The first rule of love is; Marriage is no real excuse for not loving. Rule number two; He who is not jealous cannot love. And lastly; When made public, love rarely endures.
Translation: Love your spouse, be jealous, don’t tell anyone.
Those were the “love rules” according to 12th century author of The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus. In the 12th century, people were far more secretive about romantic love and for good reason. Love of the flesh was considered incompatible to spiritual growth. People who shun romantic love, did so to demonstrate their commitment to God. Although things have changed, love and lust remain a constant. They do not increase or decrease depending on a particular time in history. They merely go in or come out of the proverbial closet. We may no longer shun romantic love, but we have commodified it.
How much do you love me, let me count the ways: a car, a house, a cashmere blouse?
Love’s currency is clear. We are obsessed with measurable values because we want to ensure that even our relationships become an asset and not a liability. The consequence of our commoditization of romance is universally apparent.
These days, when a man says he is on a quest for love, you can be sure that it is self-esteem he is after, which he discovers come in only three sizes, two, four, and six. And when a woman says she is on a quest for love, be sure its self-esteem she is about to betray, which she does via MasterCard, Visa, or American Express. As French writer Andre Maurois once noted, “An unsatisfied woman requires luxury, but a woman who is in love with a man will lie on a board.”
So what exactly is Romantic love?
Modern day psychologist Erich Fromm wrote the following description of love in his book, The Art of Loving
“The sense of falling in love develops usually only with regard to such human commodities as are within reach of one’s own possibilities for exchange…..The object should be desirable from the standpoint of its social value..”
And then he goes on to say that people should fall in love:
“When they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values.”
This essentially reduces love to a business transaction. What is romantic love if not a transaction?
Romantic love is one of the most intense emotional and spiritual experience one can have. It is an affirmation of one’s values, because only a person with spiritual values can recognize value in another. The saint of courtly love, St. Valentine would have agreed I think, that romantic love is a value to be earned by virtue of your virtues.
There are many convoluted accounts of Saint Valentine’s life, but for the benefit of making my point more clearly, I am going to stick to the most widely held version of his life story, which goes something like this:
Once upon a time, Claudius the Roman emperor, made a decision to ban marriage among young people because he concluded that unmarried soldiers fight better than married ones. With the Roman Empire in danger of falling, he was not about to take any chances with love getting in the way. And so a priest named Valentine enters the scene with the explicit mission to save romantic love. He believed that marriage is a God given right and a holy sacrament, and so he decides to start officiating marriages in secret. He is eventually found out, imprisoned and beheaded.
Saint Valentine, a celibate priest, gave his life to preserve the sanctity of love as an emotion worthy of being framed within the sacred vows of marriage. He thought more about the value of love than he did of an entire Empire. Will you be my Valentine might have been a code for will you marry me. But today’s code words for love come courtesy of Hallmark. And a man who wants to really nourish his emotions might feel cheapened by the constant pressure to make a public display of his feelings.
Are we not demeaning the value of love by broadcasting and commodifying it? Is 12th century Andreas Capellanus right about not telling anyone? Perhaps love should be a bit more privatized. It should be concealed, not because there is something to hide but because true love is sacred and rare and not designed for public consumption. People used to risk their lives to make love, now we risk the potential and possibility of love to make a life: Not the kind that nourishes romance but the kind that solicits ‘likes’ on social media.
Romantic love is a miraculous feat. For it requires the union of two confidant individuals who acquired their confidence without the benefit of the partner they now can’t live without. Romantic love is a mission that you defend like you would your deepest spiritual values, knowing that such values can have no meaning without this particular, specific, irreplaceable person in your life. And long live love.