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The Greatest Love of All

Whether you believe in a Higher Power, God, the connectedness of all things or nothing at all, your relationship with yourself is inevitably going to be the most enduring human relationship of your life! If we can't find love and compassion for the flawed yet vulnerable essence of ourselves, what hope do we have of loving others... or being happy?

This Valentine's Day my Facebook feed is filled with posts about

  • how loved the poster feels because an extravagant gesture has been made by a loved one and
  • how sad and unloved the poster feels because they either don't have someone to make that extravagant gesture, or whose love interest just doesn't play the game and
  • exhortations to self love

But what does that mean, exactly? (Don't be rude, you at the back!)

First of all, what is "Valentine's Day"? Let's have a quick look at all the elements that make up this annual festival of love and misery: St Valentine, Cupid, roses, hearts and cards.

  • Legend has it that a Christian priest, Valentine, was martyred by Roman Emperor, the second Claudius, in the third century AD for illegally marrying Christian couples. Before he died, he fell in love with his gaoler's daughter... and since we all love a story of thwarted love, his fate as the poster boy for romance was sealed.
  • The Roman God of love was Cupid - Eros in Greece - though there is some debate as to whether either represented romantic love what with all the piercing arrows etc going on (cough cough!)
  • Roses, particularly red roses, were deemed to symbolise love in the Victorian era, when the "secret language of flowers" was a popular way to code messages in polite society. I wonder what the thorns represented?
  • Red is also the colour associated with the heart - presumably because blood flows through it - and the idea has been perpetuated since time immemorial by poets and songwriters. Of course, anyone who has ever had their heart broken will be familiar with the ache in the chest, and there have been studies showing that yes, you can actually die of a broken heart. (It's more complicated than that, of course! See the link to the study below if you're keen to find out more)
  • The heyday of the Valentine's Day card was, in my opinion, the Victorian era. They were handmade then and some were veritable works of art, well worth keeping. It wasn't until 1913 that Hallmark began producing them en masse.

So there are the origins of Valentine's Day. The nuts and bolts of why we put so much pressure on our relationships - and ourselves - on one day in the year when we are culturally obliged to make a public display of our relationships. And have their quality judged on the size of the gestures we make.

That's messed up enough, but there is a deeper, more serious question arising here.

Why do we underpin our self esteem with external expressions of emotion towards us by others? Let's put it another way:

 Why do we need other people to make us feel loved?

Think about that if it resonates with you. If you are reading this, on The Midlife Movement website, you're probably a woman of a certain vintage. And yet, if you're anything like me, you probably allow your mood to be affected by the people around you. 

To be honest, I would be pretty annoyed if my husband wastes his money on a bit of card and some flowers from the garage today. That isn't love to me. I sent him a text earlier suggesting that he says to hell with work and comes home to enjoy some sunshine with me. Time spent with me is a far greater indicator of love than gifts or public displays of affection.

Sadly, it won't happen. He hasn't replied to the text (he's probably been too busy to look at his phone!) and if he did, I know what his reply would be.

Have you read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman? Maggie McCanna, who did an interview with me about New Love in Midlife, recommended it to me and it's interesting in that it highlights the different ways we like to give - and receive - love. Unsurprisingly, I scored highly as someone whose love language is time. My husband also had that, but the giving of gifts and other gestures were equally important. (So that means that he'll be disappointed this Valentine's Day!) I am not unaware of the irony of the past three paragraphs in the context of this post!

I'm digressing again. There's something profound and fundamental that I'm trying to get across that my virus-fuddled brain keeps losing.

In a nutshell, it is this:  we have to learn, finally, to love ourselves. To deeply, unswervingly and truly love ourselves. It might be a lifelong quest, or it might come easily to you, but we have to access that pure essence of love with which we were born. It's fundamental to everything we're trying to do here.

Look into the eyes of a baby or very young child (ask for parental permission if it's not yours - I don't want you getting arrested). Really look. Their eyes are so clear, so free of guile, doubt and self loathing. They are pure love.

So are puppies, but as you are a human being, try to recognise it in your own species.

There might be work to do. If there is, make Valentine's Day the day that you begin. Stop reading this and do something good for yourself. Go on ... NOW! You are love, and you don't need a card or a grand gesture from someone else to feel it. And neither do I!  

Daily Telegraph: https://bit.ly/2WZ06dW

JAMA Network Study: https://bit.ly/2BAO5SW

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Picture Credit: Portrait of Actress and Playwright, Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode by Jo Blackwell Studio


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