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- Valentine’s Day: Modern love offers an opportunity not before realized
Wed, Feb 8, 2012 01:25 PM
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
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
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."