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What is love?

What is love? (“baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more”)

Thank you to Haddaway for making it impossible to say those words without segueing into that 90s pop classic.

Valentine’s Day is coming up next week. It’s a day associated with hearts, flowers and grand romantic gestures. 

But am I alone in thinking most people find Valentine’s Day at best a bit of a cliché and, at worst, toe-curlingly awful?

Because isn’t it actually the little things, the quiet, understated things that are the most meaningful? Not the balloons and the fanfare and the showiness. 

I don’t know about you but whenever I see celebrities’ massively overblown marriage proposals/gender reveals/baby showers/engagement rings, it doesn’t make me go “aaaah”. It makes me feel slightly nauseous. It also makes me think how many people all over the world could benefit from the huge amounts spent on the showiness of it all.

Curmudgeon Carvalho

Sure, I’m aware I sound a bit Grinchy. But there’s a serious question underneath all of this about love. What does it actually look like?

Scriptwriters all over the world spend hours coming up with the most convoluted storylines of thwarted love, ending in a ridiculous car chase to the airport to stop the plane/sprint to the church to stop the wedding. But is love really like that in practice?

Well, as you can probably tell, I’m a sucker for love that presents itself in a subtler way, that you have to work harder to spot. I’ll give you an example. Over the weekend, I had to talk to my dad about something a little delicate. At one point he put his hand on my shoulder, just for a second or two. Now, many of you will know that, coming from a taciturn Northern dad in his late 70s, that means much more than any gushing shows of emotion. And it did mean a lot to me. But back in my younger days, I wouldn’t necessarily have even noticed it.

It’s the little things

It applies to films as well. The portrayals of love that are the most effective often show very little at all. The heart-breaking tension between Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, the repressed love between Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day, the music and the emotion in the Irish classic, Once. 

And I’m willing to bet that, if you think about the best presents you’ve ever received, right up there at the top of the list will be sentimental items that cost nothing. Your great-grandmother’s engagement ring (even though it’s three sizes too small for you), a picture your kid drew for you at school (that bears no resemblance to anything but which you love nonetheless), a branch from the treehouse you used to play in with your best mate when you were a kid. 

Love is an action

One of the truest things ever said on the subject is “love is a verb not a noun”. This was writer Stephen Covey’s response to a man who complained that he didn’t love his wife anymore. Love isn’t necessarily about how you feel (wrap your head around that one). *It’s about how you act*. Behaving with care towards someone or something else, making sacrifices for them – that’s love, regardless of how you feel and *regardless of whether you receive anything tangible in return*.

I think that’s a beautiful idea. It refutes the idea of love as being a quid pro quo type situation. And it distances it from society’s focus on romantic love. 

So I suggest we just ignore Valentine’s Day (as many of us do anyway) and instead spot love in the little things every day. Extra points for spotting it where it’s hidden under the surface and takes a little effort to identify. 

I noticed it recently while driving through the countryside in the care, attention and perseverance the farmers showed to their land day after day, through some tough times.

You might see it in a friend who tells you an uncomfortable home truth because they want to help you (even though they know there might be repercussions for your friendship).

It could be the volunteer in your local park who tends to the flowers without thanks.

Or a colleague who sends you funny messages all day as they know you’re having a difficult time with your boss.

Today, I’m spotting it in this oil can my dad gave to me last year, which he’d lovingly polished first, a memento from his upbringing when it was used by the boy who went round lighting the fire in lampposts.

Love for little artefacts and bits of history. And the desire to pass that on to the younger generations. Very different from what you’ll see in the latest Jennifer Lopez rom-com. 

But it gets me every time. 

What does love mean to you?