A few things you need to know about Valentine’s Day before we proceed to the “Love” portion of this post.
First, you need to know that I heavily procrastinate for Valentine’s Day school parties every year. Like I am running to Michael’s and Target before closing and keeping the kids up past their bed time to teach them the fine art of half-assing. “Can’t find tape? Just staple it.”
Secondly, I’ve learned that fifth grade is an “iffy” year for Valentine’s stuff at school. I mean, so help me God, you get a Valentine treat that’s suggestive of anything resembling love. Because boys. It went something like this:
Me: (throws package of awesome Valentine mechanical pencils with cool eraser toppers on table.) “I got these for you to include in your Valentine bags. Cool, huh?” (pauses for adoration)
Lainey: “Um, I’m not giving that to the boys.”
Me: “What? It’s fine. It doesn’t say love. It doesn’t even say like.”
Lainey: “NO. I’m not doing it.”
Me: “What if I use nail polish remover and try and wipe off the saying painted on the pencil?”
Me: (Runs to bathroom. Returns with doused cotton balls. Rubs over pencil slogan. Takes off all the paint and smears the whole goddamn thing so it looks like some recycled gift–like some worn pencil we’ve been using for years). “Nevermind, the Hersey’s kisses will be fine on their own.”
Also, F.Y.I.: “You’re the burger to my fries” in fifth grade native tongue apparently translates as: “Marry me.”
And speaking of marriage and love…it’s one thing I don’t write about a lot–not because it doesn’t deserve to be written about, but because the deepest issues of marriage involve the deepest parts of TWO people. And while I’m pretty comfortable writing about my own weaknesses and the fact that I am straight up too much to deal with even for myself, I’m not in the business of writing about someone else’s weaknesses. You’d get a whole lot of admissions where I suck, and yet I would never write those things about Brett–not mine to share. So he’d come out a shiny hero, and you’d all write horrible things about me on the Internet. I’m kidding. (I have written a bit about marriage here.)
I used to envy shiny love-note-writing, “can’t get enough of my spouse” relationships on social media and in movies, but I don’t anymore. Because relationships are as unique as the people in them, and love has many facets. Comparing one’s love to another’s love is comparing apples and oranges. I so admire the love my grandma and grandpa had for each other, but living their love story would be a living hell for me. It was the era of women living for their husbands–finding value in buttering their husband’s bread–and in many ways, my grandma was defined by my grandpa’s love. It worked for them, but my love beats to the rhythm of a different drum.
Much of the challenges in our relationship come from the fact that we are very different. I’m a talker and a writer, and I have a lot to say about all the things. I could stay up all night discussing the complexities of love, writing 6-page sonnets about the different ways I feel it. Brett could say his feelings on the space of the paper inside a fortune cookie and still have room for the lucky numbers. I’ve learned to recognize and appreciate other ways he lives love.
I could say the same for all my relationships though. Loving our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters–that love often looks different than how we imagined it growing up. Sometimes love feels easy and all-consuming. Sometimes–a lot of times–love is hard.
I have found the best way to love all my people–to ride the tides of relationship challenges, to stretch and grow with the way the people I love change over the years–is to keep a love affair with the world on the side. I do not expect the love of my husband or the affection from my children or the relationships with my friends and family to fulfill all my needs or be the air that I breathe because I am busy loving the world while I love them, and the world feeds so many parts of me. I am defined by all the loves, not by one.
I am thrilled by the love notes written for me by beach sunsets with pink skies and spotting new jasmine blooms on the bush in our front yard and the rainbow palette under the lid of a new box of sidewalk chalk. My love-hungry heart is fed in first cups of coffee, spotting elderly couples holding hands, the smell of Sunday morning cinnamon rolls in my kitchen, texts from my sister, Mary Oliver poetry, finding mint growing along the edge of the dock at the lake up north. Love is almond butter on an apple slice, the perfect name for a paint color, a request for help from a mom who needs a break and the opportunity to fill that request, a pat on the back for hard work and a job well done, the feeling of slipping under fresh cotton sheets dried on the line.
The more I drink in love from the world around me, the more my heart is expanded for more love. That expansion allows me to be more patient with the people I love most and understand more languages of love. It stretches me beyond my sometimes selfish expectations.
And of course, the love of coffee and color and jasmine blooms doesn’t come close to the love I have for this family of mine. I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to love them and learn from them. I am intoxicated with the satisfaction that I am tied, even in the smallest way, to their existence and the love they bring to the world.
No matter where you are today or whom you love or how those people love you back; no matter how many miles separate you from those you think about or years have passed since the last time you held them, the force of love–even when it’s hard–is still love, and it feeds us, stretches us, comforts us and reminds us of how wonderful life can be. Add the sunsets and the poetry, the flowers and the sidewalk chalk, and you have…a full heart.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Friends. xoxo