Dear Geoffrey Chaucer,
For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not the go-to columnist for advice on the big L Word.
No, I’m not talking about that Showtime show you’ve never heard of, or Lesbianism – though a lesbian once expressed her fervent belief that I’m a lesbian stuck in a man’s body. Hmm. Perhaps there are too many L Words in the English language to keep track of:
Geoffrey, if you were to ask my girlfriend how well I’ve flexed the muscle of romance in the past two years, she would probably chortle and inadvertently spit her mouthful of latte in your face. If you’re suffering from third degree burns, she didn’t mean it. Honest. She likes her coffee hot. She’ll be sure to visit you at Westminster Abbey and express her deepest respects.
Phew, I’m glad I got that out of the way. I didn’t want to give you any false pretenses. Don’t let these ravishing good looks fool you.
“We’re all sensitive people. With so much love to give, understand me sugar. Since we got to be. Let’s say, I love you.”
Marvin Gaye (Let’s Get It On)
At the heart of our favorite hallmark holiday of love, stands one cackling oxymoron: “planned romance.” Corporate America’s stake in Valentine’s Day is, arguably, that it necessitates a small-to-large monetary investment for it to work to your desired outcome.
So, we better throw in our share of love, so the cash register can chime its bell, lest we land a spot on the couch, a.k.a., Relationship Hell.
Geoffrey, what hath thou done?
Here we have a tradition of Medieval woos and courtly throes of “ooh la la” that inspires annual nights of wining, dining, rose petals, tea candles, chocolate-covered strawberries, romancing, and sweet, sweet lovemaking by the fireplace on a shaggy white rug (how early ‘80s – someone get me a mustache). The results are usually a mixed bag of gourmet truffles and stale Hershey Kisses. And despite that clichéd scenario above, no two Valentine’s Day experiences are quite the same, are they?
Some of us are smooth operators. Some of us are as smooth as sandpaper. Some of us aren’t as dreamy as those Medieval knights in shining armor. You know how it is, Geoffrey. Love is heaven and hell wrapped up in a sheet of gilded foil. Can I call you Jeff? This whole “Geoffrey” thing seems a bit much – like wearing a cravat to a dive bar.
“Unless the course of love is being hindered there is no ‘romance’; and it is romance that we revel in – that is to say, the self-conscious, intensity, variations, and delays of passion […]”
Denis de Rougemont (Love in the Western World)
At its best, Valentine’s Day serves as a friendly heart-shaped reminder of the why behind the two of you. At its worst, our winged, cherubic friend has run out of arrows (due to the economic recession, perhaps), and only flies in as a reminder of how unimaginative you are in comparison to those syrupy leading men in Love Actually – grr, damn that guy with the clever cue cards; I could’ve sworn that was my idea.
So, the operative question that’s been running through my wormy little cranium all day is: How do you plan romance? How do you plan sex? An analogous question might be: How do you plan laughter? It’s easy to slide into a pragmatic mode of thinking when answering those questions, yes, but think about it a little deeper, for an itty-bitty minute.
When has your most cherished memories of abandon, love, or lust – which is often defined by some degree of spontaneity – come from careful planning? At least for this bespectacled narrator, that’s rarely been the case.
This inevitably brings us to you, Jeff, and your fascination with the first two lovebirds of recorded history: King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia, whose wedding engagement was commemorated by your lovey dovey poem, Parlement of Foules (1382):
“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate”
Thanks Jeff. This is what the Discovery Channel would sound like in the Middle Ages, I guess.
Anyway, it’s interesting to note that, only a few months after the aforementioned royal lovebirds tied the knot (err, treaty), they were roughly 15 years of age, respectively. In this day and age, that certainly doesn’t account for much experience with matters of the bleeding heart, does it Jeff? You of all ghosts should know that Parlement of Foules surrounded the fictional account of a tradition you made up.
One could argue that modern man’s call to make a bouquet of pastel candy hearts out of 15 cents every February 14th is based on the poetic whim of a longwinded English bureaucrat (no offense, Jeff).
Sure, you were also considered the “father of English literature” and arguably the best poet the Middle Ages could hope to produce. Blah blah blah. But, Jeff, if you only knew the pressure your little 700-line poem put on us modern bipedal primates, maybe you would have put the quill down and reconsidered. Talk about Medieval performance anxiety.
You see, while we can thank the Middle Ages for its oft-cited primers on courtship; we can also credit it for the common practice of putting animals on trial. Yep, people in the Middle Ages did that too. It’s nice to know that the right to a fair trial was also afforded to quadrupeds.
Poor piggy. Forgive him, Jeff, for he knoweth not what he doth.
“Richard, perhaps you’re being a bit hard on Valentine’s Day,” you say.
Sure, perhaps I am.
Let’s set aside the fact that “Saint Valentine” was originally the name given to the 14 martyred saints of ancient Rome, the first of which was beheaded by the emperor (Claudius II), in public, for the crime of aiding Christians during a time where they were heavily persecuted – a big naughty “no no” back then.
Naughty, naughty, Valentinus, naughty, naughty. Off with your head!
Now, let’s try and forget how little that has in common with love and romance. Next, with those nitpicky dust bunnies swept neatly under the rug, let’s flip the script on us curmudgeons:
Isn’t it just typical of a grouch to poke fun at a holiday that inspires creativity, resourcefulness, planning, love and good-natured craftiness? Qualities that your average male primate may be lacking in when faced with romancing the gentler sex? Isn’t it so deliciously convenient and bitter? Like heart-shaped bits of dark chocolate from a sad cloud made of 80 percent cacao?
If two people are in love, isn’t it enough to simply enjoy the sweet nothings of Valentine’s Day, and not try to ruin it for them with “facts” and “analysis” and – God forbid – opinions?
“Yes. So, why be such a sour puss?” You ask.
Let me answer that with a little more “opinion and commentary”, then I’ll leave you to your saccharine ways – I promise.
You see, holiday card companies, chocolatiers, jewelers, and retail store chains alike rely on our lack of spontaneity and creativity to help meet their projected profit margins. As such, modern consumers are extra susceptible to exchanging cash for the corporate ideation of romance. In their version of the world, the more we spend, the more we love our better halves. The less we spend, the less we care.
Just maybe, however, the best moments to say I love you (with a gesture, or a spectacle) are during the other 364 days of the year, where most of our time with that special someone is spent. I say we spend love perennially. Love just might be the modern primate’s last saving grace, after all.
That, and giving your cat a fair trial if it’s been caught eating the albacore tuna off your plate when you’re not looking.
Previously posted on @ Elephant Journal
Featured image via Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer