All You Need Is Love (And A Back Massager…)

I just love my back yard. (Will you be my valentine, cornfield?)

I just love my backyard.

In light of Valentine’s day being just around the corner…I have absolutely no romantic plans.

And that is not a complaint; it’s kind of a relief. (That means I won’t have to scour the yellow pages for a restaurant which has great sushi and also provides high chairs for dogs.)

But even for the last ten years or so, of which I have been in a relationship for every single one of them, I never really had any “romantic” plans for Valentine’s Day.

Usually, my boyfriend and I (there were two who comprised the ten year span of monogamy) were working or going to school or something equally as non-exciting. There were some hand-made cards, which were quite creative (both of my exes were artistically inclined). And small gestures, but nothing over-the-top that I can recall.

I’ve never been in a really traditional relationship, where we make dinner reservations or a box of chocolates is required. Part of that was a function of the fact that we were either in high school or college or just out of college in those years where you think you’re going to be making a ton of money and then find out you’re just about qualified to do the same jobs you had while in high school.

(Yeah, I’ll pretend for the sake of this article that I am well out of the boggy quagmire of that pesky phase.)

For me, Valentine’s day is just like any other day (I’m going to eat chocolate and have a drink one way or another, if that’s what I want to do.)

The sentiment is sweet, but Valentine’s day is kind of an antithesis of romance for me. Just the fact that your parents and grandparents know about it makes it kind of anti-climactic, if you know what I mean.

So the very cliched consumptive ubiquity of the holiday kind of pre-disposes me to take it as a campy joke and not a serious affair.

This year for example, I realized I bought Blue what will likely become a Valentine’s day alligator from Amazon (and some of that Musher’s foot balm so that we can finally go out in the snow for more than ten minutes at a time.) This is mainly because it will probably arrive sometime around Valentine’s day. Not because I meant it as a token of my love.

(Okay, yes, I did.)

And I like to tug people’s chains by making them think that I take my dog that seriously. (He’s just a god. I mean dog.)

But seriously, this spring I am planning a first birthday bash to end all birthday bashes. The website for it can be found here. (No gifts, but donations to the Blue Needs a Mansion Fund are always graciously accepted.)

To be clear, if you look at our track record for holidays so far, getting his nuts chopped off was his Christmas gift. Okay, fine Chris– I’ll call it “neutered”. (One of my friends gets a visceral illness every time I refer to it as “chopping his nuts”. Not sure why.)

My sister was the one who bought him a Christmas tiara. Please let the record show that purchase was not on my Visa.

And truth be told, while I love the colors red and pink together, chocolate, the concept of a day all about love and even the spirit of frivolity* which is embodiment of the holiday itself, I’m not one to care much for all the over-the-top illustrations of romantic love on a dreary winter day in mid-Februrary.

*A high school boyfriend once had an immense bouquet of amazing tropical flowers sent to me after school on Valentine’s– which almost made up for the fact that I found out he had slept with his next door neighbor right before I lost my virginity to him… Almost.

In fact, it often seems to me the more a couple needs to go by the books (candles, wine, dinner, cards, gifts, etc.) for their holiday celebrations, the more of a true connection they lack in daily life. (Which is why I’m saving the personalized sky-writing for Blue’s birthday party.)

June 14th, ya’ll!

I used to love the classroom card exchanges and all of that, and I always found Valentine’s Day– or at least the temporary color it brings to the otherwise gray New York winter– to be a small ray of sunlight. And at least in school it got us out of a good deal of desk work.

But as an “adult” (Really, isn’t there a better word, like something between girl and woman? Or at least, couldn’t a young female pop star have sung a ballad to help me feel more at ease with this somewhere in between phase?), I’m more focused on daily happiness and love, than a big-all-out “romance” session for one day out of the year.

Besides, there’s something decidedly unromantic to me about a day that the entire country, from ages five to ninety five has decided must be so. It’s sweet, but definitely not sexy. (“Grown sexy”, anyone? Or wait, was it “Groan sexy”?)

It’s February fourteenth– get it on.

(Hmm… You know, I just might have, but since I saw a commercial telling me to, I think I’d rather play Scrabble.)

Which still leaves room for charm and enjoyment; I just don’t find anything particularly romantic about a holiday that children celebrate in the classroom and Hallmark has its paws all over. And yet, the holiday is still largely centered around romantic couples. Boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, husband/mistress, wife/pool boy. You get the picture.

The thing I’d really like to point out– and in truth, the reason behind this post– is that in our culture in general, we tend to think of having a partner as the most desirable state. Valentine’s Day is kind of like the hallmark of this notion (no pun intended). I used to buy into this concept myself.

Woe is me as a single girl on Valentine’s day (or during any of the couple-centered holidays.) Being single used to seem like a sort of limbo… until I found someone else to to distract me from my own life with the addictive quality of new love.

I was “hiking” with my dad the other day, and being the caring (often worried) father that he is, he broached the subject of my break up with my long-term boyfriend. He said something to the effect of, “I know you must be kind of bummed to be single… People are meant to be with a partner.”

