Have you ever noticed how every Christmas season, you inevitably start reminiscing about past holidays? About the old Christmas ornaments that you made in Beavers, or how when your grandmother used to stay with you she’d always have these funny sayings, about how much things have changed but it’s nice to bring it all back together for this one time of year?
Why don’t we do that for Valentine’s Day?
I’m not talking about dredging up candlelight dinners with former flames while you and your new bae are finishing up your appetizers at the Keg. Take the other person out of it altogether—actually focus on who we individually are as a half of a relationship. Maybe, just maybe, by doing that, you can actually figure something out to make your current relationship status—be it single, complicated, head-over-heels—a bit more meaningful.
Here, I’ll get us started.
The Blizzard of Selfishness
Let me tell you about the first Valentine’s Day I remember as some poor girl’s boyfriend. Those were the days of innocence, when a guy from Pasadena had to borrow his parents CR-V to get to Corner Brook once a week, or else everything else mentioned in the Book of Revelations would happen and that would be the end of it all.
Anyway, February 14th that year was a snowstorm (if you can believe that) and the guy who I was getting a ride down with had to make an unexpected stop at a few stores on the way. By the time I pulled into her driveway an hour and a half after I told her I’d left home, without so much as giving her a phone call (how old am I anyway? I had a flip phone in my pocket, but it definitely couldn’t send a text message), she was equal parts happy to see me and seriously ready to kill me, since she’d already had me dead and buried on the highway.
What’s the point in resurfacing this memory? Well, whether I realized it at the time, the takeaway here was that I was selfish. Plain and simple as that—you can’t be in a healthy relationship if you’re only thinking about yourself, and not able to empathize with what your partner is thinking or feeling.
Look, a happy relationship makes you feel good, that’s obvious. But the other person’s job isn’t to ensure your happiness. Think of it more as if there’s this boulder that the two of you are trying to lift. At times, one of those people is going to need to shoulder more of it, that’s true, but that can’t be a sustainable, long-term thing—you’ll throw your back out before too long. You need to be willing to shift the weight and carry it together. Never—repeat after me, never—get so lazy that your partner is doing all the work.
If I’d turned my thoughts, for a second, to what I’d be thinking if things were reversed, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a heart-shaped, chocolate-filled projectile flung at my face.
Which, by the way, I deserved. And learned something from.
The Lost Love Letters
A few years later, I was living in St. John’s, and myself and my partner wrote each other a letter, sealed it, and addressed it to each other for five years down the road. By my count, that’s actually this Valentine’s Day—I wonder whatever happened to those letters?
It was the kind of romantic gesture people make movies about, but it was also fatally flawed. The problem was, I really, really bought into the idealized narrative and let it blot out the reality, which was a lot more problematic. The two of us drifted—quite a bit, but I thought it happened so gradually that I never noticed it, like a frog in a slowly boiling pot of water. In hindsight, I don’t know if it was as gradual as I’d like to believe, or if it was actually a case of actively not wanting to see it, because I was steadfast that this was the one that was going to last.
The Ghost of Valentine’s Day Past has many lessons to teach. This one is that a relationship is a living, breathing thing, not an idea or something you can put in a glass display case. It grows, it evolves, it changes, and sometimes it ends. And that’s OK, because sometimes to do otherwise means that one (or both) people get stuck and get so deep that they don’t know how to get out of it. Sometimes you don’t even realize how stuck you are.
Be romantic—I love it, and don’t pretend not to. But I’m never, ever going to be in a relationship again because I think I’m supposed to, or because it makes a great story, or because I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t.
Valentine’s Day Lonely Hearts Club
Hamlet, in typical melodramatic fashion, tells Horatio that: “The funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” That’s Shakespeare’s way of saying his Dad’s funeral and Mom’s remarriage were weirdly close together, and let’s just say that last year’s breakup baked meats were furnishing my Valentine’s Day tables.
I think the end of a relationship actually teaches you a lot about the nature of relationships, how you fit into them, and who you are once you’re a “you” instead of a boyfriend or girlfriend. At least, it should.
Sometimes the match just wasn’t good, and if you don’t change a single thing about yourself you’re still destined to meet your soul mate. But more often than not, there are lessons to be learned—not things you did “wrong,” just lessons. Like how to look for warning signs, or how to be able to more effectively communicate with someone, or maybe what sort of values are the ones that are really and truly important to look for in another person.
And then, once you’re a few steps away from the relationship that was, you sometimes have this weird moment of reawakening when you remember that you actually have a pretty deadly identity outside of the identity as a couple. You remember the hobbies you might have neglected, and find new things to explore and to do as a single individual. I’m not saying relationships are constrictive things (if they are, see Lesson #2), but even in the happiest relationship we all need a bit of alone time.
Get to know that person you are, and love that person. That just might end up being one of your most attractive qualities.
Gift of the Present
We’re all swirling, confused messes, trying to figure out how to live our lives in this weird world. Relationships are tough—if they weren’t, everyone from Lord Byron to Taylor Swift would be unemployed. But there’s a lot to learn from them, and what better time than the day devoted to romance?
Don’t be afraid to revisit your most awkward, heartbreaking, and special moments. And who knows—this year might well end up being one of those lessons you’ll be sharing with yourself for a long time to come.
By. Ryan Belbin