Friday, 15 February, 2008

Regular readers of this blog know that I normally ignore what's happening in the world. It's mostly because I can't be bothered engaging with it, or I find it unworthy of my attention. But, today being Valentine's Day, I thought I'd post the two pieces I wrote for Bec for webSalt. (You can also download the entire issue. Go on! It features funky design by Bec; pieces by Bec, Ben and Guan; and funny pandas with enormous eyes!)

(Please note these are supposed to be two separate pieces, not two parts of one thing.)

Valentine's Day: a day of exclusion. Not when you're nine, of course—not when you're in primary school and you've spent the weekend making heart-shaped cards out of red cardboard, or shortbread cookies with your mum, bundled up in little bags of clear cellophane and fastened with silver curling ribbon. You bring them to school and give them to all your friends to tell them how much you love them—as much as your nine-year-old heart can love.

Valentine's Day: a day of exclusion. Not when you're 15 and it's Carnation Day. You don't even like carnations—they don't look like real flowers; they look like they've been made out of crepe paper—but it's Carnation Day, so you go to the desk and pay your $1 per blossom—one for each of the girls in your group—only to find, when the carnations arrive at roll call and none of them are for you, that all of the rest of your friends thought Carnation Day a silly American practice and didn't bother to send any.

Valentine's Day: a day of exclusion. A day for couples to celebrate their love in grand and very public ways—ways involving cards, teddy bears and flowers, and romantic dates in low-lit restaurants—ways that revolve around two (not one, not three, not four)—ways that all say us and our, not you (singular), not me. It's a day—a day like any other—and yet it's the loneliest day of the year. The whole world is paired up, but you are not. The whole world is in love, but you are not.

A couple of years ago, the singles at my church decided to get together and go out for dinner on Valentine's Day. What a great thing to do! But it was singles-only; couples were not invited.

Valentine's Day: a day of exclusion. It shreds your heart like crepe paper flowers.

Valentine's Day: it's ridiculous, really. Do you really think my love for him can be encapsulated by bright big bouquets delivered to his workplace—by plush white polar bears carrying satin red hearts—by a romantic three-course dinner by the harbour, a string quartet serenading us in a corner? My love for him is more than this—more than Baci kisses or sugared almonds—more than Chanel No. 5 and burgundy silk ties—more than tickets to his favourite band or breakfast in bed. My love for him is more.

My love for him is in sorting his laundry and hanging it up to dry—picking out his favourite cereal in the supermarket—preparing him dinner when I get home from work—cradling him in my arms when we go to sleep. My love for him is in doing the dishes, ironing his clothes, buying him a chocolate bar when I go to fill the car with petrol, praying for him over breakfast. It's in the mirror—in the sink—in our pillows—in a glance across a crowded room. My love for him is more than Valentine's Day—more than this day—more than one day.

It's every day.

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I love that - particularly the second one.  That’s beautiful, and so true!

Well-put. The last in particular made me think of Jane Austen, and wonder whether Valentine’s Day is perhaps a test of love more than the evidence of it. Like poetry in P&P:
“But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”



Until Eve was made, Adam was single. Then God made Eve and ‘brought’ her into Adam’s presence (I’m guessing she simply followed Him through the trees as He strolled along, like a puppy follows its mother). There were, as yet, no customs regarding marriage: no vows of committment, no wedding rings, no in-laws and friends to witness the proceedings, and…no clothes. (Adam here was a grown man and he still couldn’t tie his shoes! How pathetic is that?!  LOL )

It is not recorded as to whether God said anything or not. But, I think it safe to say that what record we do have of this first marriage is sufficient to show the basics. So, when I take this record at face value, it says a lot to me about the nature of human society, and specifically about that core social unit which we call ‘marriage’.

I’m hoping I don’t have to refer to this Bible record in order to obtain agreement on my sentiment that there are only two basic states of human life: single, and married. Regardless, though, my impression of this record is that when Adam and Eve suddenly found themselves in each other’s company for the first time, they didn’t think through a list of all the basic kinds of human relationships as if to wonder which kind they were. I also doubt that they had a socially inherited word to refer to it; they apprehended the manner of this relationship immediately.

To me, that’s the first lesson from this record: only two basic states. But, let me jump ahead to its first application to life in the fallen world: marriage itself is not a committment, since a committment is about whatever is being committed to. The question is why is committment involved? The answer is in the fact that there are only two states: single and married. But, if there are only two states, then what about engagement? Engagement is the spirit of marriage, and marriage is simply that spirit fulfilled, so engagement is really marriage. And this brings me to the answer of why committment has become involved in marriage:

Because divorce is the only other state. Some people get the impression that divorce is possible only if a couple are in a legally binding marriage. But, this is not how divorce began in the world. Divorce is really nothing more than a person’s disowning of the natural responsibility incurred by welcoming another person’s wish to belong to each other in a romantic, or socio-sexual, relationship. So, most cases of ‘dating’ are actually marriage without a legally binding committment, and when or if the couple break-up or dump each other, they are truly divorcing.

The spirit of engagement is what makes it an engagement, not the customary fact that engagements are entered by way of some formality or other. Just like marriage is not itself a committment, engagement is not itself a formal promise. Engagement is a thing unto itself the very nature of which promises its fulfillment.

Breaking up a serious, overtly romantic, semi-sexual dating relationship IS divorce, regardless of whether there was a formal or legally binding comittment to remain together for life, and regardless of the extent to which the couple interacted as lovers. The only real distinction between, on the one hand, serious dating involving romantic and semi-sexual exchanges, and, on the other hand, being engaged, is the maturity that convinces two people to take a legally binding vow to soon become actually married. Such dating is nothing more than two people feeling and acting as if they are engaged, regardless of whether they have already learned enough about themselves, each other, and their relationship to decide either to become committed to a future marriage or to break up.

So, like a rose, marriage is what it is, even though today so many instances of it have been cheapened into being thought of as something else, something pragmatically vague. Contrary to the God-given design of the heart, in the fallen world there is no simple step between single and married. Just one big complicated step.

Nicely put Karen.
A friend of mine once referred to valentines day as ‘Singles awareness day’which I found quite amusing.
I pray that you and Ben are both well.

Posted by Stu on 25 February, 2008 4:51 PM

Hi Daniel,

I have problems with the following.

“marriage itself is not a committment”
According to dictionary, marriage is:
the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law.
According to dictionary, contract is:
a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties.
This sounds like a committment.

“cases of ‘dating’ are actually marriage without a legally binding committment, and when or if the couple break-up or dump each other, they are truly divorcing”
according to dictionary, divorce:
the action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage.
So if I am dating then I am married?

I’m not trying to nit-pick, I also hear many other re-definitions of the meanings of words by Christians to make an emphasis on a point, thats fine with me if its a artistic appeal to the spirit of the person, but myself being a boring literal person I need meanings to be clear and definite otherwise other Christians will re-define the meaning of words and be inconsistent with other Christians. This can make it difficult for a person like me to know what is true or false if the meaning of words are not consistently agreed upon between actors within the domain of discourse.
In these cases I become frustrated as I need to re-assign meanings of words to persons who possess them. Also, as I said, meanings differ between persons.

Perhaps there needs to be a dictionary of new meanings for words for Christians, like if I break up with my girlfriend then I should tell her its a divorce. Thats so severe… “I require a divorce as I am re-assigning my dating affections for someone other than you”.

I’m not against you, its my problem, just let you see the perspective.


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