As I have written here several times, I turned 50 last May and have been reflecting and writing about the lessons I have learned in the past 50 years. These include those I have learned from nature, from my family, and even from the holidays.
As I get ready to face my 50th Valentine’s Day, I realized that I have probably learned more on this “holiday” than any other: some of it good, some of it very painful, but all of it very helpful.
Like everybody else, Valentine’s Day has meant different things to me at different times throughout my life. It has been a day of sadness and loneliness because I was unattached romantically, and it has been a day of utter joy getting to spend it with a new love.
While reflecting on these past “days of love,” I realized that my feelings about it were related to how much I got caught up in the frenzy of a day that was designed by somebody else. It loops endlessly in advertising, movies, TV, and music, telling us it is the day to be romantic.
Early on, I learned that just like the rest of the holidays, this can lead us to have unrealistic expectations and set us up for disappointment year after year. Here are some other things that this realization has taught me.
You shouldn’t need a special or official day to express your love. A day created by somebody else dictating their vision of what love is doesn’t strike me as sincere. Love cannot be dictated, it can only be felt. Thinking that somebody expresses it out of guilt or obligation takes away from the whole purpose of the day.
This means that if you feel it, if you love somebody, then express your love, show them, tell them that, and often. Do not assume they know that. Just because you are “there” is not the same thing as demonstrating that you are there because you want to be there and share your life with that person. I have never understood how people run around like crazy on Valentine’s Day trying to find the “perfect” gift that expresses how much they love somebody. No gift I have ever received has ever made me feel loved in the same way as the person I love expressing it to me sincerely and heartfelt.
Conversely, you can’t be a complete jerk 364 days of the year and think that a box of chocolates, a bouquet of roses, and one day of attention makes up for it. It doesn’t. It only cheapens it.
Romantic love isn’t the only love that sustains us and the reality is that at times it falls far short of what we hope it will be. Our friends and our family often provide just as much as our partner does, and certainly provide us with love in so many different ways.
Love yourself. This should probably be the #1 thing that I have learned because without self-love, you will never, ever feel love from anybody else, nor will you be able to give love to anybody else. Having a partner enhances and improves your life, but nobody else can fill you up, can fill the loneliness you feel; only you can do that. Expecting otherwise is only setting yourself up for constant hurt and disappointment.