Yesterday as I was wrapping up my classes, my students wanted to know if I had any big Valentine’s Day plans. When I told them that for me, it was just like any other day, they seemed deflated and wanted to know if marriage = boring. I laughed and told them, on the contrary, life is a bit too exciting these days (albeit in ways they wouldn’t understand) and I tried to explain that life (and love) in general is about more than getting roses.
These thoughts stuck with me and as I tossed and turned last night at 3am (my customary pregnancy insomnia wake up time), I couldn’t help but think about the lessons I’ve learned about love, life and loss. Being on the brink of raising a little girl, I started mentally drafting a list of the things that I hope she learns from me, but that I know she’ll probably have to learn through experience. While I’ll certainly add to this list over the next 20 years, here are the basics.
5. There is no happily ever after. When I was a girl and soaking up every Disney princess movie in existence, my mother warned me about Cinderella Syndrome. Cinderella Syndrome is when you wait around for Prince Charming and expect him to sweep you off of your feet and to subsequently transform your life. Someone suffering from Cinderella Syndrome believes that they are the only person in the world whom Prince Charming could possibly love and both of their lives would have been barren if they hadn’t met each other. That sounds lovely in theory, doesn’t it? You’ll notice one thing though. All of those movies end with the wedding. In reality, your life with your spouse begins at the wedding and generally gets infinitely more complicated once you add a mortgage, children and years of cohabitating. Every marriage has problems and disappointments and frankly, we’re doing our children a disservice when we pretend like everything is (or should be) perfect. Perfection does not exist, but hard work and perseverance do. So, will I let this baby girl watch Disney princess movies? Of course! I’ll just make sure that she knows they are as fictitious as Pinocchio and the Lion King.
4. There is no Mr. Right. Boy, do I cringe every time I hear someone throw around the phrase “soul mate.” Are there people who fit perfectly into our lives at one point in time? Sure. Do we heave a sigh of relief when we recognize kindred spirits who share our values and passions? Of course. Is there only one person on this earth that you could possibly find “true love” with? NO! All we have to do is to think back on our own lives and our past relationships to realize that we can love many different people in many different ways. How sad would life be if there was only one person put on this earth for you? What if you didn’t find him (or her)? I prefer to think that there are many different wonderful people on this earth and each has something to offer someone else. The other aspect to this is that we are each many different incarnations of ourselves over our lifetime and the person who may be perfect for us in our early 20s may not be quite so perfect a decade later AND THAT’S OKAY. Keep in mind also that we may be seeking a certain “type” of person so intently that we may completely overlook someone worthy of our love who is already right beside us. I wrote about my own journey to love here and I tell ya, it was certainly not what I was expecting.
3. The Honeymoon Phase is just that…a phase. Every relationship has a honeymoon phase. During this honeymoon phase, you only exist for each other. Each moment away from one another is torment and everything your significant other says and does is absolutely adorable. The honeymoon period might last 6 months or a couple of years, but eventually, the newness will wear off and you’ll be left with the reality of the person you’re with. While this real version of your love is not a bad thing at all, some people are addicted to the feeling of falling in love and may mistake the transition to “settling down” as falling out of love. The crazy, sweep you off your feet passion that we’ve been told is love is such a small part of what a long term relationship is really about.
2. Love is more than just romantic gestures. I think that this is my main problem with Valentine’s Day. It’s a single day of the year devoted to romantic gestures, which in my opinion are generally superfluous. Why do we need these gestures to “prove” to us that our significant other loves us? To me, thoughtfulness and love do not come in the form of flowers, cards, chocolates and jewelry. Thoughtfulness is my desire to have dinner ready for my husband when he gets home every day of the week, not because he expects it, but because feeding people is how I show love. Thoughtfulness is the Irishman getting up 4 times last night to rock Parker through his bad dreams because he knows that I haven’t been sleeping well. It’s having coffee ready in the morning for your spouse even though you don’t drink it yourself. It’s changing the roll on the toilet paper if you use the last of it. Refilling the Brita water container regularly. Cutting each other some slack when you’ve both been having a bad day, etc, etc, etc…. So every year, I kindly tell my husband to skip the flowers (which will die), skip the card (which I’ll feel guilty throwing away), skip the chocolate (which I’ll have to burn off later at the gym) and to skip the jewelry (which I won’t wear anyways) and to please just continue to be thoughtful on a regular basis in our regular lives. I won’t think he loves me any more if we get a sitter and fight for reservations at an overpriced restaurant. I’m certainly not judging people who do these things, I just don’t see the need for it myself.
1. Happiness begins and ends with you. I think that this is the most important life lesson of all and it took me until almost 30 to figure it out. We spend so much time during our youth trying to be a different version of who we are that we overlook the fact that while we’re questing to be thinner, funnier, wealthier, etc, life is passing us by. If you are unhappy in your own skin, there is not a soul on this earth that can step in and make you feel better about yourself. In fact, you’ll probably drive your partner (or potential partner) crazy with your feelings of inadequacy. No one sees your flaws as clearly as you do, I promise you. When you learn to love yourself exactly as you are, it will radiate from you and that in and of itself will bring love to you in all forms. People generally like happy people. So instead of waiting for romantic gestures to make you feel worthy, buy your own flowers, and realize that while we can strive to be the best version of ourselves, who we are at our core will never change and THAT is the person whom we need to love. Just be true to yourself, consistent in your values and find the peace that surrounds you.
Well, I think that’s about it for now. While I realize that this list might look cynical at first blush, I don’t think it is at all. I think it’s hopeful instead. Love is not this elusive mountaintop that we may or may not reach in this lifetime. Instead, it’s all around us. We just need to be open to it in whatever form it may come in. You may not end up with who you expected to, but for most of us, that’s probably a good thing.