The origins of Valentine’s Day are not exactly clear, but one of the more loving tales involves a courageous Roman priest and devoted young lovers. The story goes that the Roman Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage between young couples. He believed that unwed young men made better soldiers because they wouldn’t be tied to a wife and children. According to legend, Valentine, the priest, defied the government’s ban and married couples in secret, believing that marriage was a covenant gift from God. Behold the first elopements.
Claudius II and Valentine recognized the extraordinary commitment, devotion and life-changing loyalty marriage made on men and women, family and nations. Today, Valentine’s Day should still represent that same devotion and loyalty. But somewhere along the way, our reflection of St. Valentine’s tremendous efforts to preserve marriage lost its way.
Sadly (and some might add, nauseatingly), Valentine’s Day has become a sea of pink and red marketing, lacking sincerity or sentimentality. Instead of advocating true love and commitment, modern society takes every opportunity to promote sexual promiscuity.
What woman doesn’t like a new romance and excitement? But let’s take a moment to appreciate the role commitment plays in our lives. I tell our young employees that it’s the hard times that make love real. A friend’s husband recently underwent surgery and, as a result, she spent weeks caring for him in ways she never expected. Some of it was truly unromantic, but it was raw and real and kind and loving.
I am always struck by older Concerned women for America (CWA) members who have marriages of 60-plus years. They have withstood days of trial and hardship. They will admit to times of difficulty to the point where they were frankly sick of each other. But guess what. Those times passed, and on the other side they have solid, loving marriages that are an example and encouragement to all of us.
My husband works for a company that cares for the elderly. It is heart-wrenching to watch as one spouse slips into dementia or illness and can no longer live with the other. One has often cared for the other for years, and they will fight to be together to the very end. Then the living spouse often quickly follows the other into eternity. That’s real love.
Those ancient Roman couples sacrificed everything to be together, and Valentine clearly believed in the power of sacrifice as well. This Valentine’s Day, let’s look for ways to show love through sacrifice, not selfishness. For the future of the holiday, may it forever be about those we love and sacrifice.
Penny Young Nance is president and CEO of Concerned Women for America.