness” of God toward people. Whether you are religious or not, I think this idea has profound implications. The possibility that there exists a higher being whose love does not change with changing circumstances is an incredibly attractive idea. Of course, there are many nuances to this that theologians can probably explain better.
To consider Valentine’s Day, therefore, as a monolithic “eros” holiday misses the point. Love is far more complex than we think it to be, and complex beyond possible explanation in the English language. If you felt lonely this Valentine’s Day, it wasn’t because nobody loves you, as pop culture would have you believe. It’s simply that you’ve got the wrong definition of “love,” the wrong language. You are loved.
SHI WEN YEO edits the Opinion Desk. She is a senior in Morse College, majoring in English and Economics. Her fortnightly column “Through the stained glass” provides a look into campus and national issues from a religious perspective. She can be reached at email@example.com