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Editor's Notebook: Love is Not a Box of Chocolates

By Meredith B. Osborn

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy.

It is the green-eyed monster which

doth mock

The meat it feeds on.

--Othello, III.iii.169-171

Every year on this page someone writes cursing Valentine's Day and everything it represents. Why? Because the author is invariably lonely, miserable and jealous.

Of these three, jealousy is definitely the dominant motivation behind the yearly diatribes.

It is unsurprisingly so; in Othello Shakespeare shows us that love and jealousy are two sides of the same emotional coin. This lesson appears in the history of Valentine's Day itself. The legend of St. Valentine reads that an early Christian bishop was imprisoned and executed for marrying young couples in violation of a decree by the Roman Emperor Claudius. Claudius believed that marriage was preventing his young soldiers from being adequately militaristic. He was a jealous husband, demanding his soldiers' hearts in their entirety, construing a loyalty to their lovers as a betrayal of his army.

The story of St. Valentine continues that while in prison he exchanged love letters with the jailer's daughter, restoring her sight (she was blind) and signing his letters from "your Valentine." But instead of sending saintly flower and lace, many of us, Scrooge-like, send only dark looks and trade only bitter quips.

What is it that makes us scowl at the cheerful couples on the street and frown at the roses in the flower shops? What makes us dismiss St. Valentine's Day as nothing more than a Hallmark holiday created to take money out of our wallets, though the practice of making and sending Valentine's cards began more than 500 years before Hallmark was founded? (The oldest surviving Valentine's Day card currently resides in the British Museum; the Duke of Orleans sent it to his wife while he was locked in the Tower of London in 1415. Hallmark was founded in 1910.)

Jealousy, that green-eyed monster, as Iago knew all too well, is always lurking under love's bed. On St. Valentine's Day more than any other time during the year, we want to be one half of that well-dressed couple insouciantly holding hands as they traipse off to their romantic evening. We want the idyllic romance, the legendary love, that state of bliss so eloquently described on a thousand frilly paper hearts. And if we haven't attained this state of perfect ardor, we are well-inclined to sit at home and curse the very institution of couplehood and romantic love.

This Valentine's Day the author is neither lonely, miserable nor jealous. Why? Because she knows that romantic love, at least the kind represented on Valentine's Day, is pure sham. Those smiling idiots who buy the Hallmark cards and the roses have no idea that true love is really about fights and make-ups, bed-head and bad days. And those of us who know it aren't jealous of those who have it because it's hard, damn hard, to love someone like that.

So sneer at the teenage fantasies reenacted by your peers as long as you want, but realize that what Valentine's Day really does represent is something so much less appealing on the outside, and so much more rewarding from within.

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