Valentine’s Day a chance to ponder the mystery of love
In 30 years of column writing, I don’t think I’ve ever written about love, but this issue of the Northside Sun is coming out on Valentine’s Day.
Today St. Valentine’s Day is really more about money than love with total expenditures in 2017 topping $18.2 billion, over $136 per person. This is an increase from $108 per person in 2010, according to Wikipedia.
Three early Christian martyrs were named Valentine and the Christian world has honored them on February 14 for more than 1,500 years.
The celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer's poetry about "Valentines" in the 14th century. Since then, St. Valentine’s Day slowly but surely became entwined with love. The fact that February 14 was also the day Romans celebrated fertility probably had something to do with it. Funny how traditions persist.
There are many types of love. Jesus summed up the law by telling us to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves.
But the Valentine’s Day love is clearly the type of love connected with fertility. This is not the type of love Christians are supposed to feel toward our neighbors. Many a divorce has been caused by that misunderstanding.
I know this type of love well. I was girl crazy from a young age. There is nothing worse than being a teenager and having a hopelessly painful crush on an unattainable object of your desire. I still shudder at the thought of those intense emotions and desires. Hormones are powerful things.
Once I got through that awful stage, my love was subjected to my desire to find the perfect wife. Either her mother was fat, or she smoked, or she wasn’t smart enough, or she was boring or too mean or too flighty, etc. ad infinitum.
My father, John Emmerich, laughed at my efforts. “Son, you don’t choose a wife, she chooses you,” he would tell me. His other pearl of wisdom: “You marry the woman you are in love with when you are ready to get married.”
In India and other countries, they have arranged marriages. Apparently, this works out pretty well. Americans are far too independent and impulsive for such a methodical process. We believe in love. We are in love with love.
Then there are the pheromones. According to Smithsonian magazine, your nose can help you find a compatible mate. Your body releases pheromones, which are like hormones that operate outside the body. Human beings communicate with pheromones even when we are not consciously aware of it.
Mammals have a special organ in their noses that serve as pheromone receptors. In humans, these receptors atrophy after birth. Research is mixed on the extent to which pheromones influence human behavior. It’s disconcerting to think we could unintentionally communicate our desires through pheromones.
Most of us would acknowledge that there is both a mental and a physical aspect to love. You can totally be into someone as a friend but that special magic just isn’t there.
I can tell you this: I had zero choice in picking my wife Ginny. From the first kiss, it was a done deal. End of discussion.
To be sure, she was charming and I liked her friends and family. I also liked the fact that she had deep Mississippi roots like me. But I do believe I was enveloped in a pheromone haze.
All country western songs center around a hook. I have a great hook that explains my marriage. “She drives me crazy, but she still drives me crazy.” I need to find a songwriter who can capitalize on this.
While in the love haze, I had the sense to suggest we get a compatibility test before it got too serious, which it already was.
Twenty-five years later, I am amazed at the accuracy of the test. The test had four categories, three of which we were extremely compatible, one of which we were extremely incompatible. Sure enough, we are still together, but we fight over our one major incompatibility.
We are both engaging, energetic people who love to have fun, laugh and try new things. We are a similar mix of traditional and non-conformist. We both are social. I am needy and she needs to give.
But we have one big incompatibility: I will trash the moment to achieve the goal. For Ginny, the moment is the goal. So we have fought over child rearing. I am strict. She is lenient.
Over the years, I have watched dear friends struggle with marriages. Some have ended in divorce. It is a mystery why some survive and others don’t.
Each human being has thousands of aspects to their being. When two people come together, there are millions of ways those thousands of aspects can attract or repel. That intricate kaleidoscope of interaction falls along a standard Bell curve: Some couples are great matches, some are terrible matches and most of us fall somewhere in between.
During our engagement, Ginny did one key thing that ultimately kept us together: She insisted I believe in God and go to church. That was her one and only requirement for marriage.
I also had a requirement for marriage: That there could only be one head of the household and that it would be me.
Her requirement ultimately turned me into a true believer, filling our house and souls with the Holy Spirit, on which we have relied in difficult moments to pull us through. So far, it has not failed.
As for my requirement, well, that has long since been discarded as silly pre-marital babble.
When I was young, I feared marriage. How could I possibly stay married to the same person? I would be hopelessly bored out of my mind. There was just no way.
Well, anything is possible with God. God can find that one person in the whole world who you can live with 24-7 for 25 years and still not be bored. You can say a lot about Ginny, but boring will never be on your list.
Love, love, love. How can I be married to someone for 25 years and she be even more mysterious and inscrutable than the day we met? I have long since given up ever trying to figure her out. There are some mysteries to the universe we mere males are simply never destined to understand.
It’s hard to be 60 years old and in the throes of a hopelessly painful crush on an unattainable object of your desire. But today is St. Valentine’s Day! Maybe I’ll get lucky.