A Valentine for Everyone

Valentine’s Day is drawing near, an avalanche of roses, hearts and chocolates. I am very afraid of this day; its mascot is Cupid, who seems to be a short-sighted boy who’s armed with a sharp arrow. Ouch, you impudent bully!

I’ve been hit by some spears in my time. I’ve eaten the chocolates and cut the flower stems. These pleasures, like love, have been followed by empty wrappers, a weight on the heart, and drooping foliage. Bitter, me? What makes you say that? I’ve been married to the same man for over 25 years. Sparkling rocks on my fingers have I many. Surely, I have reaped the benefits of love eternal, love committed. Surely I have made my bed, covered it in excessive thread count, lain in it, and more. I’ve made love, nursed babies, found rest among a man’s leg, a puppy’s head, a small child’s out-flung arm.

No, but I’m still forlorn when February comes. I’m disappointed in its shallows. Love is big — it is the stuff of Russian novels, sodden pillows, duels and suicides. I don’t want it rappelling from its heady heights, but it does. It morphs as inevitably as puppies and children into something perhaps better, but so different. According to some psychologists, that’s the mind adapting to “sameness of stimulus,” that’s the mind accommodating to real shape and shadow. You couldn’t be productive (or sane) if you stayed “crazy in love.” You need to snap out of it and get back to the mundane march of life, the rational calculus of quantity, not quality. Perhaps, but I will grieve aloud in public, all the same. I’m a reader and a writer and a real love junkie, and I mourn this slap of sanity.

Sometimes, there’s little quality or quantity. So many of my peers have now split up; so few look at each other in the nutty way they once did. (We don’t tell them, “get a room” — they got the room, the flat, the house, the mortgage…) Anyway, some couples never did look at each other in that trippy, illogical way. Many of them they married for good reasons, with realistic expectations and the cozy sense that they had what they needed and no more. For the divorced, the long-married, and even the rational co-habitaters, what could Valentine’s possibly mean? And what could it mean to the real romantics?

Cupid’s party, for us, is a forced march. It’s a mechanical dance, and a wan pantomime. Leave us alone, Hallmark and Teleflora. You’re great to have around for birthdays and funerals, but when it comes to our heart of hearts, don’t taunt us. We’re all in this together, eking out our way to emotional authenticity. Despite ages, stages or the grinding of life against illusions, we continue to love love. We honor its brief firework sparkle in the bittersweet way we honor our grown children’s baby pictures, or the memory of their first brave steps into the world. We’ll never forget the sound of their first words — “Mama.” “Dada.” Other words were said to us — impossible vows — that meant as much. We’ve been shaken by love, so don’t mock us with bonbons. Don’t distract us with doggerel sold in mass numbers. We’re trying to reach out and find something long past, a trace of a wondering sigh.

If there is a special day in February, that darkest month, let it be a day to remember that each of us — husbands, wives, young, old, the single, the ruined, the lovelorn — is heir to tender longings. If Cupid is blind, if his arrows prick, let’s go beyond the callow boy and his old-hat party tricks. Love is more complex, more rare, delicate and variegated, than any of its marketed expressions. Let’s celebrate that — every day — with humility, awe and all the heartfelt kindness we can muster.