Love’s Labours Lost (and gained)

Valentine’s Day: it rolls around every year, conspicuously looming over the end of January. It nestles just beyond the Christmas warm-down, when everyone is deep-set into the January Blues, ensuring that every year the build up and the cringeworthy cards could make anyone who, heaven forbid, is not part of an ‘us’ feel like a second rate citizen. Or worse, miserable, and that gets on my wick.

TV ad space and card racks the length and breadth of England; scratch that, the western world, are dedicated to one word, one terrifying, all encompassing word: ‘love’.

Unfortunately, for reasons unfathomable to both my mother, and I, I am not in a romantic relationship. But does this mean I am not loved? I don’t believe so; just because you don’t have a lover, does not mean you are not loved. You see, around this time of year the English language becomes rather unhelpful.

I don’t mean everyone annually loses the power of speech, what I mean is we only have one word for “love”. You say it to your boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends, but you don’t mean it in the same way to each and every one. Which of course would be horrifying if you did… but we say it none the less. The ancient Greeks, however, rather usefully had (according to my good friend Wikipedia) at least four. First, there is agápe, easiest to translate as ‘true love’ or ‘unconditional love’, deeper than eros, the passionate love, that’s the sexy one with the eye for beauty.

These are the two we traditionally celebrate on Valentine’s Day. Then there is philia, the love of friends, affection, loyalty – it is graceful and conserves the soul, which is linked to storge, naturally occurring love mostly associated with family and siblings. It sort of baffles me that the two latter kinds of love are ignored. This isn’t exclusive to Valentine’s Day, society as a whole is obsessed with romance. If anything we consume (films, books, television etc.) isn’t a ‘love story’, then there’s usually at least a love interest. Or better yet, a femme fatale.

It occurred to me when I was asked to write this that the vast majority of love that we benefit from is the love of a friend. It is a rare person who is wholly and honestly happy without companionship. Don’t get me wrong, romantic love is an exciting thing; a fantastic, earth-shattering thing. But not everyone has had the privilege to have felt it.

In the meantime, and in no way is this a consolation prize, there are also your companions in this turbulent life. I have a wall entirely covered in photographs, mostly of friends, but of course with the odd token family member in there in case they decide to visit. I am lucky to have so many photographs of fond memories. The photos are dedicated to people I love, and, unless they’re all very good actors (which some of them are, but that’s by the by), they love me too.

But this love is almost never celebrated, and it should be; I have in mind the merry band I grew up with in secondary school and sixth form. Through seven years of enforced company in an all-girls school, a wonderful thing happened: we came to love one another. I can almost hear the sniggers of the pseudo-lesbian jokes, but that is sort of my point. We simply do not have the language available to say what we really feel.

I could have said we adored one another. We entertained one another. We protected and we comforted. But that isn’t really what I mean. Yes, we did those things, but the nearest I can get to describing the ferocious loyalty (and even reckless abandonment from time to time) with which we cared for one another can only be described as ‘love’.

It is with this purity, depth of emotion and sympathy that I find myself cocooned from The Big Bad World. Of course, I have other friends who also fit this description: male friends, female friends, old friends, new friends and family (mustn’t forget!). So why not celebrate that too?

The trouble with Valentine’s Day is, although most couples do appreciate and adore one another in the ways I have detailed, this holiday has the horrid side-effect of isolating the single. Without taking away the special element of this day for couples, everyone has friends and family, (unless you’re a hermit and strong wind blew in this article into your cave, my apologies) and therefore everyone is, in my opinion, loved. This is what we should be celebrating on the 14th: all the ways in which a person can love and be loved, including romance but not exclusive to it.


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