Be my Valentine! Maybe, but what do you mean?

It's the day for cupid cards, red roses and wild expressions of love. But though it's a single word, love has many forms. What's yours called?

Retailers love Valentine's Day. It's the first big business opportunity since Christmas, and the chance to shift huge quantities of chocolates, flowers, cards and underwear.

Some supermarkets even sell 'Valentine's Day tuna sandwiches.'

But amid the 'kerching!' of the tills – and they can be heard worldwide for this is now a truly global festival – the question becomes ever more pressing: what's it all about?

It's not about St Valentine, the man who gives his name to the day. He was a 2nd century Christian who was executed by Emperor Claudius II, with no hint of romance in his life.

Indeed, it was not until the late Middle Ages that the day was first linked with romance in England. Geoffrey Chaucer, the writer most famous for 'The Canterbury Tales', wrote: 'for this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh to choose his mate.' The day was becoming associated with the idea of courtly love.

Shakespeare has Ophelia speak of Valentine's Day in Hamlet, while in 1797, a British publisher produced The Young Man's Valentine Writer, full of pre-written verses of a sentimental nature for the young lover unable to compose his own.

Valentine's Day is supposedly all about love. But surprisingly, some say it has little to do with it. 'Love has too many meanings for this narrowest of days,' said one commentator.

It's certainly true that we love in different ways: there's Affectionate love, for instance, towards familiar figures in our life, like family, or Friendship love, based on companionship and shared values.

Then there's Romantic love, rooted in emotional connection, and Sexual love, stirred by physical beauty and desire.

Pragmatic love is more unemotional. It has a list of things it wants, and seeks a partner who'll provide them, while Obsessive love is an unhealthy preoccupation with one person.

Game love has no desire for intimacy; the fun is in the conquest, while Charitable love is love which gives selflessly to another, seeking nothing in return.

Don't be so cupid!
Though a few governments repress it as a culturally contaminating western tradition, almost every culture celebrates Valentine's Day in one way or another.

Some think it's a strengthening day for relationships or at least a harmless piece of romantic fun.

Others say that by focusing on romance, it distracts us from the deeper truth of what love is.

'Love is the flower you've got to let grow,' said John Lennon. But is Valentine's Day helping?

You Decide

  1. Is Valentine's Day: a) A day which strengthens relationships? b) A harmless bit of fun? c) A day that diminishes love?
  2. Which sorts of love make for the best and most enduring partnerships?


  1. Design your own Valentine's Day card, expressing what you feel about the day.
  2. Research different approaches to the day around the globe. And then write a short piece for a magazine called 'What Valentine's day means to the world.'

Some People Say...

“A Valentine card - also known as a waste of paper.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So not everyone likes Valentines Day?
No. In Saudi Arabia religious police frequently forbid red items in shops on the day, because it's considered a Christian holiday. But then it's big in Pakistan where red roses are very popular.
I suppose love's important to everybody.
I think so. As Hawkeye said in the war comedy M*A*S*H, 'Without love, what are we? Eighty nine cents! Eighty nine cents worth of chemicals walking around lonely.'
So how do you know when you're in love?
I remember something Winnie the Pooh said: 'If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus a day, so I never have to live without you.'A Not at all. We're constantly changing as people and, at one time or other, we might love in all the eight ways mentioned.

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