At first I thought I was going to write a Laps, in keeping with tradition, to celebrate what has historically been my favorite holiday. I had a sort of running list in my head, keeping track of thoughts and activities, as I tend to do automatically anyway, siphoning through noise to find feeling.
I love holidays (duh). I love any calendar event that says, “Stop what you’re doing, and do this instead.” An instruction to remember, to reflect collectively on a universal experience – holidays are a dream for 4’s on the Enneagram. I took up my particular penchant for Valentine’s Day probably my freshman year of college, perhaps in direct opposition to all the people who complained about it. I’ve only had a boyfriend 2 of of my 24 Valentine’s (though the preschool years are harder to recollect, as sandbox love dies the hardest), so I’m quite good at celebrating whatever kind of love however I want to with a dose of however much #highdrama I want. This culminated in a nearly perfect Valentine’s last year, replete with surprise visits, taking my time, Julia Roberts, and the perfect bath. I love to celebrate love, running the gamut on any given day, but there is obviously something particular on Valentine’s Day about either celebrating the love you share with a romantic partner, or leaning into the unabashed, wild hope of obtaining it, should you so desire (or, perhaps, moping at the lack of it – no shame there either!). There are poems to be read, conversations to replay, scenes from Atonement to watch. It is the one day a year hopeless romantics can be indulgent without criticism, and I truly both enjoy and actively look forward to it, no matter how I find myself celebrating each year.
This year, I did not find myself in much of a holiday humor. A couple of friends asked me what my plans were, as I am known to keep a strict Val’s agenda, and I realized I hadn’t made any. Furthermore, I had consciously decided not to make any valentines, an activity I quite look forward to, with no better reason than I didn’t feel like it. Let the record show: I am not particularly heartbroken. There is not some romantic score to be settled at present, no moping, performative or otherwise. For all intents and purposes, I feel quite all right at the moment across the board. I just didn’t want to do it. I had circled the date in my calendar, but there was nothing under the circle. I rallied the night before, scheming with Amy and Emma various things we could do, landing on some predictably comfy choices to spend the day in. As the day passed, though, I couldn’t help but think all day about the phrase “the love of my life.” I read it in a lot of Instagram captions, heard it echoed in all the songs on my playlist, had it reverberate through my brain from half-remembered conversations on those who claim to have found it.
What’s always surprising to me is how late in the game these alleged loves of our lives show up. Twenty years, thirty years in, and they get the mantle of your whole life. Or, on the opposite end, the loves of our lives are often the people who it didn’t work out with, the one that got away, the almost-but-not-quite, who’s sort of a phantom that sticks with you through the rest of it. Either way, they’re never actually there for the whole life part. There’s always a life before them, and often one after it. Yesterday, I wasn’t entertaining thoughts of missed opportunities or will-it-or-won’t-it’s. While I am more mindful every day that finding romantic love isn’t a given, nor even is it remotely required for an incredibly full life, it’s not a secret to me that I hope to find it in a lasting way. But all day, between the dancing and the viewing of About Time and the requisite drenching in Tina Turner songs, I kept thinking about how the loves of my life are probably the women in it – my mother, my sisters, my aunts, my friends.
I’ve had a lot of romance in my life, probably more than my fair share. I have had some truly magical moments with some unexpected boys that even I couldn’t dream up, and they were lovely, resplendent, full. I’ve been in love more than once and stolen midnight kisses, written love letters and sung duets, been surprised and humbled when a guy knew me better than I thought he did. Which is great. But also, limited. Because romance, itself, is inherently limited. And I know that when most people speak of the loves of their lives, they are referring to love that lasts after romance, but I don’t know any lifelong love that didn’t begin staunchly in mutual wooing. Romance is wonderful and mysterious and grand, but it doesn’t show up when it receives a frantic phone call or rub your back when you’ve got the flu. Romance does not have the same conversation with you ten times while you try to make a decision, nor does it sit with you when you’ve ceased being particularly interesting for a moment and find you have nothing to say. Love does that stuff.
I cannot count how many times my mother has just sat with me while I cried, more than once about literally nothing. Crying just because I had to cry. She deserves a whole paragraph, a whole volume, of how her love is the definition of transformative and true, and how it has singlehandedly made my life livable on more than one occasion. I can’t count how many times my friend Ellie has shown up whether I asked her to or not, because she instinctively knew I needed her, or how many drives my friend Abby has taken with me either sitting in knowing silence or letting me talk about the same things over and over again. I cannot fathom the observations and insights each of my sisters carry around with them about me, some so deeply known they are beyond articulation and therefore without need of it, and how consistently and freely they share their love with me. These women, and so many more, have been with me my whole life, loving me through hideous identity-finding phases, doubt, and all the unattractive parts of myself on display. And normally I try not to drop too many names on here for various reasons, but I want you to know their names! I want you to know they’re the loves of my life, because they’re world-class ladies who have only made my life better. And there are so many more! So much love and friendship that feels in itself like romance of the deeper kind, the long-lasting kind that I can’t get away from even if I try.
I know this isn’t groundbreaking stuff. I don’t even watch Sex and the City in a real way but I still know that Carrie says something about her girlfriends probably being her soulmates, which is essentially how I feel. I don’t say it at all as a man-bashing agenda – on the contrary, I am deeply grateful to the men who have become the loves of my various friends’ lives. It would probably be a lie to say that I haven’t found men in my experience disappointing, but, when I’m with it, I can just as easily tell you how totally un-disappointing I know other ones to be, and as I said before, I’m not pretending I don’t want to find romantic partnership. I do! I totally do! But so many other Valentine’s Days have been spent thinking about that, even amidst the other joy, and what a relief to spend the day thinking about the actual loves of my life, the ones who are already here and have been here all the while, the relationships that consist of commitment, trust, a narrative arc that stretches forward and back, a mutual asking of important questions. These loves, my loves!
I love romance (duh). I love the particular mystery that exists in romantic love. I actually love, for the most part, thinking about relationships that have gone wrong, because I can just as easily tell you all the ways they went right. I love the reality of hope, and that perhaps in my life I will meet a person that I’ll love for the rest of it. But as far as the love of my life? My life? Thanks very much, that seat’s taken.