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Happy [St.] Valentine’s Day.

About love: It seems this popular but ill-defined word is best thought of as a continuum of types of affection with lust—and other chemically induced feelings—at one end and socio-financial contracts on the other. These factors change over time; a relationship can begin with the-future-be-dammed selfish lust-fest for two and end as a broken contract affecting a whole family… it often does.

Then there is another continuum of affection: empathy v. selfishness. These tend to change less over time than the aforementioned extremes. But we humans are pretty good at hiding our lack of the former or excess of the latter to get what we want, so when we are found out or give up trying it appears so.

Love’s seemingly inevitable self-destruction is not because we are all raging a—holes behind our smiles, but because we get confused. At work—our other major project besides love—we have to suppress empathy and stress selfishness to survive, and this is, theoretically, the opposite of the way to achieve success in love. We mistakenly—or on purpose?—love our work and treat loving as a job. Anyone can see this won’t end well, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it over and over again.

Back to the holiday. Try this: enjoy flowers for free, when and where you find them, buy your own chocolates regularly and do something every once and a while to truly surprise your beloved. A gift on the “official” day is not a surprise. Don’t get her or him factory-made [by slave labor for the profit of a few] stereotypical things. Make some art to give or buy some from a person who makes it; something created with passion is best for expressing passion, yes?

If that doesn’t work, try something different, there is no such thing as perfect empathy. If your next try doesn’t work either, consider a different lover or no lover at all, Life is too short to suffer unnecessarily. But whatever you do, don’t forget that art is not a palliative for love any more than work is. Art, love and work are not interchangeable; substitute at your own risk.

Note: The title is, of course, a loose translation of “Je t’aime… moi non plus” a hit song from the sixties by Serge Gainsbourg, a disillusioned painter/piano man, would become a legend in his own time, compared to both G. Apollinaire and B. Dylan, no less. The song is a catchy tune with French lyrics and human-generated sound effects; it is worth a listen if you are not old enough to remember it. The film “Gainsbourg: Vie Héroïque”(created by cartoonist Joann Sfar) lovingly puts it in context.