Fifty Shades of Valentines

In Boston today…

I’ve had 54 Valentine’s Days in my life. When I think back to the little girl Valentine’s Days, I remember Valentine’s Day with fond memories. Daddy would get us little red Valentine hearts filled with chocolate candies. I felt like such a big girl with a miniature of the giant chocolate heart he’d give to Momma. Schooldays were parties with cupcakes and those little paper valentines that you’d buy by the box. I remember being a bit confused about whether a valentine suggested romance while I was giving those cards to everybody in my class. As I got older, I got a few romantic valentines from boys, but never very many. I felt pretty unappreciated by the male gender most of my high school years. And Valentine’s Day became fraught with messages of rejection and unworthiness after I hit puberty.

When I was married, my husbands vacillated between honoring Valentine’s Day and grappling with the expectations of it all. I always wanted to celebrate it just because it was fun, but honestly sometimes it felt disingenuous to proclaim someone my Valentine when our relationship was so distant or rocky. I’m sure there are a few years that I’ve enjoyed Valentine’s Day, but none really stick out in my memory. I got engaged to my second husband on Valentine’s Day in a beautiful restaurant at a winery in Southwest Michigan. It was fun and romantic until he refused to set a date and became evasive about the whole marriage piece the next morning. I was confused once more about a valentine and conflicted over Valentine’s Day.

Yesterday, I had to shoot down two rather aggressive advances from married men. The more often that happens, the less safe I feel about relationships. My walls go up, my trust goes down, and my faith in men plummets. Even the most seemingly devoted husbands can sometimes have issues that cause them to look elsewhere. And holidays – especially Valentine’s Day – can bring out the worst desperation. During my marriages, the question I found myself grappling with most often was Can I want what I have?.  As a single woman, I most often find myself floundering with the question Can I have what I want? And I find neither question less painful than the other. They both seem impossible to rectify and totally uncontrollable.

I’ve been divorced seven years as of this January. I thought that I was over the experience of that marriage, but it haunts me all the time. It’s not the man … or even that marriage .. that haunts me. It’s the fear that I can’t judge a relationship well enough to know if it’s safe or the even more intolerable fear that no relationship is safe. My heart is wrapped in ice, and I can’t tell if the winter will ever be over so it can thaw. The conditions feel so dangerous out there.

My friend Nancy is a server in a cafe in Southwest Michigan. It’s February, and the weather was abysmal yesterday. Windchills dropped to 25 degrees below zero and accompanied white-out conditions. She said it was kind of amazing last night how couples showed up despite the horrible weather. Women dressed to the nines in their red dresses and heels trudged through the muck and the snow for an evening with their sweetheart. Literally every time the door opened, the wind would almost blow it off its hinges. But, still the darlings celebrating Valentine’s Day were determined to make this evening count. Her description made me long for the snow and the cold in Michigan. There was something about the effort required to live life normally during the winter that brought out the best in me. There was a sense of accomplishment in defying the bitter cold to be a human being.

I want the winter of my heart to be over. But, maybe that’s not the task set before me. Nancy has many more months before the tulips will bloom, and she can put her mittens away. The tulip poplars are already in bloom here, and I spotted a vine of morning glories blossoming on my walk this morning. It’s warm here, but I still feel frozen. Perhaps the task is for me to accept the nasty weather that is outside in the world of love, shrug off the evidence of rampant infidelity and hurt, scale the walls of my paralyzing fear and thaw out my heart by the flickering fire of hope. Today, it seems so much easier to just stay inside where it’s warm and cozy.

My southern-bred Momma remarked yesterday how crazy people were to get out in that weather up north. I laughed and said, “But they live there, Momma. They have to in order to live their lives.” Brrrrr … it just feels so cold out there. Do I trust myself enough to know when it’s too dangerous and when it’s time to bundle up and brave it? It’s another confusing Valentine’s Day. I’d just like a simple little chocolate heart. They are on sale today. Perhaps I’ll get one from my favorite, most consistently loving valentine… Me. That’s one way to tip-toe out into the cold.

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