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Valentine’s Day – It’s Complicated

14 February, Valentine’s Day, and we are surrounded by images of young, beautiful, predominantly white people looking lovingly into each other’s eyes and exchanging flowers and chocolates as symbols of devotion. But, like it’s origin, Valentine’s Day is not so simple as the images we see.

Valentine’s Day in its current form was not celebrated as a day of romance until the 14th century and is believed to have originally been the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which marked the return of spring. It was anything but the idealised version we currently practice and included fertility rites with the slaughter of animals, slapping of women with their hides and pairing them off through a lottery. In the 5th Century the pope banned it.

Like Lupercalia there are people today for whom Valentine’s Day may be less positive. It is ironic that the original celebration included assault on and objectification of women and for those living with or exiting domestic abuse the resonance is difficult. While flowers and chocolate are welcome in a loving and kind relationship, they have very different meaning when they are proffered as appeasement following assault.

Another group for whom the day may be painful are older people. We have yet to accept that older adults can and should form intimate loving relationships and both care facilities and family members often make strenuous efforts to ensure love cannot blossom. Carol Lefevre writing for The Conversation on 10 February 2023 says ‘The concept of the elderly, with their age-altered bodies, demonstrating an appetite for intimacy, especially in an institutionalised setting, appears widely regarded as funny at best – and at worst, disgusting.’ Younger family members may be disturbed seeing their parent or grandparent behaving as they do and instead frame the relationship as evidence of declining faculties or attempts by the other to steal an inheritance.

The privileging of the heterosexual relationship as the valid form of intimate expression is also difficult for L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ people. Their lack of representation is another instance of negation and invalidation of relationships that are often life enhancing, meaningful and enduring.

As practitioners we work to support people to develop relationships that are loving, safe and sustaining. Where possible this is a cause for celebration but we should not forget that for others the right to intimacy cannot be assumed and may not be met.

©Copyright Bower Place Pty. Ltd. 2023


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