Today I ate in one of my fave Thai restaurants. I noted that I was the only single person there. I haven’t celebrated Valentine’s Day for years regardless of my varying relationship statuses, but today was the first time I noticed myself feeling fortunate on February 14th. Like, not just okay with all of the mushiness around me. Not just surprisingly free of envy or bitterness. I was actually feeling very grateful for the love I see and feel every day, much the same way I suppose a person in a relationship often looks at their partner and feels lucky to have them in their life. Another thing occurred to me. I drew a big distinction between these two versions of gratitude. The first emotional state is grounded in the present and is neutral because it’s about appreciating things as they’re observed. This is what I call ubiquitous love. It involves a universal sense of reverence and compassion that doesn’t fade or dissolve when passion or attachment do. It isn’t focused or dependent on the existence of a particular individual in one’s life. It just is. Valentine’s Day in the popular imagination seems to be a day for celebrating romance as opposed to love, in my mind; the roses (whose petals are thought to resemble female genitalia), the chocolates (thought to be an aphrodisiac) and the wine (a symbol of intoxication of the senses – or an easy lay, depending on your standards!). Romance and love are two different things. I can spend a romantic evening with a guy I fancy – but that doesn’t necessitate love on either side of the equation.
It would be nearly impossible to agree on a universal definition of love, but I think that’s only because what people often refer to as love isn’t love at all. A Google search of images of love turned up the predictable gamut of cheesy imagery with a few celebrity photos peppered in. One of these depicts two cute kids kissing with the caption, “I feel lucky every day when I’m with you”. Aw… so sweet. Really, it is. But if the majority of people unraveled their relationships, what would be left after the infatuation, dependency and emotional attachment? I’m not just sitting here smugly on my bed with a half-empty dish of salsa threatening to turn over on my sheets, thinking of all the unfortunate fools out there. I’m thinking of my past adventures in the land of dating.
One of the most transformative books I’ve ever read is M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. Some years and a few disappointing relationships later, I discovered today that I’ve finally stepped over the threshold. I don’t just intellectually grasp what love is or what it means to love yourself. I’m living it. I can remember saying I was happy on my own. That was wishful thinking. Like all those times I was in a situation and I knew how ridiculous I sounded when I said, “I know I should end it… but I just can’t!”. I felt powerless and ashamed. Haddaway wrote the soundtrack to my life. My past life, that is.
Peck describes love as a process of dissolving ego boundaries. You become a little less about you and a little more about that other person. Your life becomes more dependent and focused on them. You’re not living your own life the way you did when you were single. Is it a bad thing to open yourself up or to share your life with another person, to be changed by them? Of course not. But it’s a very fine line, one that tests a person’s ability to be in a relationship and still maintain their ego boundaries, to have a life of their own. The degree to which a person feels secure and confident will determine the likelihood of that person breaking it off with someone that they know isn’t right for them. Or still pursuing their passions and dreams even though they’re very much ‘in love’ with someone and want to spend more and more of their time with them. Everyone has a friend who stops calling and stops going to their regular night classes and shindigs when they meet someone new. They have ego boundary problems, and it’s more common than we realize. This adorable Star Wars geek who can’t get over his ex? He really just can’t get over himself. Or rather, he can’t get ahold of himself. But I bet he thinks he’s hopelessly in love.
Of course, it’s easy to say all of this when you’re soberly single. I know it sucks to feel lonely. But what I also know is that if you’re seeking a relationship, you can’t say with 100% honesty that you’re happy just the way you are. When you realize that you’re never really missing the ingredients you need to be happy and whole, regardless of your relationship status, that’s when you start to love yourself, which is in my opinion the only way to understand what love really is. It sure as hell isn’t about chocolate, flowers or a fancy dinner. But if people are being kind and sweet to each other on Valentine’s Day, even if it is an arguably silly holiday, I can’t really complain. It’s worth noting, though, that whether or not you’re attached, it’s a great day – like all others – to take a moment to honour your relationship with the person you’ll be with the rest of your life: you.