By Jeanette Winterson, The Guardian, 14 Feb 2012
Occupy Valentine’s Day. This is the day to recognise love in every shape and size and disguise. Known love, new love, love’s ghosts, love’s hopes. Loss is here too, and the spaces in between love.
Reclaiming love is the best thing we can do. Love has been squatted for too long by those false cupids with their “for sale” signs. It’s not a coincidence that Venus is the goddess of love and money. Or that her fat friend with the arrows lends his name to desire of both kinds. Cupidity is the all-consuming longing for riches. Love and money are both an exchange.
In 1967 100,000 or so idealists decided to occupy love – in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. They stood for communality, sharing, an end to excessive greed, and for peace. This was the Make Love not War generation.
The most conclusive response to this conscious, if chaotic, challenge by love’s disciples to the supremacy of power and wealth happened in the mid-80s – the Thatcher/Reagan de-reg years, when money cloned itself as an alternative to every other expression of life. Wealth became the avatar of love; it’s sinister flashy alter-ego. Love was for weekends. Love was a leisure activity. Hotels, flowers, chocolates, jewels, celebrity divorces, serial monogamy, porn and prenups. Love as commodity, like everything else. The upgrade generation realised that people could be traded in. Relationship not working? Get a new model.
What happened to love?
Traditionally men have been the suitors and the wooers and women have done the love-work needed to make life more than a series of dates. Commitment means invisible mending every day.
Children need so much love. And then there are friends. Parents. Strangers even. The love-life of a community. Women used to do a lot of that. Now women struggle to manage the love-work on top of everything else. Women are not to blame. We all had a fantasy that love could take of itself. That whatever we did, love would always be there, like oxygen or the sun.
Love is an ecosystem. You can’t neglect it, exploit it, strip-mine it, pollute it, and wonder what happened to the birds and the bees.
It’s time to re-think love.
Valentine’s Day is about romance and sex. I sent my girlfriend a card that said Happy Posh Meal and Hanky Panky Day. It entertained me but it made me think about all the missed opportunities of 14 February.
National Love Day could become the secular sister of the Jewish Day of Atonement. Instead of saying sorry to everyone we have offended, we could hug those we love and who love us – and give some hugs to those who don’t get hugged enough.
Love isn’t a commodity so it doesn’t have to be in short supply.
Romance and sex are great but love’s possibilities are so much bigger. All our relationships are based on love of different kinds, because there are so many different kinds of love. If we could try to experience love as a quality – like compassion or courage – and focus less on love as an event, something that happens, then love would belong to us, rather than being dependent on us belonging to someone.
National Love Day should be about role models too. Any gender-mix, any kind of relationship, but ones that last. Teenagers need to go crazy over each other, to experiment, to come and go without fear, but they also need to see that love can change and deepen. And young people benefit from seeing adults who know how to love their friends, and for whom life is more than work or money.
Venus doesn’t ask us to choose between love and money, but by making the connection explicit, she asks us to consider what is more valuable to us – and why. Everybody knows the story of Midas, whose touch turned everything into gold – which was great until he was eating gold and sleeping gold, and until his little daughter jumped into arms and truly became his golden girl.
What you risk reveals what you value.
I am optimistic about love again. The money has gone. It was an illusion except for the very rich, who as usual have privatised the gain and nationalised the loss.
Love is an alternative currency. Occupy is a worldwide movement for change, not short-change. Money as the dominant value has failed practically as well as ideologically. This is a generational opportunity to reclaim love as the proper basis for all that we do – marriage partners or business partners. No longer all of the planet and all of its peoples as one vast money-making machine, but a place we can call home.
Start today. Love your loved ones. Love yourself. Love the stranger. And remember that love never counts the cost.