Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Love... and other things well worth treasuring

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The Independent Online

At the supermarket on Friday night, my beloved said a red, heart-shaped candle was tat and a total rip-off at £8.99. Guess he won't be buying me the latest big thing for Valentine's day, then, made of a new metal amalgam, rubedo and created by Tiffany. Love costs, in some circles. And therefore is worth nothing. Real love is priceless. I went to see the disturbing, touching George Clooney film, The Descendants, about grief, loss and marital betrayal. All the while I was thinking about how much my man and marriage mean to me; the strength of our mutual love; how lucky we are. Oh there have been terrible moments: times I've driven away, wanting out. But we never gave up on our promise. More than 22 years on we are best friends and lovers. Love between couples should be about resilience, fidelity, trust, a steady entwining of hearts and minds, slow-cooked sexual intimacy. But these days, relationships come and go like the colours of fashion. A big wedding, followed by a short marriage and the next big wedding, is how the story goes. Divorce rates (though stabilising) remain high. I have just finished a series on the devastating effect divorce has on individuals for BBC Radio 4, to be broadcast later this month. Yet recent studies show the public is intensely relaxed about adultery. Tomorrow is a day of brisk trade in romantic frivolities – kitsch, insistent candlelit dinners, overpriced bubbly and lots of hot sex too. In his book on postmodernism, Ziauddin Sardar writes: "The sheer quantity of sex around us is unprecedented in history. We are the first generation ever to be constantly watching, listening to, thinking about, preparing for, engaging in and recovering from sex." There can be no doubt that sex is better today for most Westerners than it was even half a century back. With love, however, the news is only bad. Too many people are rubbish at it; it's causing chronic heartache and is now just another shopping opportunity, an off-the-shelf commodity. Eva Illouz, an Israeli sociologist explores the tragedy in a new book, Why Love Hurts. The causes are found in the capitalist culture which has consumed us all. Also responsible are non-committal men who want it all – several partners, serial families, affairs, both freedom and cheap comfort. To lose faith in love is a seismic sign of total pessimism. Not everybody finds the real thing, but we used to believe in the possibility. That is why so many are now turning to more practical measures like arranged dating. The unexpected can happen. One friend found a man online and they clicked. Something, she says, is growing: "It's not like I hear bells and see rainbows or stars when he touches me. But I look forward to him coming home. I feel cherished. But I haven't said anything to him." That's love, I say.

And she should tell him, though not on Valentine's Day.