Hope Bonarcher takes an honest look at our expectations for this much romanticised day


Am I the only one who struggles on Valentine’s Day? I haven’t always. I’m a romantic at heart and think herein lies my downfall. A child of divorce, I have no lived experience of my parents’ marriage modelled for me. I’ve done more than my fair share of romanticising, creating an idealised version of what marriage should be, inspired mostly by American sitcoms, pop and R&B music, and 80s and 90s movies.

Even today, there’s a picture being painted of what marriage and relationships should look like based on our own pop-cultural view. Two of the top-grossing movies for 2023 were Barbie and The Little Mermaid, ironically both characters I happened to have been inspired by in my youth. The Barbie of 2023 can’t express boldly enough how earnestly she does not desire forever with Ken. Ariel and Prince Eric, however, experience beautiful chemistry from the beginning. After overcoming dramatic and aquatic obstacles, they quickly marry, riding off into the sunset to embark on ‘wild, unchartered waters’ together (this is much more how I envisaged my own married life would be someday. I even love the beach and live to sing!). 

Romanticism can be a stumbling block as much as an encouragement

One of the top ten songs of 2023 was Miley Cyrus’ ‘Flowers’; millions of girls and women around the globe being told they can aspire to be happier in love with themselves than with any common man (or even Liam Hemsworth!). And let’s not forget the woman of the moment, Taylor Swift. The pearl to our oyster, her life seems to consist of world tours, American football games, cheering, canoodling, performing, arriving, exiting…wash, rinse, repeat. 

Back in the days before social media, movies and television, we had the mirror of our own four walls, our family of origin and wider community to reflect on – rarely anything more grand than that. These days, in love, there’s so much to live up to. As women, we’re either meant to be totally self-sufficient, repellent to the suggestion that we might aspire to a traditional, heterosexual relationship or living a social media post-worthy, fairy-tale existence anyone within viewing distance should shudder with envy over. Anything not reaching these two poles on the spectrum doesn’t seem to measure up.

A somewhat different reality 

Somewhere between these two cultural modes of my childhood and present day lay the ruins of my Valentine’s hope deferred. Somehow, you see, God thought it character worthy to unite me, his beloved, romantic, idealistic daughter with a husband, also beloved and cherished by him, who recoils at Valentine’s Day. He not only doesn’t like it, a horrible tragedy occurred on the day many years ago, marking it especially triggering for him. It’s been over a decade of missed hints, near tantrums, stonewalled evenings, belated dinners and stymied conversations over the matter (I even slept in our car one year in protest – I’m here to be honest, not perfect. As you can see, I need Jesus as much as the next person). I’m just coming around to the fact that Valentine’s Day may be a cross my heavenly Father is leading me to let my flesh die on. 

It pains me to type this, I’m not gonna lie…For me, possibly given my childhood, Valentine’s Day represents something as yet unmet and aspirational. Like Ariel and Prince Eric or Taylor and whatshisface, it’s that perfect idea of two star-crossed lovers, triumphing over the tumultuous seas of life circumstances (or manic crowds and distances traversed by private planes), beating out the other billions in the world to find their person (in Taylor’s case, one in a succession of persons, but you catch my drift). It’s commemorating the realisation that we did it! We made it! Let’s celebrate! Here’s a heartfelt card, some chocolates and roses, the reservation is at seven, it’s all about me and you, baby! (Boy, do I like the sound of that – keep praying for me, sisters!) The only problem with this really enticing configuration of smoke and mirrors is that it’s ephemeral. We don’t live in Disney films, and most of us are not Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’. 

‘Valentine’s Day may be a cross my heavenly Father is leading me to let my flesh die on’

Real life quite often looks like: I lost the most important person in my world on Valentine’s Day and I still find it really hard to celebrate. Marriage can look like the ten plus years it takes to understand this of your spouse, because they don’t have words enough to express it and do justice to their heartbreak and your disappointment. Romanticism can be a stumbling block as much as an encouragement. It can drive us as Christians to seek to recreate the mysterious pattern drawn out for us in Christ’s self-sacrificial love for the Church. It can also cloud our vision of the true sacrificial intent in the love of Jesus, turning it into something altogether different…something less than. Buying myself flowers, while I enjoy my Barbie beach house alone, writing my name in the sand, is safer, more temporally secure, than offering the agape love of Jesus.

Maybe you’re reading this and Valentine’s Day stings for other reasons. Maybe it brings up discomfort with singleness or pain from other relationships, or, like my husband, you’ve lost a loved one. May I remind you that marriage is what it is, as aforementioned, because it is an illustration of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). I can assuredly tell you that the fairytale aspect of love is a mere imitation. All agape love in this world is a copy of the one true love demonstrated by God sending his Son as a ransom for sinners, Jesus laying his own life down in surrender for his beloved. Earthly marriages will one day fade away, but the eternal marriage, all the Church will one day experience with Jesus, will last forever! 

This Valentine’s Day, glory that you are chosen, you are known. If you don’t have a ring on your finger, the promise of the Holy Spirit within you is your evidence. No marriage is perfect, but we will all, as the Church, ride off into the faultlessly chartered waters of eternity one day with the One who is. That is worth rejoicing over! Happy Valentine’s Day.v