Sunday, August 02, 2015
Romance and Marriage
Vindicating Valentine’s Day

These days, it’s easy to be sick of seeing red. It’s not hard to be skeptical of all the contrived romance the industry peddles, skeptical of feeling obligated to spend boatloads of cash just to meet some arbitrary standard of affection. After all, on what other day would a guy who sends his girl flowers, showers her in chocolate, plans a romantic dinner, and maybe even wraps up a sparkly little gift stay at baseline? Any other day that would put him in the running for boyfriend or husband-of-the-year, but on Valentine’s Day, all the backflips in the world just keep him on par. It’s easy to write the whole thing off. Plenty of people do.

But I don’t. Not because I’m such a huge fan of flowers and chocolate (though believe me, I am). Not because I’m using the second day of Lent to throw penitence to the wind. It’s because I’m such a fan of love and marriage. Not the gooey kind of love Papyrus would have me buy, coated in enough glitter to ruin my favorite little black dress. The real kind of love. The kind where two people look each other in the eye and promise to put the other one first—no matter the personal cost to themselves—for the rest of their lives. And then do just that.

As Eleanor Barkhorn recently noted in The Atlantic, marriage isn’t the 24/7 sleepover party that some advocates might try to spin it as. It’s hard. Really hard. Even with zero personal experience, most young adults have a sense of just how hard it is—and many of us are consequently running for the hills. Today fewer young adults are married than ever before. And today, fewer young adults than ever before say they ever want to be married. Why go through the headache of lifelong commitment when you can get (at least most of) what you’re looking for by cohabiting? Or by remaining a bachelor or bachelorette who dates around when it’s convenient?

A small but growing number of young adults, however, are embracing more traditional norms with eyes toward marriage. They aren’t doing it because they’ve been told marriage will make them richer, happier, and more sexually satisfied—though statistically speaking that’s all true. They are choosing the hard way because they know it’s right. They know marriage is their best hope for developing stronger character and for learning to sacrifice, forgive, and love. And as young married couples, they are counter-culturally welcoming of children—who require more love, more sacrifice, and more forgiveness than anyone is ever prepared for. They reject the idea that marriage is all about finding a partner perfectly suited to themselves, or about finding what makes them happiest.

These young leaders, many of whom I have the privilege of working with through Love and Fidelity Network, are an example and an inspiration to all of us. Just this weekend I attended a bridal shower for a couple serving in the Air Force, with one currently on deployment and the other just returned from a year overseas. Talk about radical self-sacrifice.

Even though I’m up to my eyeballs in red cellophane, I wish we celebrated this kind of love more. In our culture that glorifies romantic passions sans commitment, separates babies from marriage, and shuns personal sacrifice, the choice to commit oneself to another for life, to devote oneself to putting that person’s good ahead of one’s own, and to welcome children into the world, even when not convenient, is a radical one. Few things are more worthy of celebration than a radical choice to love selflessly, even to the point of self-sacrifice—and what better day to celebrate that radical love than St. Valentine’s Day? After all, it’s what St. Valentine’s life, and his death, were all about.

Now, would someone please pass the chocolate?

Caitlin Seery is the Director of Programs for the Love and Fidelity Network. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Boby Dimitrov.