If others leave us behind or fail to take us into account during key calendar periods such as the winter holiday, we may come to dread Valentine’s Day.
Once a year, it is a societal magnifying glass that exposes all the relationship cracks we have diligently been papering over. We may be in a relationship but if ours isn’t one where we celebrate each other’s presence, there is little hope a day on the calendar will change that.
We already know what’s coming, we’re already bracing for it, and we will get through that day the same way we get through all the others.
Loneliness will tighten its grip around our throat a little more, our mind will struggle for the oxygen of hope, our heart will panic.
Once again, we will wonder how to keep it safe from those who have been plundering it for their own gain, amazed at the strength of our love. But never grateful; our love makes them look good, our love brings them innumerable advantages so they’re making the most of it.
To them, love is the result of opportunity, not effort; they are letting our love carry them without any attempt to assist, enable, or empower it.
Because love is patient, hopeful, and devoted, those enjoying it ensure they still show us a minimum of humanness every now and then, to sustain it. So we forget about all the times they left us behind, all the times they spectated our pain, all the times they took advantage of our trust. And all the times they let us talk without ever affording us the courtesy of an acknowledgement and much less a reply.
Even when we ask them for help or an opinion, especially then; they know everything about us but they have chosen to remain unknowable to us.
And yet, this is an “After you, there is no one” relationship; the discerning heart knows how to spot potential hidden in the most improbable of vessels.
Although we spend our lives attempting to simplify it into an equation so we can replicate it, love always happens against all odds.
It hides in plain sight and in silence, amid the words we long to hear and finally do, delivered with disdain during an argument.
This is how we discover the magic incantation is as meaningless to them as we seem to be, something people use to enhance their lives. Words, fellow humans, emotions are all tools they use to design the perfect marble headstone for themselves, burying us in the process.
Love can bury us alive if we put up no resistance to it, we think, unwilling to accept it can only save us if we surrender to it instead of clinging to fear.
We are so terrified of getting hurt by someone using love as an excuse; life-affirming though their presence might be, it is much safer if they never find out. Not today, not tomorrow, not on Valentine’s Day or any other day until they have shown us where love draws the line and fights for its own survival.
We are calculating manipulators, in equal measure surprised by our success and our cruelty. Or we are bleeding hearts with zero boundaries but we all have the fear in common, our only differences the ways we deal with it, consciously or not.
And we remain curious about what might be on the other side of humiliation, spite, and disdain, our partner’s accidental selfie of the soul too frequent and urgent to ignore: Under our airs and graces and studied, impassioned bons mots, we treat others exactly how we treat ourselves.
When a partner plucks up the courage to demand better treatment for love, they are doing us a kindness by showing us the way back to ourselves.
Instead of dismissing us as inadequate or attacking us because we hurt them, they are nudging us gently into a different direction. If the coping strategies to palliate loneliness we think of as self-love keep coming up short, why not apply them to someone who isn’t us instead?
It isn’t revolutionary but evolutionary: we are gregarious mammals determined to split from the herd and go it alone but we can’t. No amount of self-helpery and self-loving and palliative consumerism is ever going to change this so why are we still wasting our hearts and minds even trying? And why is the self such a massive industry injecting impossible hopes with the steroids of delusion?
Valentine’s Day is the opportunity to take stock of where we’re at and take a stand for love as we acknowledge and honor our shared humanness instead of retreating into our private fortresses.
What if treating others well could lead us to treat ourselves better? Would we still dread Valentine’s Day so much?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.