Before it was ever a profitable retail holiday, or a heart-shaped box of chocolates, or a handwritten card from a kindergartener, Valentine wasn’t just a day on the calendar. Valentine was a person. A venerated saint of the Catholic Church.
According to Roman Catholic tradition, Saint Valentine, in the third century, secretly officiated weddings when it was illegal to do so. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than married men. So he outlawed marriage.
Saint Valentine, believing this law to be unjust, secretly officiated the weddings of young lovers until he was discovered by the emperor. He was then sentenced to death. This is where our tradition of flowers, cards and candy comes from.
It may seem strange for marriage to be outlawed, but today we have a similar problem. Marriage isn’t illegal now like it was under Emperor Claudius II, of course. But it is often discouraged and thought of as an end to your personal freedom, joy and even your love life.
We celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of romance, rather than a day of devoted love. But what if true committed love is what Valentine’s Day was really meant to be about?
Our culture values hooking up over real love, living together over lifelong commitment and following your heart over keeping your word.
But that’s not what Valentine’s Day was meant to be about.
On an Episode of This American Life called “The Not-So-Great Unknown,” producer David Kestenbaum interviewed Astronaut Frank Borman of the Apollo 8 mission. Kestenbaum asked Borman what it was like to be one of the first people to reach the moon and orbit it. But Boreman was unemotional.
He answered, “Space and science fiction still bore me.” He said he joined the mission to beat Russia. Very few things could impress him.
During the interview, Kestenbaum asked Borman a personal question. “Are you a romantic person?”
Borman: “I think in some ways I am. I get emotional at good movies at times, and things like that.”
Kestenbaum: “What movies do you watch?”
Borman: “Probably the best movie that I’ve ever seen is Casa Blanca…”
Kestenbaum: “Why do you like Casa Blanca?”
Borman: “Casa Blanca was a wonderful wartime story of the recognition that a good cause is more important than a human relationship… Win the war and lose the woman is what that was all about.”
Kestenbaum: “That’s the opposite of romantic.”
Borman: “No, it’s very romantic.”
At the end of the episode we find out Borman’s wife, Susan, has Alzheimer’s.
“I’m with her every day,” Borman says. “And she can’t walk or talk. She can’t feed herself. It’s very difficult.”
And David Kestenbaum ends the story with this: “Which is either the least romantic thing you can think of, or just the opposite.”
A love story like this seems to have no place in Valentine’s Day. But maybe that’s the problem. We celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day of romance, rather than a day of devoted love. But what if true committed love is what Valentine’s Day was really meant to be about?
Emperor Claudius II was fine with people enjoying their sexuality apart from love or marriage. He had no problem with romance, as long as it was divorced from commitment. But Saint Valentine fought for devoted love.
If we really want to celebrate the true meaning of Valentine’s Day (i.e. honoring St. Valentine), we must celebrate unconditional and committed love, rather than the fleeting feelings of romance.
Editor’s Note: For a great resource on this subject, click to download my free ebook, “6 Lies You Need To Stop Believing About Marriage.”