Valentines Day 2016: The greatest non-romantic love stories ever told

As we rush to embrace romance, let's remember the other intimacies

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The Independent Culture

Let’s be straight, I love love. I’m charmed by chocolates that come in heart-shaped boxes. I adore a message from a mystery admirer - even when, like last year, it comes in the form of a card that reads “A very happy Valentine’s Day from everyone at your local Waitrose”. And I have been addicted to love stories, in all their forms, ever since I was eight and desperate for Belle to make a go of things with her hairy crush in Beauty and the Beast – even though the object of her desire was decidedly less hot in human form.

However, the collective obsession with the boy-meets-girl fairy-tale narrative that takes hold every February isn’t just horribly heteronormative. It means that our focus is narrowed, and we lose out on the opportunity to celebrate so many other wonderful relationships. If you’re unhappily single, or even unhappily coupled, you might hate Valentine’s Day because of its focus on romance: today I’m just a girl, sitting in front of her Netflix account, asking it to come up with some suitable recommended viewing that isn’t The Notebook ....

So, rather than dismiss the day altogether, why not revel in the love you have for your friends, your family or even yourself? Here are some of my favourite celebrations of love in its less-championed snog-free forms. 

Family love: ‘The Pursuit of Love’ 

A scene from the 2001 mini-series of Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate

Mitford’s 1945 novel is, at first glance, so very much about romantic love that it might as well be tossing a scented, embroidered hanky at you from the bookshelf: Fanny tells the story of her beautiful, brilliant cousin, Linda Radlett, who is so in love with love that she can’t stop marrying people. However, family is at the very heart of the story – the terrifying Uncle Matthew heads up a home that his daughter Linda can keep returning to whenever one of her relationships hits the rocks.

Even Fanny’s wayward “bolter” mother is welcomed back into the fold, with her Spanish lover – a relationship that caused scandal in the xenophobic pre-war period. Linda’s family makes it clear that they don’t approve of her behaviour, yet they will always support her through it. It helps that her siblings are equally glamorous and wayward: Jassy runs off to Hollywood to marry a movie star, while Matt disappears to fight in the Spanish civil war. The “pursuit” in the title could allude to the times that kind siblings, aunts and uncles are sent half way across the world to fetch runaway children. It’s a perfect depiction of family love, in all its tender, long-suffering, exasperated glory. The Radletts remind me of my other favourite fictional family the Simpsons. Both inhabit a universe in which chaos reigns, but love allows everyone to forge a path through it.

Community love:  ‘Parks and Recreation’

Parks and Recreation

Few can claim to be quite as attached to their local area as Leslie Knope, the fictional deputy of the Parks department of Pawnee, Indiana. In the dearly departed US sitcom, we see Leslie as a woman who lives to serve her community, as proud and protective as a lioness. Leslie’s love is obsessive, and anyone who has ever composed and deleted a thousand “casual” texts to a potential paramour will appreciate her comparable toil as they watch her produce a 472-page brochure before a town meeting, work 16-hour days and then write a book about Pawnee in her spare time. 

Indeed, Leslie loves Pawnee so much that she puts her personal life aside for it, breaking up with boyfriend Dave (Louis CK) because she can’t bear to leave her hometown when he’s offered a job in San Diego, and then ending a relationship with her boss Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) because workplace romances are banned. (Spoiler alert – they manage to make it work in the end.) She cares about her community so passionately that she volunteers as a refuse collector, stays up all night with the local doomsday cult, becomes city counsellor and continues to adore the people of Pawnee even when they campaign to have her recalled. The strength of her feelings reminds us all that the biggest loves are the selfless ones. Love is an almighty force, and if you can channel it outward, in the way that Leslie does, its potential for good is limitless.

Platonic love: Jeeves and  Bertie Wooster 

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in Jeeves and Wooster

A key element of all love, romantic or otherwise, is “esteem” – to respect, admire and hold in high regard. And no pair personifies “esteem” better than P G Wodehouse’s Bertram Wooster and his valet Jeeves, the “gentleman’s personal gentleman”. Wooster is constantly in the throes of some “scrape” usually involving an angry aunt, and Jeeves is always called upon to go above and beyond his job description – although you could argue that he’s such a committed valet that for him, there is no above and beyond. 

Wooster is keen to propagate the idea that he is very much his own man, yet usually defers to Jeeves in matters of dress, manners and romantic love. Jeeves depends on his client in a slightly different way. As an incredibly learned man, familiar with every aspect of art, culture and the aristocracy, he’d be wasted on any other employer. However, Wooster’s predilection for comic disaster allows him to use every single one of his problem solving talents on his client, and Wooster’s equally troubled friends; real life double act Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie then brought the pair to the small screen and injected their performance with perfect levels of platonic chemistry. In this odd couple, we see how the most successful expressions of platonic love are built on near psychic levels of understanding, limitless patience, and a very well stocked drinks trolley. 

Self-love: ‘Frances Ha’

Admittedly there is great potential for sniggering here, and I was tempted to suggest The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks”, or perhaps that song by The Divinyls. But while I’d argue that all successful self-love includes an element of self-abuse, let’s keep things more cerebral. For a long time, my self-love heroine was Bridget Jones. She might seem like an unlikely choice, at least in her big-screen incarnation, spending much screen time in pursuit of Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver as she does. But the Bridget of the books has a much more interesting interior life. She explores her “singleton” status with curiosity and courage, and as she looks for love, she learns to love herself at the same time.

I believe Bridget’s fictional heiress is the eponymous heroine of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s 2014 film. At first glance, it’s a film about friendship, and France’s relationship with her best friend Sophie. But I think it’s really about a break up, and Frances’s struggle for independence when Sophie moves out and moves on. Frances’s expensive, pointless two day trip to Paris is a celebration of the most terrifying, exhilarating elements of being on one’s own, and the joy that comes with knowing it’s often nicer to waste your own time than to be on someone else’s clock. There is no greater cinematic love letter to independent women than the shots of Gerwig as Frances at City Hall park fountain, dancing on her own.