I hate Valentine’s Day. I really do. I’m not just saying that because of where I am in this moment of my life. My college friends can tell you of my many years in Goth-inspired outfits. My non-participation became my celebration. And I liked it that way.
But it’s not really out of bitterness that I hate this holiday, although there have been years when I felt that way. It’s not out of loneliness or longing, though I have felt those, too. It’s not because of the sadness I feel for all of those hurting from loss or abandonment, though my heart does break over them. It’s not even the commercialism that bothers me the most, even though that frustrates me to no end. No, it’s something more than that.
I hate Valentine’s Day because of its prescriptive feel.
On this day, we are told what love looks like. We are told that love buys flowers and chocolates. We are told we must express with mooshy sentiments what another means to us. We are told that without a display that looks this way or that way, it’s not really love. We are told what love is.
And I hate that.
So today, in my own hexagonal way, I choose to celebrate ten ways I have seen love over the last year in the oddest of places. Ten ways I have seen love expressed outside of the box. Ten ways to count what love can also be.
1) Love is Stephanie getting Sprite 10,000 bowls of cereal, even when he was fully capable of doing it himself and was just being difficult. And I see that this as a culmination of a change so deep that this dear friend doesn’t even have words to express the profoundness of what has happened in her heart. I watched my friend choose to change her life trajectory when she could have settled in to her comfortable life. That’s love.
2) Love is Little Man biking over and over and over with Soccerboy. I know that bike riding sounds like fun, but it’s not when the other person is obsessed with it and asks literally every five seconds to do it. I watched my little guy sacrifice his own preferences for another. That’s love.
3) Love is Sara deciding to act and serve in mighty ways. My friend is a self-described “lazy homebody.” She serves with abandon, but likes to do it within her own comfort zone. But this year, she felt the pull to change that and live outside of her corner. This year, she motivated her whole family to do a mission trip to Haiti, and she was beyond instrumental in my hosting— her active encouragement as my personal fundraising manager was the single greatest human factor that caused me to believe that I could do such a thing. And just this week, I again watch this “homebody” open her space to yet another fundraiser, which she put into action without us even having to express our needs. Instead of sitting on her couch, she acted. That’s love.
4) Love is Sunshine telling me that I need to change my clothing, my hair, my style. This is a girl who feels deeply but knows how to be strong and independent. She is fierce and truthful. Honesty is her most treasured possession, which she only reveals in its deepest forms to those who matter to her. And I watched her bestow it on me, over and over. That’s love.
5) Love is Ali sending me and Little Man teddy bears after Soccerboy left. She knew the grief that comes when one who has become family flies back across the ocean, because she put her own son on the same plane. But instead of wallowing in her own pain, which she could have done, she looked outward and saw other hurting souls and wanted to give them something to hug on the lonely nights….and so she sent bears to me and several other forlorn moms. I watched her create connections instead of being swallowed up in her own heartache. That’s love.
6) Love is Stephanie’s daughter and Sunshine creating a weird and wonderful relationship together. Stephanie’s daughter is eleven and finding her own footing. She doesn’t know where she’s heading yet, but she’s learning how to get there. Neither of them are girly girls, and there were no roses and hearts and puppy dogs in their interactions. No, there was smoky-eyed makeup and calf-laced boots and studded everything. And I watched as these two amazing girls found connection across such different worlds. That’s love.
7) Love is Soccerboy’s mom telling me that I have a place in their world. When Soccerboy went back to his bio family, they had every right to never contact me again. They had worked to get him back, and some lady in America, what is she? But instead, I watched a woman, who could have resented me, tell me “Two mamas, one family.” That’s love.
8) Love is Bryan writing checks for Sprite. If you have ever met the man, you know how much he monitors his spending. He is generous, but cautious. I watched my frugal friend make the decision to spend and spend to bring a boy home. That’s love.
9) Love is hearing your children say things like “I kill you” and “You no normal” and “What the helk?” and “Pleeeeeeeasssse…” and bad Russian words. Strange, yes. But so us. It is these imitations that display so clearly to me that our children created relationships that matter to them. Plus, these phrases are pretty darn hilarious to hear. And I watch as they miss those dear ones, too, and see our hurt, and so they swear and whine in Eastern European accents to make us laugh. That’s love.
10) Love is Little Man belching out a song from Frozen, and asking me to video tape it for Sunshine. Being a teenage girl, she did not appreciate the art of a well-timed belch or fart. But in best “brother” style, he always kept on trying. Even halfway across the world, he wants her to know that there’s no one else he would rather annoy. And I watched as he found his way of telling her that he misses her desperately. That’s love.
Love can be weird. Love can be sacrifice. Love can be laughter. Love can be belches of beauty.
But most of all, love is what you build.
I think that Valentine’s Day is so hard for so many people because it’s a day when they see that their love doesn’t fit into the prescriptive pattern. They see the gaps in their marriage, in their relationships, in their very aloneness. And so they get bitter, or angry…or they flounder and try to make it look healthy on the surface. Where a real conversation needs to take place, they give conversation hearts.
And I hate that.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers or candy or cards. But I do think that if we are among the ones who struggle, we should stop looking into the chocolate mirror and seeing all our flaws.
Instead, this Valentine’s Day, I am choosing to celebrate all the ways the love around me doesn’t fit into a pretty flower vase.
And besides, I’m more of a burp girl than a bon-bon one anyway.