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Valentine’s Day is the ultimate cultural paradox. It is a day we commemorate a Catholic bishop who died on account of hatred of the Faith. Our culture celebrates this with pink hearts and trinkets and candy and edible lingerie. Ostensibly, it is a celebration of love. But every year I ask whether the love with which Valentinus suffered for Christ, the love with which my third-grade son has to scribble names on a stack of super-hero tear-away cards (because you can’t hand out Valentines unless everybody gets one), and the love with which a young man picks up some chocolates and a glow-in-the-dark bustier for his girlfriend of three weeks have anything to do with one another.
Some years back I angered a young woman at a talk I gave because I had “just destroyed her favorite song.” That day it was Nellie Furtado’s “I’m like a bird” that includes the forgettable lyrics “Although my love is great, although my love is true. I’m like a bird. I’ll only fly away. I don’t know where my home is. I don’t know where my soul is.” I had simply pointed out that saying to your beloved that you perceive, yes, an intense feeling (which you name “love”) but that you know you will just flitter away to the next object of that intense feeling is an odd way to write a love song. (I also told the audience that high on the list of qualities for a potential mate should be “Knows where her/his soul is.”)
So, if you like Alex Clare’s song, “Too Close,” you better stop reading.
When I try to find images for my love for my wife, several come to mind. Some are tried and true and some, the best, are inside jokes that only she would understand. But never has our love felt anything like two dueling armored ninjas sparring with blunted katanas in an abandoned warehouse. So the video baffles me. (Disclaimer: I am old enough to have danced to Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield,” and indeed have thereto danced.)
Mr. Clare’s song gives a paradoxical reason for their musically delivered breakup. They are too close: “And it feels like I am just too close to love you / There’s nothing that I can really say / I can’t lie no more, I can’t hide no more / Got to be true to myself / And it feels like I am just too close to love you / So I’ll be on my way.”
Beyond the admission that he has been lying the whole time, there is something disconcerting about breaking up because one feels too close.
Perhaps two axioms of relativism unravel the mystery. The first one is feelings.
Yes, I grew up with Freddy Fender when love was starting to be “nothing more than feelings.” But the language of love is a language of substantial claims, long-term adverbs and exclusivity. Phrases like “forever” and “only you” abound, and comparisons tend to range from ocean breadths to Randy Travis’ more down home “Deeper than the Holler.”
But feelings are fleeting. They come and go. They attach themselves to objects seemingly at random. A few generations have been brought up using long-lasting language to describe something that they have been told is only feelings. No wonder they think they’re lying all the time.
The second axiom of relativism is subjectivity. I am the ultimate criterion of all I survey. My martyrdom is not like Valentinus’, but via so-called fidelity to self. Hence Alex Clare’s “Got to be true to myself.” I toss you from my lifeboat, girl, because I decided to move in another direction, indicated by the elusive north star of my whims du jour.
Who cannot be a hero, a ninja master, with such a low bar to reach? The only standard I have to rise to is my momentary definition of love, based on my feelings of the moment.
Christ spoke to us about building our life on rock and not on sand. Relativism is sand in theory, even if, in practice, many come to realize that they cannot live a fully human life according to its tenets, so they throw some gravel into the mix. The non-practicing relativist lives life thinking he is lying to himself and others, since his nature whispers truths his nurture has denied.
Still, I would not suggest ever dating a professed relativist. When you ever have that talk about the status of the relationship, there is no way to know what the other person means. The worst of it is, neither does the relativist, whose will obeys only the whimsical windsock of feelings. When love presents itself in its undeniable reality, it will be “too close” for the comfort of post-modern emotional subjectivity.
“Be my Valentine” means something else entirely. “Greater love hath no man more than this…” It means that your love transcends self and feeling, etched in the stone of selflessness.