Romance is in the Air


So say the recurrent reports from the greeting-card and gift-shop industry experts, the same ones that pour in every year around this time.

And generally speaking, we commemorate the veracity of this truth by observing Valentine's Day every year on Feb 14. But whether we're paying homage to its Roman origins or falling prey to the social conditioning wreaked by FTD commercials, stuffed animals clutching big puffy hearts to their chests, and shop-window displays dripping with the color red, we celebrate romance and love on Valentine's Day.

This celebration often translates to pressure to exchange obligatory love-tokens and manufacture the most perfectly romantic scenarios (rustic mountain getaways? aphrodisiac appetizers of oysters and champagne? private hot-tub sessions?)—at least for the partnered or otherwise paired-off among us. And for the single guys and gals? It's either a cultural cue to renew the pity toward one's self for being alone or an excuse for defiant debauchery in the name of reactionary resistance.

Okay, I confess to an entrenched cynicism regarding popular holidays such as Valentine's Day. (As if you couldn't figure it out.) But can you blame me? Growing up in a strip-mall-saturated landscape where everybody's favorite weekend bonding activity is shopping, I learned holidays were more a pretext for themed consumer marketing (e.g., Valentine's Day = hearts, red; Easter = bunnies laying eggs, pastel yellows and purples and pinks; et al) than true shared ritual.

But this year, my friends, astrology has ensured that Valentine's Day is the real deal by presenting us with perhaps the most quintessentially romantic aspect I can think of—Venus conjunct Neptune—exact on Mon, Feb 14. Under an influence like this, even the most jaded among us may be tempted to become mushy mooning messes. Venus, as most of us know, is the planet of love, representing that for which we find our greatest affinity and affection. Neptune, meanwhile, casts our reality with a dreamy idealism that easily allows difference to disintegrate into the fog. Put these two together, and we get an energy of idealized love, the ability to see beyond mundane frustrations and touch the transcendent bliss underlying our unions. How romantic is that?

Let me clarify, though: While this astrological vibe may help to foster the ideal romantic environment this week, it will not bowl us over with bustle or bombast. If we choose to ignore it, it could easily pass us by without notice. That's because Venus and Neptune are two of the more gentle, receptive and subtly enticing planetary forces—they impact moods and frame situations and draw opportunities to us, but don't necessarily 'make things happen'. I'm obliged to add this caveat, in case those who opt to stay in and mournfully watch Sex and the City reruns retroactively disparage Venus/Neptune's good name because love didn't come knocking at their door, unsolicited, like the neighborhood welcome wagon.

However, if you dare to really and truly believe in the boundless power of love—whether in existing relationships or in potential connections not yet manifest—to inspire us to live more beautiful lives and, in the process, create a more beautiful world… then the magic is there for the taking.

Now, if you detected a smidgeon of over-the-top optimism infusing the aspirations expressed in my previous statement, then you are already clued in to the latent downside in Venus's conjunction to Neptune. (Every astrological aspect, without exception, has its goods and bads.) Remember how I described Venus/Neptune's idealized love as promoting the 'ability to see beyond mundane frustrations'? Well, rephrased in less blindly buoyant terms, this same propensity becomes an inability to see the fullest truth of a situation, clouded as it is by a rose-colored curtain of fog.

The very energy that helps us see the love and beauty in everything can also lead us to overlook the pain, anger, disrespect or whatever other 'ugliness' lurks about. Another way to look at Venus conjunct Neptune is the heightened tendency for addictive, escapist or otherwise illusory attitudes toward love and beauty. The paradox: Love is powerful enough to change the world, but then again, realistically, is it?

Key to navigating this paradox is the necessity to stay in the moment when treating yourself to the inspiring romance, whether in an interpersonal relationship or any other facet of life possessing the possibility to lean toward either ideal fulfillment or self-deception. We can love purely and splendidly without being attached to it lasting. We can write moving poems and paint exquisite pictures without pretending a harsh reality doesn't also exist. We can (and should!) dream big without living for the future.

Keep this in mind before committing yourself to forevers, alwayses and everythings—do you really and truly believe in the commitment you're making, or does the moment feel so good that you'll say or do anything to maintain the sensation? And if the moment feels so good, then why not enjoy it to its utmost instead of worrying about its end, whether that's fifty years from now or tomorrow morning?

I've tried my best to avoid too many references to traditional one-on-one, sexual, monogamous, life-sharing, couple-unit relationships in describing the general tone in the air, since 'romance' comes in many more shapes and sizes than that one mold. After all, Venus and Neptune's conjunction is in Aquarius, an untraditional and rebellious and group-minded sign that cultivates social bonds of so many various varieties. This Aquarian tenor is reinforced this week by a supportive sextile (gently positive 60-degree angle) between Uranus, Aquarius's ruling planet, and Mars. Its added impact provides some physical vitality for behaving in an unorthodox, liberatory and/or community-oriented fashion.

The romantic love with which we may consciously choose to connect this week need not be limited to those we date, sleep with or marry. It can be friendship love, love of shared beliefs, love for intellectual ideas or artistic expressions, or whatever kind of love you genuinely feel. Beyond the confines of such specifics, all these loves at their core point at the same big undifferentiated pot of love from which everybody draws—the love of being, the love of life. And that is something no gift purveyor can stuff, dye red, staple a puffy heart to, and sell to its target demographic a couple weeks each year.