Although all the high street windows are awash with Valentine’s Day messages, gift ideas and hearts, I can’t help but feel that the traditional ideas of love portrayed is no longer relevant.
The traditional celebration of Valentine’s Day of three course meals and a dozen roses, something to be shared between a woman and a man in love, is becoming less and less common. Although many couples do celebrate the day in this way, others of us are beginning to commemorate the occasion in different ways.
As the average age of first marriage steadily increases and a larger proportion of our lives living and partying with friends, our inner circle becomes wider, and arguably deeper. As Dan Savage popular journalist and podcaster says, “Our relatives are our biological family, but with our friends we can make our logical family”.
As a child, Valentine’s Day was about giving that kid in your year a card signed with a question mark and then giggling in the playground, running away anytime they came anywhere near you. God only knows what we thought Valentine’s Day as an adult would be like…
But nowadays all over the high street are cards to give to your friends and family, events on Valentine’s Day specifically for groups (anyone fancy a wine tasting?), alongside the usual set menus and teddy bears holding a heart balloon.
We rely more heavily on our friends, for fun and happiness but also in times of sadness, in a way that replaces where there would have been a traditional marriage back in the day. No longer is love an emotion shared between only a man and a woman; I mean Tracey Emin even married a tree.
In these times of political turmoil and division the idea that we are loving more people in different ways is heart-warming. But it’s not all that new. The ancient Greek’s had many different words for love, seven main ones, each representing a different type of love.
Interestingly ‘Eros’ which represents sexual love was not viewed positively. Named after the Greek God of fertility, Eros meant sexual passion and was considered as a dangerous, fiery and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you, causing you to completely lose control. Teenage lust perhaps?
But the love the Greek’s truly valued was the deep friendship ‘Philia’, the love between brothers in arms or the love and loyalty you have for your closest friends. This is similar to ‘Pragma’ the long standing love between long married couples and the deep understanding that develops between two people.
The Greek’s also celebrated self-love, but not in the self-aggrandising sense that the Instagram era perpetrates. ‘Philautia’ means the love of the self and the idea that in order to love other people you need to fully love yourself in a wholesome, non-narcisstic manner. They believed if you feel secure in yourself you will have plenty of love to give to others.
‘Philautia’ goes hand in hand with ‘Agape’, a love for everyone. This is the hardest kind of love and one that the modern world is often lacking. It’s a selfless, unconditional love, a love for your neighbour or the stranger in the street who doesn’t know who you are. It’s the idea of love to create a brighter, happier world.
And so it appears that the modern world is only just catching up with the Ancient Greeks. Their instinct to categorise the complicated emotion of love into different words is a thoroughly modern idea.