Simply put: love does
The Incomparable Bob Goff
I have to be honest. I have never really been a big fan of this holiday. That’s sort of an understatement, actually. I’ve kind of always hated it. A lot.
I mean, MAYBE I liked it when I was really little, but I don’t remember being little. I probably did- I mean, little girls are spoon fed romance from the time they can follow a bedtime story. Glass slippers and the pursuit of Happily Ever After-ness, except they never really talk about what that looks like do they? They don’t tell you Prince Charming will continue to wake Sleeping Beauty up before she’s ready for the rest of her life, regardless of whether or not she was up all night with the baby, and that makes her want to stab him in the eyeball.
Well played, Mr. Disney.
My earliest memories of the Valentine’s Day were formed in junior high and high school. I don’t know about where you went to school, but where I went we had the lovely tradition of sending carnations. White for friendship, pink for “like,” and red for “love.”
Kids would come to the classroom and deliver them to the recipients. It was a whole thing.
With each delivery I would be breathless with anticipation.
I don’t think I ever got one. I had no reason to suspect I would get one – except I watched a lot of John Hughes movies and I was impressionable.
I never had a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day in college, so the evening usually found me dressed in black with a bunch of my determinedly gloomy friends at a bar shouting, Here’s to the men we love, here’s to the men who love us… over a pitcher of terrible beer, and making fun of the happy people. I think we can all agree, they’re the worst.
I developed a bit of armor when it came to this holiday. I proclaimed it was ALL STUPID, ANYWAY. A ‘made up” holiday.
We didn’t tend to do much for Valentine’s when I was married. That’s not a dig- I truly didn’t care much. I don’t eat chocolate, I loathe red roses. I’m not a stuffed animal girl. I hate sappy cards- especially ones that rhyme. It’s kind of a perfect storm of things that give me the willies.
It took having little kids to chip away at that. It took glitter encrusted, misspelled cards on red construction paper. It took Roses are Red poems written in shaky but precise, rounded letters. It took helping a little boy fill out countless Pokemon valentines and a little girl who unabashedly loved it ALL.
I bought them Valentines, made them heart shaped pancakes. I even bought a Valentine’s t-shirt at Target, for heaven’s sake.
Then my marriage imploded, and the absence of tokens on the day- even tokens I didn’t much like or care about or get when I WAS married- sent me right back to being that awkward girl in high school walking around carnation-free while the rest of the teen world was in love-ish.
It felt uncalled for that there were happy people in the world who were throwing their functional, romantic relationships in my face. It seemed aggressive, frankly- and a little rude, if I’m being honest.
I felt pretty bleak about the prospects of ever being in a relationship again. During that time, a dear friend said this to me in a FB message:
You will be deeply loved by a good man. Write it down, lock it up, take it to the bank.
It’s not that I thought she was lying- I just thought she was delusional, is all. I would never be in love again. I knew it.
I saw this friend recently, and introduced her to my Favorite, and reminded her of the conversation. She mentioned how much she enjoys being right. Whatever. I think we were BOTH right. I don’t believe I am “in love.” I just love him, and I try to do it well. He does the same for me.
We show up for each other EVERY day. We have days that are hard, when we both feel misunderstood or we butt heads- but then the next day? We show up again.
We love each other imperfectly because that’s the way all humans love each other- even when they are deeply committed, even when everyone is acting with integrity and good intentions. It’s the best we can do.
I feel differently about Valentine’s Day now. It’s nice enough, I guess, to have a day when we make it a point to proclaim our love for one another. It still doesn’t feel like it has much to do with me, though. My perspective on it has changed mostly because I place so little value on romantic love. On the “in love” thing. “In love” is sparkly. “In love” is grand gestures. “In love” is attraction, and it can be a lot of fun. It is as sweet as a meringue and about as substantive.
Real love isn’t cute, and it’s frequently not pretty- but cute and pretty are paper thin. Real love isn’t a brand new pink teddy bear covered in hearts, it’s the Velveteen Rabbit.
Real love is often battle-scarred and jacked up. Real love is sometimes uncomfortable and always hard work. Real love is getting dealt a crappy hand- like cancer or the loss of a child- and then figuring out how to love one another through it. Real love is falling down BIG time- like a betrayal- and then owning your mistake, sticking around, and repairing what you broke. Real love is realizing that life is not what you thought it would be, so you change your trajectory, not your partner. Real love is watching someone you love hit rock bottom, and then sticking around while they learn a new way to move through the world.
Real love is yeoman’s work. I think there’s a reason why we use the heart as a symbol for love. The heart is hard at work, all the time. So is real love. It’s not ephemeral, or a feeling, or a state- it’s MUSCULAR. It DOES.
I remember seeing Tom Hanks get interviewed once, and he was asked about the possibility of making a Sleepless in Seattle 2. He laughed off the idea and said something to the effect of- ‘What would it be about? Them brushing their teeth?”
I don’t know why that stuck with me, except that I think I probably agreed with him at that time. The suspense- will they? Won’t they? The romance, the sweeping gestures, the meet-cute- Once they are over what’s left to tell?
I’m not sure, but maybe the best parts? It might not make for a great Rom-Com, but it sure does make for a good life.