I have been experiencing Valentine's Day for over 30 years. The first 10 years were great; my dad would come home every year with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for my mother, myself and my sisters. It was father/daughter love and we looked forward to it every year. The next 20 years were not as good.
When I think back to all the Valentine's Days that I have experienced, I honestly cannot remember a fabulous one, one where I felt totally loved. My memories are of being away from my partner, or loneliness due to not having a partner, or feelings of disappointment usually caused by unrealistic expectations. The best ones have been spent with my girlfriends or solo with a bottle of Champagne and a bubble bath, which has been my Valentine's Day ritual for many years.
But as Valentine's Day 2011 drew near I was actually stoked. I had finally found it! Yup, this Valentine's Day would be different. This Valentine's Day I would be in that bubble bath with my lover and the Champagne... or so I thought.
A few months ago I was blessed with a totally unexpected love affair. It was mind blasting, better than the ones that happen in the cheesy romance novels. Why? Because it caught me totally off guard, it was fun and exciting and full of laughter and adventure. It was two full weeks of easy companionship and incredible intimacy. One of the best parts was that there was complete freedom to be whoever we wanted to be. When we parted there were no promises or expectations. However, there was the missing... the soul aching for that person that you reach for in the middle of the night. Then there were the messages, emails and gifts, followed by the excitement of counting the days until we would see each other again. There is a great proverb that states "the reward for patience is more patience." Well, I was patient, more patient then I have ever been. However, there was no reward... or so I thought because the reunion day came and went and that was the day I was left all alone.
What? How did this happen, I asked myself? I had actually trusted him and believed that he would show up. I had let go of all my fears and put myself way out there on that limb; I had fallen in love and this time I actually believed that it would work out. This was not a teenage love affair; I am a woman with lots of relationship and love experience. I have had flings and I know a line when I hear one. I have also learned that, even though I love the bad boys, they are not the best for me.
This guy was different - he was a good guy. This was a guy who made me feel safe, he brought out the playful girl in me as well as the soft and vulnerable woman. This guy adored me and he became a guy that I trusted.
So as I sit and pour my heart out into my broken-hearted martini, I realized that I was shaping up to be the suicidal single girl on our lovely, contrived "Hallmark" Valentine's Day. I decided that I'd had it - after 20 years of broken hearts and bullshit love I wanted some answers. I wanted to know the truth...I wanted to know, in a phrase, "WTF is Love?
So I went on a love mission. I started asking the question and doing the research, and what I found is way more confusing than the original question. It is actually a bit demented and it explains why our society is so screwed up when it comes to love.
The confusion actually starts with the word "love." According to Dictionary.com there are 28 definitions, everything from a term of endearment to affection to sex to the score of a tennis game.
Plus, it seems that love is the major topic for almost every type of artist. Painters pour their hearts out on to their canvases. Musicians are constantly singing about love. According to them we are "Addicted to Love," you need to "Justify My Love" and "Love is the Answer." Oh, and don't forget that "Love will Save the Day."
Then there are the writers... did you know that the top-selling genre of books is romance? Nope, not kidding! Oh and don't forget all those relationship/self-help books that lay on almost every woman's bedside table. What am I doing right now? Writing about love!
The term love is really overused. I tried to count how many times I had heard the phrase in just one day, but it was getting ridiculous. It started with my yoga instructor talking about self-love, and then my girlfriend talked about how much she loves her kids, and my buddy is fully in love with his basset hound. Then there is all the slang terminology that include love, like "For the love of god!" or "Love 'em and leave 'em."
If there can be this many definitions and uses for the term love is it any wonder that no two people had the same answer when I asked them, "WTF is love?"
I posed this topic to several people. Many paused and had to contemplate the question before answering. They responded with long, drawn out answers that never really seemed to get to the heart of the matter. Some of the best answers were the ones that came out spontaneously. When I asked my bachelor buddy, he remarked, "A set of double D's and a brewski!"
Come on, you have to laugh. That is a brutally honest and hilarious answer.
When I asked my girlfriend the question, she responded, "Love is the feeling I get when I kiss my daughters eyelashes as she falls asleep at night."
Now, you have got to admit that response pulls at the heartstrings, and it is genuine.
When I proposed this subject to my roommate she replied, "Love is my dog always being excited to see me, no matter what time I come home or how drunk I am!"
Again, a completely candid response.
The answers I received were all frank and sincere but no two explanations were the same - some were similar, but I had yet to encounter one simple bona fide solution. So, I decided to ask more people and posted the discussion on Facebook. That opened the flood gates. It seems everyone has an opinion of love and, holy shit, do people want to talk about it!
Through this Facebook conversation I found out some very interesting information about love. For example, nearly a half-century ago the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves . He carved up the terrain of his subject into four quarters, based on the different words the ancient Greeks used for love: sexual love, family love, friendship and unconditional love. It does make sense to have more than one word to cover everything from highest sentiments imaginable to plain old lust (or one's love for a basset hound). But it still does not answer the question of what love actually is, all it does is explain the different types of love that exist.
One other item that took the logical approach was a book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It discusses how people have a primary way of expressing and interpreting love as a "love language," and suggests that people are usually drawn to those who speak a different love language than their own. (Hmmm....really, never would have guessed that.)
