Helen Ovbiagele

Some days after this year’s Valentine’s day, I asked some young persons in this trendy shop in my neighbourhood  how the day had been for them.

“Did you tell daddy and mummy, and other members of your family how much you love and appreciate  them in your lives?  Did you do something special for them, or perhaps give them cards expressing your affection for them?” I asked.

“Mummy and daddy, ma?  I don’t understand.” said one of the girls, who should be in her early twenties or thereabout. “I didn’t know that parents are involved in the celebration.”

“Madam,” said one of the boys, “I thought it’s a day for showing the boy or girl in one’s life that you love him/her, with cards, text messages, and gifts.”

“Not just any gift,” added one of the girls, “but expensive gifts that will show how much you really love the girl.”
The other girl there laughed and applauded the idea.

“Ah, there you girls go again,”scoffed the young man. “Life for you Nigerian girls is always about gifts, expensive ones and big money.  That’s not love.  That’s not Valentine.”

“What’s Valentine then?  A day for shaking hands to show love?” asked another girl.  “You boys like to cheat girls.  Many boys don’t like to spend on their girls, but they would go about bragging, this one is my girl, that one is my girl!  With empty hands!  That’s cheating.”

“Must there be big money or expensive gifts to show love?” asked another boy. “Are you girls selling your love to boys or what?  Can’t one just tell a girlfriend ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ without giving a gift?  Isn’t a nice card with loving words enough?”

“No, it isn’t enough o!” said the girls in unison. “Card alone doesn’t show that a boy really loves a girl.” one said. “It’s only expensive gifts and big money?” “Yeah, you got it!”  That drew laughter.

“But you people haven’t answered madam’s question,” their middle-aged female supervisor reminded them. “She asked if you told your parents how much you love and appreciate them in your lives.  My children gave me cards.  I was so touched.  I didn’t give my parents because Valentine’s day wasn’t celebrated in a big way in my childhood like it is these days.

“In fact, it was mostly a foreign thing then, and we didn’t connect with it.  Thanks to shops like ours here, hotels, restaurants, etc., it has become a big commercial thing as we introduce special packages/offers to help customers celebrate it in a grand way.  That’s why we have those special shelves filled with Valentine things. 

“Our church, however, has been teaching us to look beyond the social celebration and see the occasion as an opportunity to show fellow human beings affection, kindness, and give help to the needy.  That’s why we exchange cards and gifts we can easily afford in the family, and if we can, help the underprivileged around us.   Madam, isn’t what I’ve said what you have in mind?”

I assured her that it was, and that I didn’t need to add a word to what she had said. I looked at the young people there.  They were smiling with averted eyes, as if convinced that their supervisor and I were old fashioned people who didn’t understand what Valentine’s day really stands for.

I can’t blame them, especially the girls, for thinking that it’s an opportunity to make money and receive gifts.  They’re merely copying what they’ve been seeing adults do.

For many  adults who are Valentine day conscious, it is seen as a day for showing affection/love; but not the agape type of love in which you show caring/love/appreciation without any ulterior motive, like expecting something in return.

The love they feel is laced with lust. Young people around them observe this and quickly grab the concept. You can also mark Valentine’s day by sending  a card anonymously to a person you admire/appreciate,  without ever revealing your identity.  I’m sure our young people are unaware of this.

Many of them feel you just have to be in a relationship for the occasion, and whether it’s new or not, intimacy is part of the deal.  The boys try to convince the girls that if a girl truly loves her boyfriend, she should prove it by allowing intimacy. Some say it will make the relationship more loving and permanent.

True?  Not at all!  At the back of the boys’ mind is the thought that there has to be something to show for the money he had spent on gifts and outings.

The gullible girl agrees and succumbs.  A couple of weeks later, the issue of unwanted pregnancy rears  its ugly head, and there are tears and denials.  The boy is shocked, and he stoutly denies being  responsible for such a weighty problem, when intimacy happened just once.

Tug of war begins. What to do since none of them is ready for marriage? They head for a termination!  This may or may not be done properly.  The girl’s womb or even life, is at risk!  Whatever semblance of love they may have experienced on that Valentine’s day, flies out of the window as soon as the problem surfaced.

Obviously, every celebration of Valentine’s day does not spell doom for the male/female relationship, as sometimes it marks the beginning of an enriching relationship which may actually lead to marriage.

There are several theories about the origin of the Valentine’s Day, but the one the most widely known is the one about a monk who, during the time an emperor disallowed weddings, hid a couple who were in love so they could wed in secret.  He paid for the good deed with his life. We don’t know how true this, but anything to promote affection and love between human beings is very welcome in this world of ours which gets more and more cruel by the day.

We should inculcate in our children, right from an early age to respect fellow human beings, and to help, show fondness and affection to other people, without expecting a reward.  They should be taught the difference between love and lust.

Many churches, especially Pentecostal  ones, take this seriously and they run programmes for young people and  for couples, on how to embark on relationships without lust, and how to remain faithful in a union. This is useful for the society, but we can go a step further.

Right from primary schools,  experts should give pupils talks on how to be friendly. They should be taught the importance of good friendship, because this is the oil that will ensure that the wheel of the society runs smoothly.  With good friendship should come integrity and honesty in one’s dealing with other people.  This may even help reduce criminal activities.

If children are equipped with a sense of  honesty and self-respect, they would be honest in romantic relationships later, and the girls wouldn’t think relationships are an avenue for making money, and the boys wouldn’t think that girls should repay with their bodies, whatever gifts they had been given.

At home, they would know importance of  showing themselves trustworthy. When trust is carried into a friendship/relationship, it would enrich it and give it more meaning and ensure its success to a certain extent.

Valentine’s day is worth marking, but we should concentrate more in appreciating the good friendship we enjoy in our lives, and also in doing things to show that we care for other people; especially those who cannot pay us back in any way.

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