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offbeat 13 February 2015

Tonight, Friday, a large part of the world will be painted in red and white. As it is a weekend, my guess is that festivities will extend for another day, at least for those who don’t get too deep into the spirits of the thing, and spend Saturday with crippling hangovers.

Welcome to Valentine’s Day 2015, new and improved with the opportunity of additional hours, all the way from Friday evening to Sunday morning. Do you have butterflies in your stomach? If yes, lucky you. If not, cheer up: your indifference or cynicism should come to an end by Tuesday, when the stories of romance lose their luster, and tales come to an end as well. I won’t go cynical yet, as there is too much darkness in the world, and the bright moments, the moon and stars in the middle of the night, make the darkness livable. The bright thing about Valentine’s Day is that some will be able to give expression to their romantic feelings. It may be fleeting, but perhaps the happiness they project will rub off on others. And perhaps for some of those people their happiness will stick for a while longer as they find contentment in being half of a happy couple. If you take the ugly consumerism and the nihilistic hedonism of uncommitted sex and large amounts of alcohol out of the mix, Valentine’s Day can be counted as one of the better festivals in the year. Given the combination of the optimistic desire of many couples, the fertility cycle and the personal pleasure I take in statistics, I imagine there will be a slight spike in children born in the middle of November. I hope those children will lead happy lives and celebrate their own happy Valentine’s in years to come. That’s my Disney Pollyanna moment. Now let’s head into the gloomy bits. Some of those couples will, unfortunately for them, find a degree of permanence, in long-term relationships, customary marriages or more legal and / or religious forms of marriage.  The unlucky ones will base their day-to-day interactions on expectations. They will want ceaseless romance, picture perfect lives and conformity to expectations. They will treat subjective hopes and beliefs as objective truths. And, as their hopes and beliefs begin to fail, they will attempt to bend  partners to their wills. Their tools will be imposition of unhappy, unwelcome religious and social conventions, as well as bullying, shouting, violence, and the whole gamut of the techniques of emotional blackmail. Some of them will retreat behind walls. As the coffee cups fly in malevolent trajectories, the hot flames of love will be doused with fear, depression, anger and cynicism.  The expected compromises will shape partners into beings who did not exist in the first flush of romance. Unlucky couples will wake up next to partners who they realise are complete strangers, people who they do not love. More attempts to shape partners to the early dream, and more frustration, will follow. Barbie and Ken will take on the aspects of unhappiness. Under these circumstances, Valentine’s Day can have some slight purpose. It is unlikely to be re-ignition of the flames and coals of romance, assuming they have been doused. What it might be is a truce. For the one day, red cards and roses can call for a brief cessation of hostilities instead of the  white flag. Gifts can reaffirm the economic value of the union. And perhaps the ceasefire can extend for a couple of days: moments of tranquility are important. Valentine’s Day has evolved to become a symbol of an ideal. Unfortunately ideal moments are rare: they have such a high value precisely because we are unaccustomed to them. The gritty reality of Valentine’s Day is that the Valentine’s Truce can be ideal as well.  The Bard said, “Love is not love. Which alters when it alteration finds.” The best way to approach Valentine’s Day and any moment of romance, is almost certainly not to go into it with any expectation beyond the joy of the moment, and appreciate the emotional memory of that moment, even when it is no longer there.

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