Some of us love Valentine’s Day and some of us dread it.
For me, it has served as a reminder that the rest of the world appears paired up while I’m not. What’s worse were the times I was still working through a breakup. I couldn’t leave the house without seeing couples together. And forget about turning on the TV trying to avoid romantic ads or shows. It felt like the universe was taunting me. Yes, I know I am alone! Can’t you just let me be?
My love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day has an origin story. I was married for 10 years, and I have now been divorced for 12. I considered my marriage to be a blissful fairytale. No one gets married while planning to get divorced—I never imagined this for myself—that I would be apart from my ex-husband.
He was my best friend, he was my travel buddy, and he was my everything. But life or God rarely gives us what we want; it gives us what we need. I needed to learn how to stand on my own two feet and appreciate myself, even if my ex-husband decided that I was not good enough for him. I needed to learn to love myself more. I needed to develop as a human being and combat my many fears.
I hated being alone and single. I felt I was punished by God and despised by the universe because why else would the love of my life be taken away from me in such a cruel way. No, he did not die, he was very much alive and simply didn’t want me. Once my dear friend, and then a sudden enemy, he began to say terrible things like “I was boring” and that “I didn’t have any class.” It was a brutal awakening from my fairy tale.
I desperately wanted to know what I did wrong so I could fix it. I had bought, “The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge” and tried to read it in hopes that reading some book would make me worthy of his love. I decided that to save my marriage, I would be whoever he needed me to be, but it was never enough.
When people decide to leave, there is rarely anything that will convince them to stay. Even if I was able to win him over, he wouldn’t have been happy, so that was not an option either. Some people compare divorce to death. I do too. I often felt he died because I lost my dear friend, I couldn’t talk and share my life with him. I still loved him. It felt like an abyss of pain and misery—and while counselors sometimes say it is all temporary—it felt like a never-ending agonizing experience.
Valentine’s Days, anniversaries, birthdays—all these were the worst because they reminded me that my marriage failed—that I failed. I tried to move on by joining dating sites, getting set up with friends of friends, and I kept “failing” creating long-lasting relationships and… I learned he had remarried.
I feel like I successfully failed relationships for 12 years since… That’s the spirit!
Twelve long years. Especially early on, I frantically scheduled dates. As you can imagine, I was irrationally thinking and was just trying to escape being alone. Sometimes I would date for a while, other times I would break up with someone or someone would break up with me. All of it felt like unbearable failures after failures because I was trying so hard to make some relationship work to prove to myself that I was worthy of someone’s love since I was not worthy of my ex-husband’s love.
Many times, I prayed to God to take me away from this world, or at least to take away my need to be in a relationship because relationships seemed fleeting and short lived, and they caused so much pain. I felt like the dating world while providing many potential partners was no better than eating fast food—it was as if I was going through the drive through day after day watching my health and expectations decline.
I was depressed about the whole thing. Friends bought me books to crack the code of dating and I was told I needed to be a “bitch” and play “the game.” This felt insane to me, and I didn’t want any part of it. I felt angry thinking that people out there play games, while I am a real person. I knew I had to survive the suffering and pain and get stronger because of it, but all I wanted to do was to end the suffering and stop feeling. I became a workaholic to avoid having any time for thinking, feeling, or suffering because nothing seemed to make sense to me.
Then, the universe sent me a sign.
A new client signed up for therapy. He was very determined to fix his marriage. This person was living proof to me that people who truly love another still walk this earth. This man came to learn something from me, but I found myself learning a great deal from him. His determination to fix his marriage made me believe in true love again. He restored my faith in men. He was doing what he committed himself to do, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until parted by death.”
He was not running away or trying to replace, he was invested in fixing his marriage. I felt in awe of his inner strength and truth. In a single moment of clarity, I realized that dating and love are possible when you meet the right people, and there are people who do truly love one another. Such a simple concept, and yet it never dawned on me before because all the “rule books” and dating experiences had me believe that relationships are about games and not love. I had been ashamed to be a part of what seemed such a shallow world.
This man, who doesn’t even know it, had a profound effect on my life. His devotion and love and commitment to his marriage brought me peace I had not felt before. In some ways, his fight for his marriage avenged my ex-husband’s lack of fight. Life felt unfair before, but somehow, he restored balance. He gave me closure to my anger. He helped me to forgive and to let go. Anytime I feel down all I need to do is remember that there are such good loving people among us—they are the silent heroes of today’s world. Observing this man’s loving determination to save his marriage not only gave me the peace of mind to leave my unfulfilling 3-year relationship, but it gave me the courage to be blissfully single.
I equate this experience with a spiritual re-awakening, because in this unusual way, I feel God responded to my prayer. I prayed not to feel the need to be in a relationship and magically, I finally do not feel a need to be in a relationship. It completely went away! Instead, my faith in love was restored. As Corinthians 13:4-8 states: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Witnessing someone love this way was life changing.
Over the last 3 years I have learned to slow down and appreciate the little moments in life that we are so quick to dismiss. I wondrously look at the sky and contently lay in a meadow. I don’t run and hide from rain—I get my new rain boots and jump right in. I chase my dogs. I learned that I would rather be single than be with someone who does not appreciate me or love me for who I am. So, I am with myself in good company. I found peace. I am reading books again and going on hikes. Sometimes I buy flowers for myself for no reason but enjoying them. Other times, I leave unexpectedly on trips to new places and explore these new frontiers.
It is true that life rarely gives us what we want but gives us what we need. I needed to learn how to stand on my two feet and I did. I needed to learn how to appreciate myself, even if my ex-husband decided that I was not good enough for him, and I did. I needed to learn to love myself more, and I did.
Sometimes I sing to myself in my car, and I realize that I am in love with life and that I am here to love. I am not here to love anyone specific; I am just here to love. Then I think, I just am LOVE. Period. Life is funny, I wanted a guy, a fairy tale, and instead I got me. One could say that I finally found me. Now, that I found me, I am losing myself in the bright abyss of life’s beauty.
I don’t have a fancy list of Valentine’s Day survival tips for you, but just one challenge: date yourself!
As Vivian Greene, author and motivational speaker said it, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” Life rarely gives us what we want, but we get what we need to learn and grow, so no matter what your circumstances are, I dare you to fall in love with yourself.
Life is divine. Life is beautiful. Life is a mystery. We cannot control life. We cannot control who loves us and who decides to leave us, but we can decide to improve our relationship with ourselves…