Love in the 21st Century: A Valentine Special
From the Williams Shakespeare story of Romeo and Juliet to E.L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, one can say that love, and the expression of it, has come a long way. Although both stories have the underlying tone of how true love binds couples, over time, the concept of doing anything for love appears to have been overshadowed by the material things that come with loving someone, making the meaning of love in the 21st century different.
Guardian Life conducted a survey on social media and through personal interviews, using a small sample size of people of different demographics. We asked the respondents about their relationships and what Valentine’s Day means to them.
In the poll, which saw 399 participants, we asked, “Do you equate Valentine’s Day with love?” On average, 75% of the respondents believed that every day is perfect for love, 14.7% agreed that it was for celebrating love, 4 percent only equated the two terms when they were in relationships, and 6.3 percent questioned if love existed.
Our survey gave us some insight into how Nigerians feel about the perception of love today versus how it was decades ago, especially with the introduction of social media and technology.
Considered as the most romantic day of the year, many associate Valentine’s Day with the exchange of gifts between lovers. But how did this old tradition originate? An account from the 1400s describes St Valentine as a priest who was beheaded by Emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed at a time when the emperor had banned marriage as he thought single men made better soldiers. Valentine felt this was unfair, so he conducted marriages in secret. When the emperor found out, he was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.
Regardless of its origin, every year on Valentine’s Day, the objectification of love has overwhelmed the true essence of love in this era that people find it hard to separate love from the material things that come with special dates.
So, what does love mean to the average Nigerian? Can Valentine be considered as a symbol of love, or is it just another way for capitalism to thrive?
From the responses we got, the majority hold the belief that, although Valentine’s Day may be recognised as a day to celebrate love, love should be expressed with every opportunity.
Relationship specialist Elsie Godwin says, “I am a hopeless romantic and I believe love is all about actions and expressions. If I am in a relationship, then I will initiate romantic gestures, no matter how big or small, to reassure my partner of how fond of him I am. This means that I do not need a particular day to show him how much I love him. However, I will not pass on an opportunity to show him even more. So if I do not get a gift from my man on Valentine’s Day, I will be extremely hurt.”
Christine, a young projects and partnerships manager loves the gifts, both given and received, on Valentine’s Day. “I get to receive gifts. Lots of fancy and expensive gifts that on a regular I will need to nag about.”
Kayode, a video editor, although not in a relationship, loves the concept of the day. “If I were in a serious relationship, I’ll show love to her every day but I think it’s good to show love on Valentine’s day.”
Graphic Designer and rapper Olumide doesn’t care about Valentine’s Day; neither does his wife of 14 years and four kids. “It’s not a priority because there is more to being together and there is more to love. To us, it’s just a normal day because we cuddle every day, love every day and share gifts often. When we were still 18 or 19, that was when we felt Valentine was a thing. But right now, we have school fees to pay and other responsibilities.”
Another graphic designer, name withheld, in a two-year relationship says, “My partner and I show love every day and don’t consider it to be a special day. We have an understanding of what Valentine’s Day is all about and I believe it’s about giving and kindness.”
A social media content executive, Wemimo, doesn’t consider Valentine’s Day to be special. “You don’t have to wait until that day to express your love to your spouse. I don’t think it’s anything important but I don’t mind the gifts.”
Relationship expert Joy Ehonwa says, “I don’t care for Valentine’s Day, really, so it doesn’t bother me whether or not I get gifts and my husband feels the same way. Feeling loved and appreciated every day in a relationship is most important to me.”
Different strokes for different folks
But Valentine’s Day in Nigeria hasn’t celebrated the same way everywhere. Christian, a Sports editor, makes us understand that this day is not celebrated the same way in all parts of Nigeria. “I must confess, Valentine’s Day is a strange thing to me. When I was in secondary school, we didn’t do anything [for] Valentine. I schooled in in Aba and how we showed love was joining the debating societies, going to red cross parties and visiting other schools for Inter-house sports. When I came to Lagos, it was different. From what I’ve read, [Valentine] is supposed to be a day of love, not just to a particular person but to people around you. That was what St. Valentine propagated, but now it’s a boyfriend and girlfriend thing.”
Digital growth expert, Onyeka, likens it to significant days like World Cancer Day. “It’s a day set aside to remember love, but that doesn’t mean that, in the 365 days of the year, you can’t go out to express love for your significant other. I think it’s more of a continuous thing.”
Sports writer and researcher, Solomon, believes this can be a day to show affection to a special person. “I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s not going to be the only special day but its one of them.”
Digital analyst, Kola, however, doesn’t think Valentine’s Day is special. When asked if he can make a compromise with a partner who loves celebrating Valentine’s Day, he says, “It’s something I can bend for but I’ll see it as immaturity. It can be a burden to me or noise to my ears and, although I might do it, I won’t be happy.”
Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer, a veteran journalist, has a strong opinion on what love truly means, associating it with patience, long-suffering and kindness, not just for a partner but for everyone. “I’m into florals and the rose symbolises passion and pain because it comes with thorns. Love comes with pain and sacrifice.” To her, Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to celebrate the true meaning of love and show kindness to everyone, no matter how little. “People need to understand the real intrinsic human values and bring them back. That is the only way the world can get around. You can get a little present to show appreciation and say I love you, even if it’s just a written note to say thank you. Old people who have been neglected, you can buy them provisions or something and say Happy Valentines Day. I love you. The message is across: that I think of you as a human being, I love you.”
A Sales Executive, Anulika, says, “I celebrate Valentine’s Day at the motherless babies’ home. I don’t dedicate it to whomever I’m dating. I see it as a day for people who have little or no love in the world.”
“In the end, there’s nothing more to life, is there?”
This question, taken from the words of the famous Irish rock band, Snow Patrol, has taken various forms over the years.
Times truly have changed and, with the introduction of social media and technology, the perception of love today is very different from the stories we hear from our grandparents. Today, as with every other subject, young people find themselves under pressure—whether consciously or unconsciously—to identify with a mental and social construct about this subject. Some might read this and think “I don’t really care about romance” or “these emotional topics are not my thing”; however, that mindset is a form of identification in itself.
Using all the information we have gathered from the survey we carried out, particularly addressing the relationship between the expression of love and Valentine’s Day, we can safely conclude that the major issue that comes with this topic is “expectation”.
Human beings tend to have varying opinions about most issues in the world and the subject of love is no exception. However, the aftermath of Valentine’s Day and the effect it has on a couple’s relationship eventually depends primarily on the mutual understanding of what both parties expect on that day. For some people, Valentine’s Day means the world to them but their partners do not really care about it. For others, the needs get even more specific, down to the types of gifts they want to receive. The ability to understand one another and make the necessary compromises is usually the determinant factor.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether there is a special day to celebrate and encourage the love for oneself and one another, the essence of love cannot be overemphasised.