In 1392 the poet Chaucher linked St Valentine’s day to romantic love by declaring it to be the day birds chose their mate. Things have snowballed somewhat since then with an estimated £1.9 billion spent in 2016 expressing love on this single day in the form of flowers, confectionary, cards and so on. Is this love? If we can’t pull off some amazing scheme that has our sweetheart swooning at the romance of it all on the 14th of Feb will we forever be alone?
Happily, not. The 2013 survey “Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century” found gestures such as flowers and chocolates, less important than the thoughtfulness behind them. Saying “thank you”, making a humble cup of tea to show appreciation or sharing household chores and / or family responsibilities were prized most highly by all participants.
Recognition of the time and effort required to complete the everyday mundane tasks which underpin relationships and the smooth running of the household was also highly valued as were surprise gifts and small acts of kindness. All participants identified good communication as important along with open conversations to unburden the stresses and strains of the day.
Thoughtfulness and appreciation as aspects of love are reflected in one of the four words the ancient Greeks had for love. Eros is about what we want, about being fulfilled by our lover, possessing them. Less well known is agape which is characterised by the desire to fulfil the beloved. It seems to me this is the love most prized in that 2013 survey.
World renown for his 40+ years spent working on marital stability and divorce prediction, Dr John M. Gottman can spend 5 minutes with a married couple and predict, with 91% accuracy, whether their relationship is for keeps. Of the twenty emotions Gottman monitors during an interview with a couple, if he sees defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt (“The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”) then urgent work is advisable. So a couple’s relationship may look perfect (as evidenced by how they mark Valentine’s day) and yet, in reality, be anything but.
What is love? For me it is this definition from the 1998 film “Meet Joe Black”:
Joe Black: … But Allison loves you?
Quince: [Quince nods yes between stifled sobs]
Joe Black: How do you know?
Quince: Because she knows the worst thing about me and it’s okay.
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