I am not cynical about Valentine’s Day.
Yes, yes—it is shamelessly exploited to boost retail revenue and often sullied with sentimentality and a rather narrow notion of love. But, having said that, if we use our heads surely we can use this day to celebrate and express our hearts.
I mean—how could remembering and expressing love be a bad thing? What could possibly go wrong?
In the interest of full disclosure let me say—I have had a less than heart-warming history with V Day. And, as more than one wasband would be all too happy to testify, intimate relationships may not be my forte. So, this blog is less stellar insight than contemplative review highlighting a few lessons learned the hard way.
There were, of course, the early years—the years when my mother insisted that I give one of those cute animal-holding-a-heart cards to every other child in my class so no one would feel left out. Where was the meaning, the honesty, in sending Tommy Robinson—the dark-haired, wild-eyed, pint-sized hooligan who regularly mowed me over on the playground—a card declaring I wanted to make him “My Valentine?”
First lesson: Coerced expressions of affection don’t mean much.
(But of course coercion is not always so easy to spot, even in ourselves.)
Then came the complicated years—the years of young love—the years of waiting and hoping that the boy-man in my physics or math class (yes, I went for the nerds) would somehow intuit the passionate relationship we were having in my daydreams and declare his love for me. In later years- when there were actual dates, relationships and some awkward but surprisingly satisfying sexual encounters—I unconsciously adhered to the he-should-know-what-I-want folly. Somewhat understandably the “he” in question, no doubt terrified by the pressure to get-it-right without any hint from me, often ignored the day altogether.
Second lesson: Don’t expect others to read your mind. If you’d like something, ask.
In my defense, I was never one of those women who thought V Day was a one-way street. I put considerable time, energy and thought into offering some tangible and poetic (yes, long poems were written) demonstration of my affection for the young man in question. It took a lot of years to figure out that I was giving what I wanted to receive and not necessarily what the other desired.
Lesson three: Do not assume the other wants you to do for them what you would like them to do for you. When in doubt (again)—ask!
My worst Valentine’s Day came six weeks after my marriage to my sons’ father ended. In our decade together he had never given me flowers for any occasion, and I was okay with that. Hence my shock when I opened the door to a delivery of long-stemmed roses after we’d separated. I burst into tears. I think in that moment I recognized that we had underestimated the power of small symbolic gestures to keep the fires of intimacy alive (or at least remembered,) particularly during those exhausting years with small children. The roses carried the scent of too-little-too-late. I was overwhelmed with grief for what had been lost.
Lesson four: Never underestimate the power of small gestures to help bridge the times when life’s challenges may dampen passion’s spontaneous combustion.
Fast forward fifteen years: I was an older, wiser woman. I did not hope or hint or imagine that someone should just “know” my preferences. I spoke up, invited discussion, listened, expressed what mattered to me and what didn’t. My then-love now-ex was surprisingly enthused about Valentine’s Day—said he wanted to celebrate it, use it as a chance to do Something Big, wanted us both to surprise the other. So, what the heck, I agreed. I planned a weekend away at a hotel. I arranged a massage for him and bought him the noise-canceling headphones he’d been lusting after. And I wasn’t coy—while the gift was a surprise, I’d told him about the get-away plans. Mid-week, aware that planning was not his forte and not wanting to set either one of us up for disappointment, I gently reminded him that The Weekend was coming up. He smiled, nodded knowingly, and in his best conspiratorial voice said, “Oh, you just wait. I have a few very big surprises planned.”
Three days later I found a card (he’d misplaced the envelop) on the hotel bed, signed sparingly, “Happy V Day.” That was it. As predicted I was indeed surprised—although baffled might be a more accurate word. When I later asked, “Ah…was the card the Big Surprise?” he got angry and shouted, “Yes, and don’t you dare ruin this weekend by being disappointed!” So, I wasn’t—or at least I tried very hard not to be.
If he had said from the beginning that he didn’t want to do anything for V Day, I’d have been okay with it. But, he’d done what he was about to do countless times during the decade we were together: he’d said what he thought I wanted to hear and then, angry that he’d agreed to something he didn’t want (and, incidentally had never been asked) to do, set us both up by not doing what he had said he would.
Lesson number five (which took me a decade to really get): When someone shows you who they are and how they live their life, believe them.
Is it any wonder that I feel no angst and some relief to be approaching Valentine’s Day single?
The truth is that being uncoupled has made me more able to express my appreciation for all the places in my life where love is given and received. Free from the mine-field (or is that mind-field?) of hopes or promises (mine or another’s) I am able to let those who love me know how much I appreciate and love them. No disappointment, just continual delight in what is. While I have not padlocked my door to romantic relationship, I think I will from this point on—whether single or coupled—see Valentine’s Day as a celebration of all forms of love and intimacy with self, others, and the world.
Final lesson: Love is precious and life-sustaining. Don’t quibble. Celebrate it wherever and whenever you can—even on Valentine’s Day.
(This first appeared under the title Lessons in Love Learned the Hard Way on the authors own blog.)
Oriah is the author of the international best-selling books: The Invitation, and The Dance, and The Call (published by HarperONE, translated into eighteen languages.) Her much loved poem “The Invitation” has been shared around the world. Trained in a shamanic tradition, her medicine name Mountain Dreamer means one who likes to find and push the edge. Using story, poetry and shamanic ceremony Oriah’s deeply personal writing and her work as a group facilitator and spiritual mentor explore how to follow the thread of our heart’s longing into a life where we can choose joy without denying the challenges of a human life. Oriah blogs at www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com and participates in conversations at https://www.facebook.com/
Oriah.Mountain.Dreamer . For more info- http://www.oriah.org
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Assistant Ed: Lori Lothian
Ed: Kate Bartolotta