"There is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved: It is God's finger on man's shoulder."
My friend Suzanne, who's known me for at least half of my life and cares about me deeply, called me a "singleton" last year. As a hopeless romantic, I was quite stung by this (affectionate) description: no-one who loves the idea of being in love and identifies themselves with loving others wants to be seen as unloved. She also told me I should have been born in medieval times, when princesses lived in ivory towers and knights were bold. I don't believe the flats that have sprung up at the end of my little street really qualify as an ivory tower, and although there are some very fine and bold men in hosiery and thigh-high boots around Brighton, my guess is they're not out to dally with a damsel.St Valentine's Day is, of course, an exercise in canny consumerism, exploiting the poetry of flattery and the currency of insecurity.The Catholic Church doesn't even fully verify that there was indeed one saintly Valentine whose story peculiarly lends him to the patronage of romantic love. There have been several sainted Valentines in fact: today's feast day may be an amalgamated celebration of their kindly and chivalrous traits.
The Ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia was devoted to love and fertility and occurred around the middle of February. By all accounts, the festival could be a bit of a riot, sometime even involving sacrifices; it was abolished by Pope Gelasius in the fifth century. It's been claimed that during Lupercalia, men drew women's names out of a jar at random, then coupled with them, probably just as randomly. Hmm, not a whole lot of chivalrous love going on there then.The practice was reintroduced in the Middle Ages, but in a more modified way: names would be drawn to initiate courting couples; the origin of today's guess-who-it-is Valentine cards?
The earliest recorded association of today's date with romantic or courtly love is credited to one Geoffrey Chaucer in "The Parlement of Foules", in 1392. "Courtly love" applied the language of the law courts to the intrigues and rituals of attraction and romance; courtship. Around 1400, Princess Isabel of Bavaria established a "High Court of Love" in Paris, dealing with love contracts, betrayals and indiscretions and violence against women. The court was founded on 6th January, the feast day of a Bavarian saint named Valentin. Today, we have the Jeremy Kyle Show.
The medieval concept of courtly love was noble and chivalrous; although it was usually conducted in secret. And it wasn't expected to be practiced between husbands and wives: marriage was often a detached, contractual matter involving allegiances, land and titles. Essentially, courtly love embraced erotic desire and spiritual attainment; it was at once both illicit and morally idealistic. It was innocence, tenderness, devotion and passion. I agree Suzie; get me to an ivory tower and quick. And yet this evening, on a feast steeped in the traditions of erotic love at it's purest and most self-sacrificing, my local tavern is proudly advertising it's "Valentine's Day Speed Dating Massacre". With reduced booze. And scampi. Dear Lord. Such things can only have a kindly-hearted singleton running for the chamomile and honey, clutching "The Complete Robert Burns".
Whatever the origins and associations of the feast, whether there was one St Valentine or twenty, the truth is that love and romance can be very much alive today. Love isn't restricted to an era, a class or to dramatic situations. It lives in hearts and minds, in familiarity and the every-day, irrespective of ivory towers or high-rises. Like Kindness and Fidelity, two of it's offspring, it's often depicted as a weakness or feyness nowadays, particularly in men, but I agree with Gandhi that love is the prerogative of the brave. There's a feeling of kinship in romantic love that empowers and engenders a will to protect as much as to be supported. The bonds of true love may be imperceptible, but they can be inexorably binding.
Do I believe all this? Yes. Do I still want to be princess-lifted out of my own little ivory tower? Yep. Did I get any Valentine's cards today? Er...no. Suzanne would say I don't put myself "out there", although I dread to think where "there" may be. Certainly not my local boozer. And like most so-called singletons, there's a lot going on in here. I'm a bit in love with where I live, I love my friends and family, I'm soppy with next door's cat and Jonathan the Seagull (treats the back garden like a hotel); I love my faith in other people and in God. I rather like my blog. I still love the idea of being in love; I believe in marriage, not just as a social institution but as a sacrament. There are a lot of us about; intelligent, practical, independent people who believe that love is for every day, not just for 14th February.
Many wonderful people have spoken beautifully about love in all it's guises of course, infinitely more eloquently than I ever could. I've included a luxury selection of quotes here; like chocolates for the soul, the sort you should never give up for Lent. I've also included Van Morrison's lovesong "Have I Told you Lately"; he wrote it less than twenty five years ago, but it's rightly acclaimed alongside the works of Burns and Dante. Originally written as a prayer, it's just timeless; it will probably remain one of the most played wedding waltzes for the next few decades.
If love didn't appear to come through you front door today, or even pop up on your iPhone or laptop screen, may it find you in the pockets of wherever you call home, and may you greet it in the corners of your smile.
"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage."
"Where there is Love there is Life."
"A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge."
"Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit."
"Love is a friendship set to music."
"My love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melody
That's sweetly played in tune."
"Let no one who loves be unhappy, even love unreturned has its rainbow."
(James M. Barrie)
"Love is the magician that pulls man out of his own hat."
"Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier."
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
(Martin Luther King Jr)
"Forgiveness is the final form of love."
"I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit."
"Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another."
"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."
"A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love."
"For love alone can awaken what is divine within you. In love, you grow and come home to your self."
"Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls."
"Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair."
(G K Chesterton)
"Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age."
"Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies."
"Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love."
(St Francis of Assisi)
"Love and desire are the spirit's wings to great deeds."
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
"Real friendship or love is not manufactured or achieved by an act of will or intention. Friendship is always an act of recognition."
"Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds."
"For true love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have."
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
"The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others."
(Vincent Van Gogh)
"To love another person is to see the face of God."
"Marriage is not a noun; it's a verb. It isn't something you get. It's something you do. It's the way you love your partner every day."
(Barbara de Angelis)
"Real intimacy is a sacred experience."
"The motto of chivalry is also the motto of wisdom; to serve all, but love only one."
(Honore de Balzac)
"Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met - or never parted -
We had ne'er been broken hearted."
"You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams."
"Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail."
"You are like nobody since I love you."
"Have I Told You Lately" Van Morrison
"Oh the morning sun in all its glory
Greets the day with hope and comfort too;
And you fill my life with laughter,
You can make it better,
Ease my troubles, that's what you do.
There's a love that's divine
And it's yours and it's mine,
Like the sun;
At the end of the day
We should give thanks and pray
To the One."