The angst and beauty of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day. It's a $13.3 billion affair, with the exchange of 180 million cards, 198 million roses, $2.2 billion in jewelry sales and 11,000 new pregnancies.

It is the most angst-inducing day of the year for attached men and, inexplicably, some young, unattached women, the former fearing failure, the latter unreasonably certain of it. Blame Geoffrey Chaucer. The feast day commemorating a third-century Christian martyr had no romantic connotations until he wrote The Parliament of Fowls in the 1380s. In the poem, birds gather on St. Valentine's Day so they will find mates. The poem, translated to modern English, begins with the poet's knowledge of love's power, along with his utter bafflement by it. Little has changed in the ensuing 630 years.

The life so brief, the art so long in the learning, the attempt so hard, the conquest so sharp, the fearful joy that ever slips away so quickly by all this I mean love, which so sorely astounds my feeling with its wondrous operation, that when I think upon it I scarce know whether I wake or sleep. For albeit I know not love myself; nor how he pays people their wage, yet I have very often chanced to read in books of his miracles and his cruel anger there, surely, I read he will ever be lord and sovereign, and his strokes will be so heavy I dare say nothing but, "God save such a lord!" I can say no more.

Never mind Shakespeare's marriage of true minds nor whether he shall compare thee to a summer's day. The bard wrote of his own romantic angst in the sonnets quoted less often. Consider this, from Sonnet 147:

"My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are; At random from the truth vainly expressed; For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright; Who art as black as hell, as dark as night."

Well. That's bleak. No Hallmark contract for him.

Such weight is placed upon St. Valentine's Day that 53 percent of women said in one poll they would end their relationships if they didn't get something for Valentine's Day. More startling, perhaps, is that the same poll revealed that 14 percent of women who responded said they send themselves flowers for Valentine's Day.

Still, we manage. Just start asking friends to tell you how they met.

Rococo proprietor Bruce Rinehart was working when he was smitten by a customer who, alas, was there on a date. But love wins: The date left the table, and by the time he got back Bruce and Amber had a date for the weekend. They celebrated their 10th anniversary last year.

Philip Busey, senior vice president at Delaware Resource Group, wanted to sit next to a pretty girl at Southwestern State. He spotted one sitting in the second row of his art history class wearing a pink button-up blouse. He and Heather celebrated their 11th anniversary last year.

Betsey and I celebrated our 11th anniversary in 2015 too, but we met the modern way: eHarmony. There was a moment on our second date when she looked at me and I saw that smile and I knew. We got engaged on the anniversary of our first date at the same table where we'd sat a year earlier, the two-top bistro by the window at Kilkenny's.

Thank goodness for the other 364 days we have every year to pair off. The ending, from Chaucer:

"Good cause have they to glad them oft, His own true-love each bird will take; Blithe may they sing when they awake, Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft, The winter's tempest you will break, And drive away the long nights black!"

Published: Fri, Feb 12, 2016

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