Every time Chinese New Year falls somewhere in the second week of February, I’m always awash with a conflict of emotions.

You see, my daughter is a Valentine’s Day baby. And that means it’s a double celebration for us (triple, when she gets old enough to date… say… in about 50 years’ time).

But it’s usually around this time that I also get a little whimsical about the nature of love.

When people talk about love these days, they get all cringey and go “eeee, why are you being so soppy.” And “please lor, we’re Singaporean, we don’t need to talk about this kind of touchy-feely stuff.”

Then the men head back to their computer games and the women curl up to binge on their favourite K-drama crush. Or, in our enlightened equality-driven age, the women return to killing their pixelated pixies and the men watch the airbrushed beauties.

But I digress.

I think we don’t talk about love enough. Whenever I say that, however, the laughing rebuttal from my friends always follow the lines of “dude, if you need to talk about it, you probably don’t have enough of it”.

Fair enough, but I’d argue that the reason we don’t talk enough about love is because we take too narrow a definition of the term.

, This Valentine’s Day, what is the greatest love of all?
Image source: Drama Cool

We think love and we think of the Notebook and Crash Landing On You; we think of Titanic and we remember My Sassy Girl. We think of flowers and chocolates and (shudder) fat little cherubs armed with bows. The cliché kills the mood.

Now, I’m not hating on V-day. I do think couples will have their own special days to commemorate and it’s entirely up to them when to do it. The actual date itself isn’t as important so long as they celebrate it together.

There are many demonstrations of love but let’s not be overly rose-tinted about this.

Just like anything else in the world, this emotion can be corrupted. Unrequited, it can turn into jealousy, anger and self-loathing. Unchannelled, it can turn into narcissism, arrogance and vanity. Unchecked, it can turn into toxicity, isolation and co-dependence.

And as anyone who has suffered heartbreak can attest – it can make a fool out of you.

But just as there are many demonstrations of love, there are also many definitions of same said emotion.

What love truly means

, This Valentine’s Day, what is the greatest love of all?
Image source: Shutterstock / Tom Wang

After all, what is love but care for another?

The English language falls flat when it comes to such expressions, I feel.

I’m always reminded of an old joke about a young courting couple. She gets thrilled when one day, he looks into her eyes and says “I love you”, then glances down at the menu and says, just as happily, “oh, I love pancakes, what are you having?”

I think the Greeks expressed it the best.

Love is eros (sexual love), but it’s also filia (friendship) and, for those who really want to show off, there’s also ludus (flirty, playful love), pragma (based on commitment and companionship), storge (familial) or philautiai (love of self). Don’t worry, I had to look that up too.

But the one I like the best is agape (universal love), it’s that idea of caring for a stranger, out of no obligation other than a compassion and empathy for someone who is in a less well-off state than you. It is charity with heart. Works of service with soul.

, This Valentine’s Day, what is the greatest love of all?
Image source: New Charis Mission

When I think of agape, I think of volunteers from the New Charis Mission spending their last weekend before CNY not rushing to buy last-minute goodies, but packing and delivering hampers to needy households living in Ang Mo Kio, Chai Chee and Punggol rental flats.

I think also of foodpanda riders and staff taking the time to donate 500 festive care packs to underprivileged families living in the Woodgrove area in Woodlands that same weekend.

I think of people like Jeremiah Soh bringing friends together to run a socially-distanced CNY outreach event next week in Chai Chee for beneficiaries of non-profit organisation Bizlink, which works with people with disabilities.

, This Valentine’s Day, what is the greatest love of all?
Foodpanda rider Abdul Rahman, who also lives in Woodgrove, handing a care package to a resident. Image source: Foodpanda

Greater love hath no man…

Love leaves you better than when you entered it.

I’ve always wondered about the phrase: “It’s better to have love and lost, than never to have loved at all.” And I’m a firm believer in the former over the latter. And not just with the romantic overtones.

Because it is when you give, that you learn how to receive. And when you receive, you know how much it means to give. And it is in giving, even (especially!) when it costs you – time and money and effort and emotion – that you find hidden reserves of strength within you.

I once read that one of the most common epitaphs on gravestones of soldiers killed in World War I was an inscription from the Bible. The verse, taken from the book of John, goes: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

I’d like to think that these words, written by grief-stricken family members of the many million sons who died in the Great War, would have brought them some solace, knowing that perhaps in their sacrifice – a friend, a compatriot, a brother – would have been saved.

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Now we don’t have to be as dramatic or as sacrificial to give up our lives for our fellow man, but perhaps we could, in this time of celebration – Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day – spare some time or effort to remember those around us.

That act of love, in all its Greek definitions, could very well lead to the growth of a very important person in your life – yourself. Because kindness begets kindness.

And, since it is also Valentine’s Day this weekend after all, I’m leaving you with this classic from legendary songstress Whitney Houston:

“Everybody searching for a hero / People need someone to look up to

I never found anyone who fulfill my needs

A lonely place to be / And so I learned to depend on me”


“I decided long ago / Never to walk in anyone’s shadows

If I fail, if I succeed / At least I’ll live as I believe

No matter what they take from me / They can’t take away my dignity”


“Because the greatest love of all / Is happening to me

I found the greatest love of all / Inside of me

The greatest love of all / Is easy to achieve

Learning to love yourself / It is the greatest love of all”


Here’s wishing all our readers a bountiful Chinese New Year and a lovely Valentine’s Day!

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