Mr. Chapman believes that we all identify primarily with one of the five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. Supposedly, if you understand how you feel loved, and you understand how your partner feels love, it helps to keep a relationship together. If it was that simple why wouldn't I just walk around with a sign that says "love language = physical touch?" (I wonder if I would get picked up wearing that?)
Through Facebook I was also sent some amazing love quotes (it seems that if a person cannot come up with an answer to a hard question they'll come up with a quote instead). Here are some of the best:
"Love just is.... when you try to find it then you know you have truly lost it, just let it be and it will blossom."
"Love: You're not meant to wait for it. You're not meant to search for it. You're meant to generate it." From Michael Beckwith.
"If you love something set it free, if it comes back to you it is yours, if it doesn't it never was!"
"In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Everyone's opinions and insights were overwhelming, and after hours of reading and researching I was still unclear. All I discovered was that I obviously had the friendship and family love down pat, being that I have solid, long-term, loving relationships with my family and friends. But considering that the "good guy" had not shown up it seemed that my sexual love needed some serious work! I wondered if he would have shown up if I spoke his love language?
This thought only made me more frustrated and depressed, so I decided that the best place to contemplate this topic was neck deep in my bubble bath, martini in hand. If anything was going to make me feel better and bring me some clarity it was warm bubbles and seriously strong vodka.
A few hours later and two martinis in, I left my tub with pruned toes and fingers and some serious insight. What was crystal clear was that there were a few points related to love that kept coming up in the discussions. Here are the top concerns and a simple summary of the responses:
How do you find love? Big question, but with a simple answer: love comes in many forms, but the key is finding someone with whom you share a mutual attraction and affection and who also loves in a way similar to yourself (e.g. for sexual love you have to think they are hot, and you have to share the same love language).
How do you know if you are in love? Good question, but it also has an easy answer: besides the obvious infatuation stuff, it seems people agree that you know you are in love when he/she leaves. When love disappears or your loved one exits, your soul aches and you miss them, and in all great loves there comes a time when they vanish. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don't. If they do return, then cherish them. If they don't? Be grateful for the experience.
Does love last? That is "THE" Question. And the answer is, yes, it does - if it is based on affection/attraction, kindness, freedom and respect. An added is if it includes freedom. This openness is related to being completely free to be yourself with another person and really, really liking who you are when you are with them.
Is love commitment? That's the dreaded question! I am scared to answer this one. Really, in my opinion, love is not a choice - love just happens whether you want it to or not. Love will occur at exactly the right moment every time. It just flows to and from a friend, lover, child or soulmate. Love happens every day, all around us. On the other hand, commitment is a choice we make based on many factors, just one of them being the intensity of the love we feel for another. Having a child, getting married or caring for a pet are all choices that we make, sometimes we make those choices for reasons that have nothing to do with love but because they fulfill other desires that we so desperately need.
The next morning I awoke with even more post-martini clarity. I had been looking not only for an answer but for an easy to understand conclusion that resonated with my experience and I finally got it.
So WTF is love?
Coming from the single broken-hearted girl, I have found that my answer is simple...love is acceptance. Acceptance of everything - everything you like and dislike about yourself, your partner, your child and your friends. Love is also acceptance of life, and accepting that you cannot control anyone or anything.
You just have to accept that life only throws you what you can handle, and that what is happening at the moment is perfect.
What is totally ironic is that one of the things I loved about the "good guy" was that he always inspired me. In hindsight, I realize that the best thing that could have happened was him not showing up, for his absence has inspired me to find my true meaning of love. So I guess I did get the greatest Valentine's Day gift ever, and for that I will always be grateful.
I also realized that I am a woman who refuses to give up on love and romance. Even with a broken heart (and regardless of the Valentine's Day bullshit). Love does exist. It exists right inside of me at all times and it fills me up and overflows to the ones around me. People come and go but each person enriches my life and inspires me to be a better person. When they leave, my soul aches but through the ache I can still love them no matter what has happened. Maybe that is the true essence of love, and why experiencing love and romance is always worth the risk of potential heart ache. "It is better to have loved and lost then to have never loved at all" - another great and timeless quote, but this one is actually true!
I have discovered that we live in a society that revolves around love. It is everywhere we go and in everything we do. On a personal level you will find that most people are either looking for love, in the throes of love or bitter about love.
There are some people who declare that they are okay without love, but is that true or are these people in denial? Who really lives without love? The only time you will not need love is when you are dead and in the box. Because every soul yearns for love, it is what ignites our soul, it is the reason why we live and breathe. So it is our part of destiny to find it, experience it and learn everything we can about it.
Even though love is many things, and it is so different for everyone, we all know what love feels like. And damn it, it feels good! So feel it! Do the things that you love and feel it! Love where you live and feel it, love the people around you and feel it. When you feel love on every level of your existence then you feel that sense of peace, contentment and love...you feel it for what you do, who you are with, where you are and, really, you feel it for you! That is when you can look in the mirror, smile and say, "I more than like myself, and I love myself."
Remember, this is only one single girl's opinion of love - a girl who is no longer heartbroken, and a girl who is actually quite lucky in love. So in that spirit I say, "Happy Valentine's Day!"