Valentine’s Day means different things to different people. For a while in the ’30’s, some could only think of the massacre where Al Capone’s men (allegedly) shot several members of his rival Bugs Moran’s gang, leading to an escalation of prohibition-related gang violence. Some actually know about the legends of Saint Valentine, a third-century Roman saint who baptized Roman judges and convinced them to release their Christian religious prisoners.
For most, though, the tradition related to courtship and chivalry is the real meaning of Valentine’s Day. Fairly recently (in the history of the Church), Saint Valentine became associated with love and romance. That’s how the whole commercial sale of flowers, chocolates, and cards got its start (though I’m sure it’s ramped up over the past few decades).
What is Love?
There are four words for love in the Greek. These four words describe very different concepts that we would all associate with the word love.
In no particular order, these words are:
- Agape – God’s love, also known as charity. It’s an unconditional love that manifests in compassion for enemies, selflessness, and giving without any thought for repayment.
- Philia – Brotherly love, also known as fellowship or brotherhood. This is a conditional love for your friends and comrades, and most of us know basically what that is like. (For some reason, we use -philia to describe lusts, as in the case of paedophilia, homophilia, or necrophilia. That’s not exactly what the original word means, though)
- Eros – Romantic love (as in the word “erotic”), also known as passion. Eros is the love we Christians know should exist between man and woman alone, and ideally only between a couple. It is associated strongly with lusts, as well, and the two are easily mistaken for one another.
- Storge – Natural affection, also known as family love or parental love. This is the love we have for our families, and those of us with close ties to even our extended families know this love is very different from philia.
Eros is the love of the Valentine’s Day spirit, and as mentioned it is very closely associated with lust. As a man, I know that we feel a great deal of lust for women who are not our wives, but is that the same as love? If eros can only be properly experienced when exchanged between a man and a woman, then it is clear that this lust (which Jesus identified as an aspect of the sin of adultery) is not love in any sense of the word.
The reason most people can’t tell the difference is they never learned that there even was a difference. When our minds are clouded by lust, we call that “being in love.” When two people have sex, even if it’s just a one-night stand with a random stranger, it’s often called “making love.” And, when the lust fades away but there is no eros, two people break up because they “don’t love each other anymore.”
This is easily traced back to the romantic era of literature. In this era, we started to see all the passions and emotions elevated to a transcendental state. If we look at the literature that predates this movement, we can easily identify how our notions of love were altered from what most of us know deep within is their natural state.
Baby, Don’t Hurt Me
Valentine’s Day is also associated with courtship and chivalry, but we have lost the meaning of that, as well. Courtship is, of course, related to the behaviors of the nobility when it comes to romance and marriage. Marriages between the royalty were not based on “true love” but on negotiation and trade deals, to strengthen the ties between nobles by becoming one family. As such, among the nobility it was considered abnormal to feel passion for your wife.
Instead, if we look at the history of chivalry, we see that particularly the young nobility were expected to satisfy their passions on other women. Of course, it would be dangerous to anger a woman’s father or husband (both on a political level and on a very physical level), so noblemen would “court” ladies with gifts, travels, and the like. The aim was then the same as it is today – the strong bad boy comes baring his soul, and the damsel falls into his bed.
It wasn’t always that way, either. Chivalry is the original “bro code.” Among the tenets of ancient chivalry we find loyalty to one’s house and its allies, self-control (don’t get drunk and kill your king’s wimpy nephew, that sort of thing), constant readiness for war, and protection of honor. It was created as a social code to keep the nobility from acting with impunity, allowing their emotions to override their better judgment and pillaging, raping, and killing their way across whatever lands they entered. And, at various times, chivalry included pursuing women to whom you were not married but never taking her by force.
Not exactly soft-spoken Jimmy showing up at the doorstep with roses and chocolates, is it? Chivalry was only practiced by those with physical and political power.
Courtship for Men
Men, I want to end this with an address to you because I know for a fact we are different from women. Odds are, if anyone is reading this post and not in a relationship, it’ll be a man. (This is not to say women are never between relationships, but their situation is very different).
If you have no woman in your life, whether girlfriend, fiancee, or wife, it’s at least partly because of you. Sure, women can be hard to approach, bitchy, arrogant, rude, or just unpleasant to be around or look at, but you have more power over your life than you would usually think. Think back to my points on chivalry – it was a code to rein in men, not press them down.
A man must be strong. The Scripture states that the body is the temple of the Lord, and the example of David includes that he grew “in stature and in favor.” Do yourself a favor and get in shape through proper diet (not the hippy nonsense, but a diet including plenty of eggs and saturated fats and avoiding carbs) and exercise. I would usually recommend you learn how to fight (not martial arts, but fighting – something like MMA or Boxing) and start lifting. You will live longer, be more masculine, and discover the power of testosterone to allow you to do what you fear.
A man must dominate. This always starts by dominating yourself, through development of discipline and self-control. Stop watching television shows, with all their anti-male messages and propaganda, and focus on what you can do today to become a better you tomorrow. Every action you take to control your life, including letting go of “friends” with whom you share no philia and who try to keep you less than you can be, gives you power. Chicks dig power, and you’ll find that once you control yourself people come to you.
A man must be generous and compassionate. Even Al Capone, the notorious gangster, had a rule that he would not allow women and children to come to harm. In the same way, as men we are both designed to be leaders and providers. Cultivate generosity and compassion, but don’t be foolish with your gifts (among which are your time and abilities).
A man must be humble. Humility is not lying about who you are and what you can accomplish, but knowing your limits. The strongest man cannot outmuscle God, nor can the wisest man outreason God. And, seeing as you’re probably neither the strongest nor the wisest, there are men and possibly women who can outmatch you. Know your limits, and seek to expand them daily.
Focus on all that, and you’ll find courtship takes care of itself. Strong, dominant, humble, generous men are always in higher demand than weak, submissive/lazy, arrogant, niggardly boys.