Valentine’s Day: Love in the Time of Money, Lust and Moral Decay
Long gone are the days when Valentine’s Day celebrated true romantic love. Today, like most holidays, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of commerce rather than love. It is just like Christmas: another holiday for the benefit of the merchants. If some love is in the air, as every February 14, a lot more money than love will be exchanged in the process. The commercialization of romantic love will benefit florists, chocolate manufacturers, Victoria’s Secret and restaurants. As for about everything else in our monetized world, romantic love comes with a price tag.
In the Middle Ages, when courtly love (romantic love) started, this notion had no correlation with material issues. Courtly love was a paradoxical experience of erotic desire and spiritual connection between lovers which today seems to be in complete opposition. Courtly love was a study in complexity and contrast, but not a futile exercise in contradiction. On one hand, on the erotic side it was often about breaking taboos, drifting into the irrational passion of lust without caring about humiliation and social stigma. On the other hand, it was pure, altruistic, of the highest moral order and almost transcendent. Romantic love was always dangerous, often secret and socially outside the norm.
Romantic love was never a meat-and-potatoes dinner; it was a feast reserved for the aristocracy. Marriage at the time, and one could argue that few things have changed, was mainly a business transaction. Within the aristocracy and amongst the European royal families, marriages were not about love but about wealth management and consolidation and political alliances between kingdoms. The same logic was applied all the way down the social food chain. In India, until very recently marriages were arranged by parents with almost no say from the future bride and groom in the matter.
In our time obsessed with money and social status, little has changed as far as marriages being essentially business arrangements where carnal lust serves as lure — at least for one of the partners — at the initiation and then as a cement with a short life span if the lust element is the primary bond to the relationship. Currently, around 50 percent of all marriages in the Western world, where women can divorce freely, end up in divorce. Typically, couples fight and part over money and intimacy issues. Since the economic crash of 2008, the ratio of marriages ending in divorces has improved slightly. This is certainly not because couples with problems are going massively for couple counseling — as they should — but rather because economically they cannot afford a separation, even less a divorce. Instead, they must often live with the enemy under the same roof.
Real love (romantic love) is rare. It is harder to find than a needle in a hay stack. It is never about money or gain in social status. It is not to be confused with physical attraction either. Both aspects, material gain and lust, have finite life spans. For real love, which is neither lust nor a material arrangement, to last the bond has to be deeper than what most people call love. It has to be based mainly on a strong connection between two individuals, as if they were spiritually tied by an invisible umbilical cord. Only this type of love, unlike ordinary love, can transcend trivial notions such as money, lust and practicality. This said, most people settle for less, a lot less, because what they call love is only a crutch against loneliness.
Editor’s Note: All photographs by Gilbert Mercier.