Next week is Valentine’s Day, and you know what that means: The greeting card, floral, candy, jewelry and service industries are ready to remind you of what a schmuck you are if you don’t drop a paycheck on the one to whom you’ve pledged your devotion.
Before I had various self-revelations thanks to recovery, I looked at Valentine’s Day in one of two ways: If I was single, with a mixture of disdain and envy, scoffing on the surface at all of the doe-eyed lovers who fawned all over one another over candlelit meals but secretly wishing I was one of them. And if I was attached, I spared no effort or expense to make it a day worthy of a Hollywood film, a romantic scene that ended with more fireworks than Boomsday and more passion than the Jack-and-Rose love story in “Titanic.”
Either way, Feb. 14 usually ended in disappointment because of my own self-involvement. As a single dude, I felt sorry for myself, like I was left out of some sort of exclusive club where all members lived happily ever after. As an attached dude, I tried to make it about her, but it was really all about me — how much I could give or do for some sort of validation that I was the world’s No. 1 boyfriend.
Fortunately, I don’t have to buy into the Valentine’s Day trap anymore.
For one, my wife and I both agree that it’s a corporate holiday that thrives on guilt to drive up sales. (And believe me, I’ve double- and triple-checked that she actually feels this way instead of just saying so while secretly expecting a present. This philosophy is not a test, she assures me.)
Going out for an expensive meal, flowers, gifts ... all of those things are nice, and the occasional surprise of any and all make for a lovely change of pace in any relationship. Everyone loves something unexpected because it means they’ve been on another’s mind, which is always nice to know. But we don’t need a day to tell or show the other that we love one another.
We say it all the time. In fact, I say it often to those I care about — family and friends.
Funny thing about that — we all want love. To feel it, to be in love, to be loved ... yet for some people (especially those outside of recovery), those three words — “I love you” — are the hardest words in the English language to say.
I’ve said it to friends and seen their significant others raise their eyebrows in surprise, as if two guys shouldn’t say it to one another lest eavesdroppers think they’re about to reenact scenes from “Brokeback Mountain.” I say it on the phone to guys in the 12-Step program to which I belong, and before I came to work at Cornerstone, I’m sure there were co-workers at my old job who overheard my conversations and thought that I was carrying on Bacchanalian orgies with four or five other dudes behind my wife’s back.
I say it for a couple of reasons. One: Nothing in this life is guaranteed, and while I don’t carry on with a fatalistic outlook on life, thinking that at any second those about whom I care could be hit by a bus or flattened by a meteor, I’m also well aware that things happen. Life happens. Tragedy doesn’t discriminate, and I don’t ever want those about whom I feel so strongly to reach the end of their lives without me having told them how I feel.
Two: The world needs a lot more love. It probably sounds like I’m shilling for a Beatles song or a revival of the hippie musical “Hair,” but it’s also the truth. Look at the headlines on any given day: War. Murder. Rage. Pain. This community, this nation, this planet is bombarded on a daily basis by negativity, and to counter that, we shouldn’t hold onto our affection like it’s currency. My old buddy Haig, who lives down in Key West, is fond of telling people, “If nobody’s told you they love you today, Haig loves you.” He doesn’t say it expecting it to be said back to him in return; he says it because he knows others need to hear it, and he has it — for himself and for his life — in abundance, so why not share it?
Unfortunately, many people who have trouble expressing it also have trouble receiving it. Guys, especially, feel uncomfortable with the L word, as if to say it to another man is an indicator of weakness. We don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable, and so the tender range of emotions — love and all the rest — get stuffed into a deep, dark hole and covered over with gruff boards and stoic varnish.
I don’t understand it, and I don’t buy into that line of thinking. Just as I don’t need Valentine’s Day to remind me that I should show and tell my wife that I love her, I don’t need cultural or societal approval to tell me when it is or isn’t OK to tell those for whom I care that I love them.
Want to have a great Valentine’s Day — and every other day, for that matter? Say it. Not just to the person to whom you say it regularly, but to someone else in your life, the person that makes your world a little bit better of a place. Let them know how you feel. Give a little light on this Feb. 14, and keep on giving it.
The world needs it, and so do the rest of us. It doesn’t make you any less of a tough individual; it just means you’re a human being who experiences human emotions, just like everyone else. And you shouldn’t need me or a day on the calendar to tell you that sharing a little bit of yourself with others along the way makes our joined journey through life a little bit easier.