As a service to our readers, I resisted writing about Valentine’s Day until after the 14th had a chance to work its magic. It wouldn’t be fair to local merchants to muse about the holiday being a hype to sell candy, flowers and teddy bears from China. And it wouldn’t help the general state of love and romance to complain once again about the vice that Valentine’s Day tightens on lovers and those without love: Like New Year’s Eve, there’s pressure on all sides. And while Valentine’s Day celebrates love – and after-Christmas retailing – the year since last Valentine’s Day has been a bumpy ride for love.
I’ll be generalizing here, but that’s also a big part of Valentine’s Day. We exchange trinkets that reduce the complex emotional and interpersonal machinery of long-term relationships to a ribbon on a stuffed toy that reads, “Can’t Bear to Be Without You.” That was okay in grade school, when a Flintstone Valentine in a thin paper envelope pitched a simple request such as “Cave In and Be My Valentine” or “Please Say You Yabba Dabba Do.”
Then we moved on to those hard candies with the curt imperative demands, such as “Be Mine.” That doesn’t really hold up against all we now know about the demands of relationships. Be yours? Be owned by you? No way. Can you get “Be an equal and supportive life partner who fully explores their individuality” on a heart-shaped mint three eighths of an inch across?
Unfortunately, the hurdles for love now are far greater than improving the language on candy. To use a timely weather reference, love today must first dig itself out from under 70 inches of social and cultural snow before it can get to work.
A 2005 study widely publicized in January revealed that 51 percent of women live without a spouse, up from 49 percent in 2000. The whole proposition of marriage has been daunting for at least the last 30 years. While people often quote that half of marriages fail, census numbers show that in 2002 only 59 percent of the U.S. was married, down from 62 percent in 1990. Okay, I guess you can use that half thing if you want.
Wanting babies doesn’t drive love to the altar like it used to, since medical science and international adoption are creating more single-parent families. Many might agree with me that there’s a skeptical malaise regarding long-term relationships that is contributing to these negative numbers on marriage.
But is marriage the only acceptable end game of love? Popular movies would have you think so. Friends who like going to weddings and guzzling at open bars might tell you that. Ditto hotels, caterers, magazines and five-piece soft rock cover bands. Hour after hour of “reality” television is predicated on a marriage finale. Only love itself might think otherwise.
For love, of late, seems to take a hit nearly every day. The mayor of San Francisco beds another man’s wife and then rather than proclaiming any love for her, implies that he was drunk and runs to rehab. Nice all around for the woman involved. Ellen DeGeneres boldly stands up for a long-term relationship, then her partner announces she’s out and maybe she likes guys again. K-Fed gets his ass kicked as a loser while he’s married to Brittney, then he gets it pummeled when the intelligent, super-talented Mother of the Year dumps him.
Too bad. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have reported that lonely people have a greater risk of developing late-life dementia, the kind associated with Alzheimer’s. Their study indicates that people older than 80 were twice as likely to lose mental acuity when they were, by their own descriptions, lonely. Men won’t say so, but they know they are better men with a woman in their lives whom they honestly care for. And every woman wanting to give love deserves to feel it received, even if that signal comes stapled to a stuffed bear. I just hope love can find its way through the snow.