There’s more to love than a red, red rose

Mike Kielty 15 February 2008

The 14th February presents us all with a paradox. Valentine’s Day has been transformed from the feast-day of a little-known Roman saint into a flamboyant annual celebration of roses, Romeos and every other cliché of romantic love that you can think of. Every year, we have bought steadily more cards, flowers and dubious undergarments in order to delight some distant lover and fire Cupid’s arrow. ‘Don’t stick to boring red roses,’ suggests one online florist, ‘Turn on the heat with a bouquet of colours that will blow her mind away’.

Yet the paradox lies in the fact that as Valentine’s Day has risen in importance, so the number of divorces, break-ups and single-parent families in Britain has increased. A recent study has suggested that one in five relationships here is on the verge of a break-up, and an increasing number of people cite financial security (‘Money over love’) as the only cause of their remaining attachment to a loved one. For every insipid couplet inscribed on a Valentine’s card, it seems that one more relationship ends in tears.

The modern calendar is bursting at the seams with similar “special days”. Just as Valentine’s Day promises to resolve relationship problems, so family troubles have been granted such much-loved and oft-forgotten anniversaries as ‘Father’s Day’ and the government has responded rather desperately to a fall in numbers reading with a ‘Reading Week’. Of course some of these anniversaries – both religious and secular, traditional and more modern – carry obvious importance. I’m no puritan who wants to cancel Christmas and anyone who has a relative involved in wars should know the importance of ‘Remembrance Sunday’. Events like Red Nose Day have brought much needed media focus and funds to many desperately stricken people around the world.

While one-off celebrations or memorials often highlight a laudable concern for the social difficulties in modern society, it is rare for them to help in alleviating the actual root of the problem. By restricting themselves to a single day or week, they allow us to forget them quickly and move on to the next distraction in our busy modern lives.

In the past, it was community pastimes like the Sunday service or the evening pint in the local that provided a more regular source of help and advice for people who were in trouble of any kind. But the institutions that only a generation ago inspired almost unquestioning trust –are now the subject of scrutiny and suspicion.

There are many reasons for the increasing numbers of divorces and separations in Britain today, and for most of us, Valentine’s Day will just be a good chance to make someone laugh and get embarrassed with a silly card. But it is a sad fact that experts believe most modern married couples say “I love you” much less often than their counterparts in earlier generations. In this light, that annual bunch of ‘simply delightful’ roses seems less a heart-warming gift than a temporary salve for a guilty conscience.

You would have to be a Scrooge to denounce all the special days in the calendar, but we are never going a find a lasting solution to these social problems through such infrequent celebrations. As a society, we face the difficult task of finding new ways to provide regular support for more people. Only then might those gloomy figures on modern relationships start to take a turn for the better. As individuals, though, there are possibilities open to us that are less daunting to contemplate.

Just ringing up that lonely friend every week instead of every month, sharing a cup of tea with your local stressed-out NatSci or bestowing a simple kiss on your own Romeo or Juliet every evening would do a great deal more good than the flashiest bundle of plastic roses in the annual lovefest.

Mike Kielty is a 2nd year English student