When we say love, what are we talking about? Porn is easy to find. Music videos are more and more explicit. The ‘hook-up’ has become accepted and normal. As I write this, #16 on the Billboard charts is a song called “Drunk in Love” by Beyoncé. “Drunk in love / we be all night / Last thing I remember is our / Beautiful bodies grinding off in that club / Drunk in love,” it says, which doesn’t sound like the love I know. It sounds like lust—the consuming desire for something. But if love doesn’t mean wanting the other person, as our culture so often implies, what does it mean?
Pope Francis, who is rapidly becoming famed for acts of charity, says “in love, it is more important to give than to receive. The one who loves, gives . . . Gives things, gives life, gives oneself . . . to others.”
Youth culture has become alienated from the idea of love as giving. We seek momentary pleasures in porn, in hooking up. We treat each other as things that give pleasure, not people with hopes and fears. Our love is the one-night stand, the instant love of every Valentine’s Day, a day when the unsellable commodity—love—is advertised as being for sale. “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”—and can buy her affection. And don’t forget the roses—one dozen red—for $70. And what is love without chocolate and a cheesy heart-shaped card? What most people think of as love is retail love—it is the salesperson’s love that sells diamonds, music videos, cards, and flowers.
Love doesn’t exist one day and die another. It grows slowly, nurtured by small gestures of caring and small acts of kindness, and dies in the absence of these gestures. It is part of being human, and part of our society’s sickness that we have lost sight of it. The prescription is radical—to admit that love takes effort and time.
Time spent together, without distractions—including Facebook, Twitter, and our cellphones—to talk about our hopes, fears, and problems with each other face-to-face. Time spent to show compassion to people and have that compassion shown to us in turn. Time spent where all that matters is the other is the essence of love. But who has time to unplug and share that time? Time away from your devices means you’ve fallen out of the social media loop. You’re no longer cool, you’re no longer trendy.
We no longer love, because we fear the loss of being trendy. We would rather be superficially connected to a thousand than deeply connected to a few. This Valentine’s Day, pause and consider: am I buying love to make up for a lack of time?