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The labour of love 

Lezlie Lowe strips romance to its unromantic core.

Valentine’s Day isn’t real.

Oh, sure, people will tell you it is. The intellectuals will argue it’s steeped in a history part Roman and part ancient Christian, complete with a martyred saint and a popularity craze that fired up in the middle ages and burns scorchingly hot still today.

The commercial sector will tell you it’s real too, if for different reasons. In the US, consumers shell out $14 billion a year on mid-range champagne and boxboard hearts filled with milk chocolates. Last year, Canadians buying into Valentine’s Day handed over the finest in stuffed teddy bears and—oh cliche of cliches!—long-stemmed red roses to the tune of $92 per person.

No one can argue with those kinds of numbers. There’s something going on here. But love? Love’s more about having the decency not to borrow the other person’s Mach 3.

We try to trick ourselves into thinking the foundation of love is instant attraction, life-long devotion, firecrackers flying—all staples of Valentine’s Day section of the drug store card aisle.


Love at first sight—that fizzy-headed, end-of-the-flick, across-a-crowded-room thing—does happen. I won’t deny it. I have felt sparks. But in love that lasts, in love that is meaningful, the fire doesn’t so much come from sparks but from a surprise order-in pizza after a shitty day.

It’s difficult to wrap our heads around it—that hot cheese and not having to do the dishes outweighs the Valentine’s Day fantasy of pink cards, red roses and dinner reservations. We cling to those cliches, blithely accepting the wash of pastel pink and red that springs up in store windows pretty much as soon as the Christmas trees are down. Why? Well that’s where this argument gets a little circular: we do it because the notion is romantic.

And romance—at least the kind we keep hearing about on Oprah—is held up as a paragon. It’s what we’re supposed to want. It’s what we’re told to expect.

I’m not against romance. My heart is not stone.

It’s just that the mainstays of the pop culture Valentine’s dream don’t feel—even in the foggiest sense—romantic to me. (I might add, the giving is inequitably balanced on the shoulders of the straight male. He’s expected to give flowers, candy, a small stuffed animal, plus make reservations and pay for an expensive dinner and overpriced chocolate dessert. Straight women really only have to cough up the energy to shower, dress nice and give a blow job later.)

Romance, I say, is about showing love. And if I’m right, then romance isn’t a dollar store teddy bear. It’s getting smiled at across the room at your family reunion when your partner is cornered by your wildly gesticulating Uncle Elbridge. It’s feeling like your partner knows you better than anyone else and will hold your hair while you puke. Romance is keeping a cup of coffee warm while the other person sleeps in on Sunday morning. It’s choosing not to nag about the 20 book-high stack of overdue library books on the floor by the front door.

Real romance—love—is trying not to leave the toilet seat up.

How deep is your love? Email:

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