I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day, since it’s really just a consumer holiday to sell flowers, chocolate, jewelry and stupid little toys, but I do think it’s a good thing to celebrate love, in an authentic, non-consumerist way. Buying stupid shit from capitalists in order to fill landfills is not my idea of expressing love. Love is not something that can be bought or sold or marketed or mass-produced. I have been thinking philosophically about love lately, because we had a pet die recently and instead of thinking about death, it actually made me think about love. We loved our pet dearly and her absence in our home has changed the atmosphere a bit, but I still think that it’s worth loving animals even though we will grieve for them later. It adds something to life that cannot be measured, but can be felt. And it’s certainly worth loving people too, even though loving someone makes us vulnerable to the pain of loss. I think that even when you lose someone you love, the gifts they brought to your life are still there—it’s a net gain. So here are my philosophical thoughts about love, starting with, strangely enough, something I learned in church.
Although I am an atheist, sometimes I do find myself in a church service. Usually during a church service I am absolutely mystified that people still take all these silly rituals seriously, and that people are still talking about religious nonsense like it’s a legitimate thing. And usually the sermon sounds to me like the teacher from Peanuts talking, and my mind wanders off and begins to daydream. But recently I heard something that did interest me. The minister mentioned that the turning water into wine story is not supposed to be about a magic trick where water literally is turned into wine. It’s supposed to be a metaphor for how the mundane turns into the extraordinary in the presence of the Divine. Now, I have experienced the mundane turning into the extraordinary due to the presence of a special person. That is exactly what happens when I am in love—suddenly water tastes like wine, metaphorically speaking—meaning that ordinary things are elevated into the fascinating and the sublime. My loved one becomes the source of existential joy—her presence in the world is what makes me see how beautiful the world is. This metaphor of water turning into wine makes perfect sense to me in the context of regular, earthly, romantic love. That’s how you know when you are in love, isn’t it? When life suddenly explodes with colour and warmth that wasn’t there before until the presence of your beloved made you able to see it.
One of my favourite explanations of what love is comes from the book The Little Prince. The little prince lives on a planet of his own and on his planet there is his rose. Every day he waters his rose, he kills the caterpillars that would eat her, and he puts her under a glass jar to keep her safe. He believes that he has the only rose in the whole universe, and his world is brightened because of the rose that he has. One day while on a visit to Earth he sees a garden full of roses, and he realizes that his rose is not the only one. He feels sad, believing that this means his rose is not special anymore. But his new friend the fox explains to him that his rose is still special despite all those other roses. That’s because of the time he has spent with his rose. The fact that he has taken care of her and listened to her for so long makes her different from all the other roses, even though she looks like any of the others. The Little Prince can look up at the night sky and dream of his rose, still living on his planet far away, and the night sky looks more beautiful because of the rose that he knows is out there. He learns that his life is better because he has loved a rose. This is also what love is. It’s when you invest your time and energy into a delightful person and then your life is forever changed for the better because of the time you have spent. Love isn’t just a feeling, it’s also a practice. Love is the practice of caring for another over time, and finding out how life changes because you have cared for her.
There is another book that explains to me something about love, and that is A Wrinkle In Time. (I get my life lessons from children’s literature, okay? Please don’t judge me.) This is a fantasy novel and there are three characters who appear human at first—eccentric old ladies who wear odd clothing— but later it is revealed that they have magical powers, they are millions of years old, and they used to be stars. At one point, the human characters are trying to summon them for help, and they attempt to describe them in order to be able to find them. At first, they try to describe what they look like, but that doesn’t work, because their outward appearance is completely irrelevant in describing who they are. They finally learn to describe what they really are, not how they appear, and that’s when they realize that these three women/stars are guardian angels. Once the human characters finally understand them as guardian angels, that’s when they appear to help. I think this is also a description of what falling in love is like. When you don’t know someone, all you see is their outward appearance, but when you are in love, you can see your beloved’s spiritual essence—the part of her that enhances your life in indescribable ways. You can look beyond the outer packaging and see the angel inside. And the fact that you can see an angel where other people can’t is something that adds something new and meaningful to your life.
My partner is a guardian angel. I knew this about her immediately, because I could feel the energy coming from her even when we first met, and it has proven to be true over and over. When my life seems to be hopeless, she is always there, reminding me that there is beauty in the world. When I fell in love with her I was a garden blooming with new flowers, and over time I have learned the practice of love—the everyday time and attention that I devote to her grows new flowers in me all the time. Sometimes she does things that annoy me, like spilling coffee on the kitchen counter and leaving it there—but ultimately that doesn’t matter, because spilled coffee is absolutely nothing compared to the gift of having my guardian angel with me.
Love is many things—a feeling of excitement, a practice of caring for someone, and an understanding of another person’s inner beauty and worth. And it’s looking at the world and seeing that it is beautiful because of the presence of your beloved. It’s not something you can go to a store and buy, or something that you can manufacture just because today is the fourteenth day of February.
There is way too much emphasis on romantic love in our society. The way I have spoken about love here applies to all kinds of love, whether it is love between romantic partners, or love between family members, or platonic love between friends, or the love we feel for our pets. All of these kinds of love are life-enhancing and there doesn’t have to be sex involved to make them valid. I don’t think anyone should feel lonely or that they are lacking love in their lives on Valentine’s Day, because everyone has love of some kind in their lives. The best thing to do today, if you are celebrating, is to spend some quality time with those who are dear to you, regardless of what type of relationship you share. Spending time with those you love is the best gift you will ever have.