We martyrs of Valentine's Day

Anyone in a romantic relationship on Valentine’s Day is aware of the pitfalls surrounding it. Considering Saint Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers, it’s appropriate that it’s a holiday filled with sticky situations.

St. Valentine’s Day began as a Christian celebration of at least three different men named Valentine who were martyred during the beginning of the first century AD. There are few records of these men outside of their persecution by Roman emperors, but two were priests executed after being forced to make an impossible choice between denouncing their faith or losing their lives. Their stories were so similar they were eventually combined into a kind of amalgam saint, their date of death given as February 14 because that’s when a third Saint Valentine was beheaded.

The point being Valentine’s Day has always been about martyrdom, and this tradition continues today.

Those Roman emperors would have been proud of how completely we’ve sublimated this holiday’s Christian origins. Even better, they’d have loved that Saint Valentine’s feast day still yields so many new martyrs. What better way to inflict suffering than to assign another impossible task that dooms one to failure: to properly express the depth of one’s love in the space of twenty-four hours. Heck, I get thirty times that to return a pair of socks for a full refund.

For married couples, this task is known as a “suffering invitation.” Come home with flowers and your partner views it as validation that your relationship has been reduced to a five-minute visit to the florist. Come home with chocolates and you’ve ruined your partner’s New Year’s resolution to get in shape before summer. Come home with a card and… well, if you’re only coming home with a card, you’ll not long be burdened with a relationship anyway. You might as well come home with a lipstick stain on your collar. Don’t believe me? Just try coming home without at least one of these things on Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, that’s okay,” your beloved will say. “I don’t need you to actually show me you love me.”

This is why couples flock to restaurants like swallows to Capistrano on February 14. We can hand our valentine a menu and say, “You pick, then.” It’s an expensive option, but one that allows us to escape with our heads.

Nowhere are the unrealistic expectations for this day more unforgiving than with the couples that begin dating in January. It’s like going from casually tossing a baseball in the afternoon to being forced to pitch a playoff game at Yankee Stadium later that night. It’s unfair to force anyone to calculate the proper display of affection at such a delicate stage in a relationship. Guess right and you continue dating. Guess wrong and Cupid’s arrow might as well have been dipped in arsenic.

The worst aspect of Valentine’s Day is that we’re forced to celebrate on the same day as everyone else. Someone always ruins the curve. We finally get reservations at Le Petit Café only to realize a neighbor just surprised his wife with a trip to Paris. There should be an open-ended ticket to celebrate the holiday on any day of that calendar year. Freed of competition for dinner reservations and the inflated prices for flowers and chocolate, maybe more men would escape Saint Valentine’s fate.

Regardless, there will always be martyrs on Valentine’s Day. Twenty-four hours is simply not enough to communicate genuine gratitude. My wife deserves my full appreciation every day of the year, and even that’s not enough to show the depth of my love for her. That doesn’t mean I’ll come home empty-handed on that big day, though. Countless body parts of the three Saint Valentines are spread liberally throughout churches across Europe—I’m hoping I make it out in one piece.

No, I’ll write a dopey column about Valentine’s Day and awkwardly insert a reference to her somewhere toward the end. With any luck, she’ll let me off the hook with a few chocolates.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him at rob@RobertFWalsh.net or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.