If you’re like me, you’ve seen this scene from The Princess Bride a dozen times or more:
“Hey! Hello in there! What’s so important? What you got here that’s worth living for?”
And Westley, who is only mostly dead instead of completely dead wheezes out the words “true love…”
True love. Shakespeare, through the young Juliet, connected it to the eternal in us all: “The more I give to thee the more I have, for both are infinite.” Miracle Max was more direct. “Sonny, true love is the greatest thing in the world.”
Which, of course, it is. It’s discovery is our life’s work. Some of us find it, and, sadly, some of us never do. But as we search for this human holy grail, we are awash each year in the white noise of Valentine advertising that cynically promises what it cannot deliver—romantic happiness for a price. For a few weeks every February, money becomes a yardstick by which you are encouraged to measure your suitor’s love. Through the years I have heard women in the office comparing notes on the largess they raked in each February 14, discussions which have forced me to conclude that bigger is apparently better.
Since I am past the age of caring whether my romantic milestones are worthy of You Tube, it’s easy for me to see our modern Valentine’s Day as just another high-minded idea hijacked by mass marketers guilt-tripping you into running up your credit card by conditioning you and your partner to at least partially believe that a lack of bling is evidence of a lack of romantic zing.
Because these days February 14 is all about the zing.
Early in The Princess Bride, the lovers must separate. Westley promises to one day return, but Buttercup has her doubts. “How can I be sure?” she asks. “This is true love,” Westley responds. “Do you think this happens every day?
And that’s the problem. True love doesn’t happen every day. Even in our modern world with web sites as sophisticated as Tinder.
So in order to be a smash hit, Valentine’s Day needed a refined focus. Celebrating true love is fine, but a lot of people get left out. But celebrate the zing of hormonal attraction, with the flirtatious hint of love in the air, and you have a holiday everyone can get behind.
And so we have Valentine’s Day, requiring saucy greetings cards, and gifts that include chocolates, items of clothing you wouldn’t show off at work, and expensive dinners. In other words, a celebration that says Appetites R Us.
Of course if we want to have a holiday that celebrates hormones, it’s fine with me. Zing is, after all, fun, usually, for awhile.
Meanwhile, those of you who have been lucky enough to find true love in your lives, and I am blessed to count myself among you, know that the endless commercial demand to prove your love by opening your wallet is as phony as a three dollar bill. Occasionally fun, but unnecessary. You know that a box of lacey underthings is nothing compared to the unbreakable bond between the two of you, a bond stronger than life’s setbacks, stronger than the occasional temptations, stronger (fortunately) than even your own stupidity, a bond strong enough to face the future together, knowing that whatever life hurls at you, together the pain is divided, while the joys are multiplied.
My Valentine’s Day card for my wife is already purchased. For my efforts I’ll earn a card in return, along with a hug, a kiss and a smile—a smile through which I will see decades past and an eternity to come, and a love we are only now in our fifth decade of marriage beginning to understand.
If you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day with expensive stuff, enjoy yourself. But I hope you won’t feel pressured into spending a lot of money on the miracle of human attraction just because entire industries are telling you that you should, or to make sure your partner has something to talk about at work on February 15th.
And may you live happily ever after.