by Judith V. Jordan, Ph.D.
February 14, 2012
Today is February 14. Today we celebrate love. We utter the word love more today than at any other time. We represent it with bright red hearts and endearing words. Be mine. I love you. Pink and red and frills predominate. Of course we make money on it … chocolates, flowers, cards. It wouldn’t be an American holiday if we didn’t generate income from it. But also very American, we try to equalize it (if you’re going to send Valentine’s day cards in school these days, please send one to everyone in your homeroom … no need to create pain for the “unloved” on this day of generosity.) And I do remember well, sneaking looks at the piles of valentines on other kids’ desks. Did they get more cards? Who doesn’t like me? Ouch. That side of love.
What is the kind of love we celebrate? Romantic, friendly, straight, gay, parental, inter-racial, mentoring, nurturing? There are so many ways that love is experienced. Many languages of love: touch, looks, words. The common sense is that we feel “at home,” safe, happy, warm, generous when we feel love. We feel someone cares about our very being. And we care about theirs. For sure love, especially romantic love, can bring with it heart-wrenching pain and anxiety. Some talk about the lunacy of romantic love. Does he still love me? Is she breaking up with me? Can I live without him? All the more reason to set our sights on the broad and expansive varieties of love. That move us into kindness rather than possessiveness.
We all yearn for love. There’s a good reason the heart was chosen as the site of love. Love is at our core. It thrives in authentic contact. It moves us beyond the confines of separateness. It leads us to care about others, about the bigger picture. It allows us to let down our guard and count on others to be there for us. … and to promise the same to them. What would the world be like without love? Dark. Bleak. Dead. It could still be smart, I guess. If smart is devising new technology or machines. And smart is good. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived my life trying to be smart. But it isn’t warm. It isn’t life-sustaining.
So, why on earth are we celebrating love only on Feb 14? Why not every single minute of every hour of every day all year long? Don’t misunderstand me, this is my favorite holiday. It crosses religious differences and all the other divides that drive us apart. And it isn’t adrenalized and totally commercialized (notice I said “totally”). And by the way, love is the only answer to the strife that arises around human differences on our planet. Our brains register it as “dopamine hits.” Dopamine is that “feel good” chemical that leaves us feeling a bit safer reaching out to others and opening ourselves to being changed by them. The respect that goes with love is all about opening ourselves to others, letting them affect us, letting them matter to us. And taking responsibility for the ways we impact them.
Moving from our little separate shells into the common embrace. Saying yes, I need the village to raise this child. I need others to help me navigate the twists and turns of being a parent….a partner…a teacher….a president. Neuroscientists tell us we are hard-wired for love. But we also need to actively support the growth of love. Love is the remedy for fear. With love we are fortified for the hard battles. Even the economic hardships are less painful when we’re connected. There are many distractions, many ways we forget what we know: love is what it’s all about. Valentine’s Day reminds us. Was it Jimmy Hendrix who said, “When the power of love replaces the love of power, the world will know peace”? That’s a slogan I could get behind. Could you? Happy Valentine’s Day.