Valentine’s Day and the Definition of Love

Valentine’s Day has frustrated me for the past few years. It isn’t the usual “I’m jealous because I’m single.” I’m married. This will be our first Valentine’s Day married but our third since we started dating. That isn’t where my frustration comes from. My frustration comes from the slew of damaging messages which are conveyed on this day through the way we typically celebrate it in the Western world. Most boil down to how we are defining love, the virtue that is supposedly celebrated by Valentine’s Day.

Love Is Not (Primarily) An Emotion

Most people speak of love as an emotion. It is feeling that special way about somebody else. I know I’ll get shot down for being unromantic for this, but while that is a beautiful and God-given thing, that simply isn’t enough. We speak of “falling in love” and even “falling out of love” as if it just happens to us and there is nothing we can do about it. No wonder so many relationships fall apart when a lot of people view them as this magical thing that doesn’t require any work!

Love Is Not Sex

Physical touch in general, and sex especially, is a love language. It can at its best be an amazing expression of love. I definitely think that the church needs to talk about and celebrate sex way more than it does. I try to talk about a variety of sexuality issues here for that reason. Contrary to the popular euphemism, though, sex does not “make love.” Typically Valentine’s Day gets presented sort of as a mandatory trade: men will get a little something extra sexy and women will get flowers/chocolate/other gifts. When forced in this way it isn’t going to actually deepen the love between a couple.

Love Is Not Gifts

Gifts, like sex, can be a beautiful expression of love. However, at Valentine’s Day we tend to fall into a very problematic legalism about them. The average man spends about $100 for his girlfriend/wife on Valentine’s Day and the average woman spends about $50 on her boyfriend/husband. And as far as I can tell, most of the time most of those gifts aren’t really that appreciated. There are just certain cultural expectations and as with sex, when it is forced to meet some cultural demand it is far less likely to actually be an outworking of love.

Love Is Not Restricted to Romance

All of these points so far have been discussing romantic relationships which leads to another obvious point: love is not only about romance. I opened this post with saying how much singles tend to hate Valentine’s Day. I’ve heard that February 15th has the highest suicide rate of any day of the year when many singles have decided that they can’t handle the in-their-face message that they are not good enough on their own. Scripture seems to almost suggest the opposite when Paul talks about how he wishes everyone were single like him so that they were free to serve God, which entails loving everyone, instead of prioritizing your commitment to your spouse first.

So What Is Love?

Love is ultimately the choice to give of ourselves for the sake of others.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16 NIV)

If you want to unpack that definition some more, how about this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)

Marriage at its best is the strongest form of this but it is something we are called to do toward everyone. It is great timing to me that Valentine’s Day falls within Lent this year, the season in which we journey through Jesus’ last days as the ultimate demonstration of love. This is our model to follow. This sometimes means sex, or gifts, or romance, and sometimes comes with a strong emotional attachment. I’m not trying to throw all of those away, just put them in the rightful place. Love is a whole lot bigger and more beautiful than that and the oversimplifications of our consumer-driven holiday can do a lot of damage to singles and couples alike. This Valentine’s Day as with this Lent, let’s shed the cultural demands and see how much our love can look like Jesus.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.