Wednesday, March 7, 2012
A Rare Tree: Thoughts on Love, Sex, Being Single, Hiding, and Valentine's Day
We're almost a month out from Valentine's Day and I feel the need to revisit it. I am rather juvenile in the way that I handle this holiday. Over the past few years I've believed it important to explain to others that it is not about romantic love for me when asked if I have a Valentine's date. It is about all love. It is about friendship. It really is not about romantic love. It is about reconciliation. It is really not about romantic sex. It is about the beauty of the world apart from ideas of marriage and partnership. It is about the hope found in small gaudy gestures to one's friends and family members. It is about goddamn world peace and paper doilies. I want Valentine's Day to be about anything that is not romantic love, which is odd given that I'm prone to fits of romance and poetic indulgence and often find myself in lengthy and gratifying discussions about all things relational with my nearest and dearest.
I don't believe there is something wrong with co-opting V-Day for one's own mischief or healing apart from romance. There is something healthy to be found in this space. I wonder why though I articulate around Valentine's Day so vehemently? I hold my language and messaging around this holiday the way some people hold a banner at a protest. This day of silly cards and box of chocolate hearts means something to me as I believe it means something to many people, those that own the day and those that dismiss it with a force that can only be fueled by actual caring. Why does this day represent something significant to people?
Many of my friends are engaged, recently married, or about to get engaged. This is beautiful. This is expensive. I had no idea that I would need a separate wedding account to finance all this wedding travel. Apart from the financial concerns there is almost nothing that makes me well up with gratitude and awe at the mystery of time more than watching the women and men who I loved from youth make life commitments to another human. These friends are stitched so tightly into my psyche that it's impossible and undesirable to measure their impact on me. There is no corner of the self that is untouched by young friendship. The time in my life when many of these friendships formed they knew me better than I knew myself. They were home. They are now building their own homes. They are now making their own commitments.
I have joined the ranks of many 20/30 something single people (and I daresay many people in young couples feel this way as well) who are called to know themselves better than others know them. I am called into the sometimes lonely place of being a single adult navigating the day to day realities of building a life and recognizing the value in the pieces of life that require no work and are merely gifts. I am learning how to be home for myself. This does not mean that others do not frequently come to stay at this home. It does not mean that my people do not often shed light on aspects of my person that I've neglected to spend time on, but the stage of "friends melting into each other until we are one large LOVEBOT" has passed, at least for the time being.
My friendships now are just as deep, but they carry a layer of humility and recognition that we are all walking our own path and that no one else can walk it for us. These friendships acknowledge inadequacies, fears, and the pervasive truth that no one person can entirely fill up another person's flask. This reality of adult life as it relates to my inner being as well as my external friendships compels me to dig deeply into myself on a frequent basis, to wax philosophical to the point of annoyance, and to turn my mind off indulging in the simple pleasures of a house well kept, a glass of wine shared with a friend, a ridiculous tv show that provides the comfort of consistency, and a loaf of bread that rose properly even at altitude. I believe all this individual and group growth to be positive. There are times though in the midst of all the beauty associated with becoming an adult who is self-assured that shit gets lonely. From what I've observed in myself and my other singletons this loneliness often translates into either:
a) a strong desire for a relationship
b) a strong desire for a new life plan
c) a strong desire to assert one's independence/ downplay the desire for companionship
or d) all of the above on a semi-regular rotating basis
When I'm lonely I tend to hang out in the land of d) and for some reason Valentine's Day makes me tip into the c) realm. I've had to face, as embarrassing as it is since I fancy myself grounded to the max, that I can sometimes hide my "I really would love a partnership that involves lots of loving and laughing and hoping and sexing and sexting (maybe more sexing less sexting)" behind my admiration for other types of love. I am so busy working on being a single adult that I forget that in addition to being self-sufficient I'm also filled with desire. It is the type of desire that builds bridges between people's hearts, minds, hands, bodies, and bedrooms. This hiding does not diminish the fact that I think that we should acknowledge and lift up all forms of radical empathy, which is the stuff love is made of. I just think maybe it's time for me to be clear with myself, which I'm finding more and more can be a surprisingly daunting task.
On Valentine's Day this year I received a letter at my workplace. A few friends also received these letters. The letters arrived together. They were powerful and full of gratitude for who we are as professionals and people. They were from a client. Mine said all sorts of lovely things. It said I was kind, but straight up about things. It said I didn't hide things that are ugly or hard, but in the face of them found beauty. It called me and my team as valuable as rare trees. That was a particularly favorite line of mine. Upon reading it again I realized that in this "love" area of my life I have not been totally upfront with myself recently. I have not been frank. I've been co-opting my own feelings and desires and hiding them behind stories that I find beautiful instead of finding beauty in what is in my heart and what is most raw during this life stage.
Maybe this year, inspired by my strange reaction to Valentine's Day and subsequent self analysis, I will work on continuing to honor and uplift the types of love that do not pivot around romantic partnership and allowing those solid examples of the human spirit to create a space for the chocolate box heart/swooney/lovey dovey/i want you now and forever/kissey/sexy/touch me/hold me/hear me/heart me brand of love. Perhaps in the coming year I will seek to not so much re-frame as to embrace. I will seek not so much to assert as to appreciate that there are as many iterations of the human heart as there are trees, each one as rare and valuable as the next.