Before the Christmas decorations were even down, stores were already stocking all things Valentine’s Day; candy hearts, sappy cards, red roses, and saccharine sentiments.
What is our culture’s obsession with all things love?
Americans spend, wait for it, $23.9 billion on Valentine’s Day. Yep. You read it right. Billion with a b. Over half of us say we celebrate the holiday, and we show up with our wallets to do it. Whether you’re in the throes of a happy romance or feel a little jaded about all things love, we still make it a big priority in our culture. Not just the holiday of Valentine’s Day, but on the notion of love in general.
The romance genre of publishing makes up almost 20% of the fiction market, with sales in the billion-dollar range yearly. Rom-coms still perform well at the box office. And that’s all just on the fictional side of things. Non-fiction books on relationships, couples counseling, dating apps, top 40 songs on love, and other products and experience reveal that Americans are serious about finding and experiencing and keeping love.
What drives us on the road to romance?
From a physical and emotional health standpoint, a lot.
Our physical health improves when we experience and express love, and not just the romantic kind. When you have the opportunity to love others and to be loved, your blood pressure can stabilize. There is growing evidence that love provides protection for your cardiovascular health. Before we even knew the scientific implications of love, we were already symbolizing love with a heart, a mascot that turns out to be validated by the latest research.
Our mental health also experiences a glow-up in healthly loving relationships. Depression rates decrease, as do anxiety levels. These factors can help explain part of our desire for love; it’s good for us on a physical and emotional level.
Of course, anyone who has fallen in love or has invested deeply in a loving friendship only to see it fall apart also knows that the heartache of losing love has profound biological and emotional implications. So how do we monitor the health of our love relationships?
Learn the difference between lasting love versus infatuation.
Yes, infatuation is a condition that can be found in both romances and friendships. It’s that delight in getting to know a new person, and you can make a hefty time-and-resources commitment in those early days. But be looking for the signs that the connection is maturing and is serving both of you well. Because our culture puts such a premium on the early days of romance and friendship, we can too often confuse those early feelings with the deeper and layered experience of love. Love has facets of fulfillment and sacrifice. It has measures of calm content and excitement. And it should have a lasting timeframe, not a series of a handful of weeks or months. Make sure, for your greatest health, that what you’re calling love is actually love.
Continue to educate yourself about love.
Because love seems to be so instinctual, something we should just ‘know,’ we can miss the opportunity to keep adding tools to our toolboxes when it comes to healthy relationships and realizing all the benefits they can bring. Seek out great books, listen to podcasts, sign up for the occasional conference. Take an interest in growing your understanding and practice of love.
Be honest about how your love relationships are affecting your health.
Do you have a friendship that you value and treasure…but it’s keeping you stressed out? What needs to change? What about your marriage or your romantic relationship? Is it life-giving? Or could you be trying to run a romance on an empty tank? Just as a happy love connection can make life better, challenges in your love life can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotional and physical health. Just as you would make medical appointments concerning physical symptoms, consider getting help with symptoms you see in your love life and friendships. A trained therapist can help you discover what’s missing and what needs to change. And if you’re a Member of Altrua HealthShare, you have access to LifeWorks, a 24/7 counseling and coaching feature that can connect you with the right provider to help you make the changes you need.
If the search for romance has been rocky, consider putting a pause on looking for love…and try giving it.
Give love to your community through volunteering. Give love to your neighborhood by engaging in acts of kindness to your neighbors. Focus on loving others well, in your family relationships, in your faith community. There are many ways to give and receive love, not just through romance or through established friendships. When you pay for the person’s coffee behind you in line, when you volunteer at your city’s pet rescue, when you sign up to read to third-graders at your local elementary school over your lunch hour, you get all the benefits that love brings while also sharing those benefits of better health with others.
Because Valentine’s Day gives us so many reminders about our relationships every time we walk into a store this time of year, it makes it a great opportunity to evaluate the health of our relationships and how those relationships are impacting our health. Check out more ideas about how to celebrate Valentine’s Day. And enjoy this season of love!
Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.