Alas, poor Valentine:
"We've taken all the fun out of falling in love"

Feb. 14, 2000


For centuries, the birthday of St. Valentine has been celebrated as the day for lovers. As the story goes, the third century Roman Emperor, Claudius II, outlawed wedlock, believing that unmarried men made better soldiers. Valentine, a Catholic priest, refused to abide by the law. Eventually, caught secretly performing marriages, he was beheaded, becoming both a Christian martyr and the patron Saint of Lovers. In the 1500s, young people in Western Europe would gather on Feb. 14 for a festival. The unmarried women would toss their names into a bowl and each young man would draw the name of a girl who was to be his companion for the celebration; hence the origin of ''Be my valentine.''

But times have changed and, alas, poor Valentine has been stripped of his sainthood. In 1969, the Catholic church erased his name from the calendar of special feast days. While this event went unnoticed, overshadowed by the sale of cards, flowers and chocolates, it was a harbinger of things to come -- a sign of foreboding for innocent lovers of all ages. Little did we know then that schoolyard romances would become the subject of lawsuits and crime stories. Never did we imagine that young lovers would shelve flirting and dating, for ''hanging out'' in groups, discussing sanitized forms of ''safe sex.'' None of us who can recall the vibrancy of flower power and the exuberance of free love would have anticipated the demise of passion. We had no idea that mature love would become the domain of sex therapists, with their how-to manuals, videos, and endless cautions.

I still recall, as a little girl, cutting out paper Valentines for my friends. And I remember especially the mushy ones I was too shy to sign; being a secret admirer was part of the thrill. But no more! Gone are the playful crushes of childhood -- the giggling, the teasing and the blushing. Puppy love is no longer safe. A little boy who steals a kiss risks more than embarrassment. Many of us were stunned, a few years back, when an eight year old was charged with assault for doing just that. And recently, in Gimli, Man., an elementary school outlawed hugging. Because hugging may lead to inappropriate touching or encourage sexual harassment, the students are being asked to greet each other with a ''high five'' salute


So that no child will have his or her self-esteem damaged, some school districts enforce an all-or-none rule. If a child wants to send Valentines to just special friends, that's not allowed; every classmate must receive a card. Puppy love, it seems, can't be discriminating. Gone, too, is the romantic swooning of young love, the torturous ''guy-calls-girl'' dating ritual, the elitism of going steady, the erotic hesitancy of ''petting,'' the fleeting declarations of adoration.

Now teenagers and those of the X generation hang out in groups where they can mix and match, while avoiding any hint of commitment. As columnist Rebecca Eckler notes in her observations about ''the new dating game,'' dating is less formal and sex, detached from love, is more acceptable.

A 1999 international survey of 5,000 teens indicates that Canadian youth have the lowest average age for sex -- 15 years old for both boys and girls. Young sex is in! Young love is out! Sadly, even for people who are grown-up and married, the joys and the eternal enigma of mature love have become an orchestrated, technical matter. Magazines at the check-out counters offer working couples the 10 steps to get ''the sizzle'' back into their sex lives.

While annoying television infomercials promote how-to videos guaranteed to rekindle the flame for older folks. If that isn't discouraging enough, former presidential candidate Bob Dole reminds older men that ''erectile dysfunction'' strikes millions of Americans each year. And a recent study out of the University of Washington states that up to 40 per cent of women suffer from some form of sexual dysfunction. Research is under way for a female version, probably pink in colour, of the now famous ''Little Blue,'' that has brought Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Viagra, record profits with 5.8 million prescriptions written in 1998, the most ever for a new drug. Lost in all of this concern about correct behaviour, safety and sexual performance is St. Valentine's love, a love that defies the law. Perhaps the church could do something constructive and put the Day for Lovers back on the calendar. For, as Sophocles remarked long ago, ''A word frees us all of the weight and pain of life: that word is love.''

@ Dr.Tana Dineen

by Dr. Tana Dineen, special columnist,