The Mountain Times

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Valentine’s Day: Modern love offers an opportunity not before realized

Valentine's Day is a reminder of just how romantic we have become in recent history.

Candlelight dinners for two at the nicest restaurants are reserved months in advance. Flowers and gifts are exchanged. And couples vow to renew their passions, appreciating each other.

It is a celebration of lasting love and meaningful partnership through life.

This, however, was not the original intention of Valentine's Day as established by The Roman Catholic Church Feb. 14, 498 A.D.

Rather, Valentine's Day was meant to be a warning against passion, romance and love. The message was that while marriage had a place in society (though not the highest place), romance had no place in marriage. It is also believed that the Roman Catholic Church had hoped to replace two existing holidays- a festival honoring Juno, the Roman goddess of love and marriage, and the Lupercalia festival of fertility- with their Valentine warning.

Legends say, Saint Valentine was a Christian priest executed in the third century for defying a law against conducting marriages for Roman soldiers, whom the emperor believed would fight better without families.

Valentine, presumably a romantic, is said to have fallen in love with his jailor's daughter and wrote her an affectionate goodbye letter signed "from your Valentine" - which is how he became a martyr for love. 

Of course the Church's warnings of Valentine's Day did not ultimately last, but for thousands of years (indeed, most of human history), love, passion and marriage were considered a rare, undesirable and dangerous combination.

Only in the last 200 years has "marital bliss" entered our conversation. Even in the 19th century there were many defenders of traditional marriage who predicted that the new "marriage by fascination" would undermine the social order, and that high expectations of marriage would lead only to discontent.

There was some truth to those predictions. The modern marriage has lead to higher divorce rates. But it's a "monumental improvement over the past, when violence, adultery and day-to-day misery were considered normal in a marriage," says Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. "So when couples look soulfully into each other's eyes tonight… they might take a moment to remember that despite the risk of divorce today, never before in history have people had so many opportunities to make marriage fulfilling."

Tagged: Valentine's Day, romance