Linda M. Downing
The mystical beginnings of Valentine's Day include a St. Valentine, who was martyred, either for marrying couples in defiance of the Roman Emperor Claudius' edict forbidding it, or for helping Christians escape from the Roman prison. Regardless, signing "from your Valentine" originally bore a heavier meaning than the light-hearted fluff of most "Valentine's" today.
Apart from commitment, romance is a myth. Sexual experiences outside a mutually-vowed loyalty leave only unrequited longings. Sexual intercourse carries no inherent promise of unity of emotion or spirit. Tina Turner sang it well: "What's love got to do with it?"
In a study from 2006 to 2010 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention questioned more than 12,000 women younger than 45. When the government released the findings in April 2013, we learned that 48 percent of the women first lived with a man before they married. Only about 40 percent of those married their live-in.
In January 2014 the Centers declared a major cultural shift regarding marriage: It is no longer taboo to live together without it. "Shotgun weddings" are a thing of the past. Couples move in together because of pregnancies, something dubbed as "shotgun cohabitations," but still choose not to marry. What do children have to do with it?
Increasingly, the choice to not marry seems to be a joint decision. That removes much of the mystery between the sexes, another strike against true romance. The thrill of the chase and the adventure of tying the knot, a.k.a. old-fashioned, legal, piece-of-paper marriage, is over.
Observations, like this by famous Venetian glass creator Pietro Signoretto, are passť:
"Glass is just like a woman. When you think you have understood something about her, you haven't understood a thing."
Ah, Signoretto, that is not as true as it used to be, for more women and men are as transparent as this suggested Valentine: "I'll love you forever, sweet Valentine, but don't ask me to marry you." Deny though we will, we know that little piece of paper makes it a lot harder to get out of the "forever" thing. How much easier it is to refer to our "significant other" or "partner," and walk when the feelings stop.
"If you like what you see, put a ring on it," sings Beyonce. She knows, and we know, that there are couples who are faithful without it. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell come to mind. We also know that the ring or the celebration of 50th wedding anniversaries can be charades. Maybe that is the thing bringing about this cultural shift: We are tired of faking. The divorce rate is climbing among all groups and ages because we did not count the cost before we made the commitment, and our misery outweighs our vows.
Jesus upheld the Creator's directive: one man, one woman, until death parts them. Sex is deemed wrong outside marriage, and divorce represents hard hearts. His words so frightened his disciples that they concluded: "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry" (Matthew 19:10). They grasped the seriousness of the matter. It is only that understanding that gives any real meaning to "from your Valentine."
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side.
Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.