Ah, February, the Month of Love! I’m not a hopeless romantic, but man, I love love. For that reason, I am planning to celebrate love all month long here—after all, love is my blog’s middle name.
Years ago, I decided to reclaim Valentine’s Day as a celebration of all kinds of love. I think that culturally, we are weirdly obsessed with romantic love, pair bonds, and the relationship escalator. If you’ve never heard of the escalator before, it’s the process whereby two people progress from a starting point—friendship, dating, casual sex, whatever—into shared property, marriage, and children. My feeling is that too many people spend their time obsessing about the relationship escalator and not enough time thinking about what will make them happy. Feel free to disagree with me here if you want, but after spending many hours lending a sympathetic ear to friends who wanted their boyfriends to propose to them, I can say that the relationship escalator causes some serious, even if temporary, unhappiness.
I wanted to push back against the pedestal upon which we place romantic love. I wanted to remember all the ways that love enriches my life, in the form of friendship, familial love, love of nature and everyday life, and self love. In honor of love this month, I’ll be sprinkling bits of inspiration around this site for the next few weeks. I’ll be sharing quotes I like, photographs, more thoughts on love—you know, the usual, but amped up a bit for the holiday. Mostly I want to remind all of us to be grateful for the love we have in our lives now, right this moment. Let’s take a break from longing for what we don’t have right now.
Speaking of longing, I wanted to say a few words about how I am feeling these days. 2012 was such a strange, hard year for me, and by far the most traumatic event was breaking up with Matt. For the most part, I am feeling okay. In many ways, our break-up was made easier by logistics: we have always lived in different cities, so I had my own apartment, habits, and social life without him. We were wonderful companions, but there was virtually no co-dependence in our relationship. I decided quickly after our break-up that I would try to be friends with him. That decision goes against the conventional advice about break-ups. Convention dictates that people need a cooling-off period, time away from each other, time to heal. And I completely understand why: after a break-up, you need to feel the hell out of your feelings, and if you are angry, sad, bitter, depressed, or just generally NOT HAPPY with your ex, then it’s best not to be around that person.
I knew that I would not be around Matt in person and that I would have plenty of space to feel my feelings. That relieved a lot of anxiety I might have felt otherwise. Still, being friends has challenged me. I had to stop exchanging e-mails with him because it tugged too hard at my heartstrings—we had e-mailed each other almost daily for five years. After that, I found a great TED talk from Sherry Turkle called “Connected but Alone?” And she said something that spoke to me so deeply that I tried to write it down for safekeeping:
"Human relationships are rich, and they're messy, and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology."
Rich, messy, and demanding. That pretty much describes my relationship with Matt, despite his attempts to shield me from the messy and demanding parts. 2012 was the year that Matt ran into the wall and everything fell apart. The secret, though, is that the messy and demanding parts were always tangible to me. It’s just that the tough parts of our relationship bore little resemblance to the problems that people on the relationship escalator face.
So we’ve shifted from daily e-mails to infrequent phone calls and a little texting. It’s better for me that way. But there’s something else that I had to confront: his happiness. He said recently that he is happier these days, and I want to be happy for him. But it’s hard, because his happiness has come at the expense of mine. It’s hard because much of our relationship—the logistics, time spent together, frequency of communication—was based on what worked for him and what would make him happy. I could go along with the plan because I loved him so much and wanted him to be happy. It’s weird for me that our romantic relationship could stop working with no warning. We literally went from a super-romantic vacation in San Antonio to no romance and a six-month-long breakup that would leave me wanting to claw my own heart out of my chest. It was horrible.
But…he’s happier these days. I’m okay these days. And I am trying to embrace the idea that we both deserve to be happy. Right now, that means being a true friend to him and being open to his happiness. I fear that I’m making our friendship sound more difficult than it is. The issue of his happiness pokes me in the heart, but our conversations are really nice. He’s still Matt to me, and he still knows me better than anyone else. We’re still kindred spirits. I wish we were still together, and I still have all these feelings for him, but I can’t imagine that my life would be better if I excised him from it.
This month, as I celebrate love, I will also be celebrating love’s resilience.