And I knew what he was saying, because it’s something I’d said to myself basically ever since I was old enough to know what boys were. The dream for me was always to have a guy– though for some reason, weddings never really excited me very much.

But for sure, I have always loved boys. It wasn’t a choice (just like being gay, I would imagine 😉 ) and I don’t ever recall going through that phase where I thought they had cooties. I’m pretty sure I tried to seduce a guy before kindergarten. I knew every woman needed a man, and why not get a head start in the game?

(Poor guy. He was older, but still, I’m sure he was much more into Lego’s than holding hands with a girl.)

My first grade teacher once made me read a love note I’d written to a boy, out loud (just to get a kick out of it– I’m pretty sure she thought it was the funniest thing ever– though I still think that’s slightly cruel and unusual punishment. Luckily, he was in computer class.) I didn’t even like the guy, at least not like that– I just wanted to write a love note to see what it would be like because everyone did it in the movies.

It just seemed like one of those things every self-respecting person did.

So I’ve never been averse to the idea of romance. In fact, I used to always consider myself a “relationship person”. I had this unquestioned theory that I was the best version of myself when I was in a relationship.

Looking back, I would compare that particular thought process was sort of akin to looking at a guy in the bar through beer goggles. Everything looks better when you’re drunk– whether drunk with alcohol, or infatuation for a new guy or girl. It wasn’t that I was a better person in a relationship. It was that I’m a pretty good girlfriend, and I was able to center my identity upon that, instead of out of my own growth as an individual.

I think this can be problematic if you are like I used to be; where the moment you are in a relationship, you mesh yourself with the other person so much that it becomes hard to tell where one person ends and the other begins. I thought I was a better person, but in truth I was somewhat less of a person at all.

Being in a relationship provided a nearly 24/7 distraction from my own personal flaws– you know, the fears, insecurities, and deep-seated anxieties that can only be brought to light in the cold hard reality of no longer having a warm body to sleep next to every night. Or someone to text when you’re drunk at a party and want a ride home.

I think love is amazing. I also happen to believe that love is the only true thing in the world.

And if you have love with a partner, trust me, I know how perfect it can feel. I had a great love with my ex, and I still have great love for him. One thing we had for certain, at least in my experience, was true love. (Not to be confused with the type of love you should necessarily marry.)

Ironically, I think I loved him more than I had ever loved him before when I was able to be truly happy for him that he was happy– with someone else. The truest kind of love is the kind which is not conditional upon the other person giving you something in return. He isn’t even in my life anymore, but I still have a great deal of affection for him, and I don’t expect that to change.

I think it’s a relatively frequent occurrence that instead of using our relationships to grow and become stronger, more courageous and more loving people, we use them as crutches. We use other people and the distraction they bring to our lives as ways to stop growing, and to settle into a hum drum existence which, from the outside, looks quite idyllic.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care for them, or that we aren’t having fun. We probably don’t even know that’s what we’re doing. But I think, if my own experience is any indication, that’s something that happens behind the scenes.

Most of what we think of as “true love” is actually a fleeting version of ego reinforcement. We love the other person as long as they’re doing something for us (again, this isn’t always a conscious notion– it happens automatically, a social barter). When they “mess up” and fail to give us what we want, our “love” turns to “hate”. That’s an indication that it isn’t actually love at all. It’s simply infatuation, and a handy physical and emotional agreement which allows you to base your identity on an outside source.

That’s an illusion. And it’s dangerous to base your life upon illusions. You’re bound to get hurt when they crumble.

One of my good friends told me when I was at the height of unhappiness in my relationship (which was really, the height of unhappiness with myself)

“Don’t ever let go of what you have with Leo. Don’t you ever let that go.”

She saw what she thought we had, and she wanted something like it for herself, and she was letting me know how lucky she thought I was. I appreciated her sentiment, but I knew I wasn’t actually as happy with him as I should have been, no matter how wonderful he seemed to be or our relationship seemed to be from the outside. (To be absolutely clear, none of that was his fault; he was perfect, but we weren’t perfect for each other.)

I say this to illustrate the fact that I am now single. I had something which some people thought they wanted (a loyal, loving, friendly, kind, generous, super cute artistic beautiful boyfriend– who wouldn’t?). And now, it’s likely that many of them are likely in relationships, while I am not.

This is just fine with me, but if your whole idea is that you want to be in a relationship, then my model would be considered a failure, while to you it may have seemed like a success a year ago.

So that’s my first point: don’t ever bother looking around at what you think other people have. Because they probably don’t even have what you see and think they do, and even if they do have it, it doesn’t mean it’s there to stay (in fact, it most certainly isn’t, because the only constant in life is change– and that pertains to everything, even what we try to pretend is not subject to change, like marriage).

Coveting anything anyone has is just an illusion (because as I just attempted to illustrate above– you never have any way of knowing what they actually do have, and if you had it, it would look entirely different to you from your perspective. Doesn’t that happen with everything in life that you get? Once you get it, it loses its mystique.) and a waste of your precious attention and energy.

In general, it’s not a good idea to live your life with an eye on another’s. Love what you have right now, because in the moment, that is exactly what you need. And the enjoyment is all in your attitude.

As Hamlet said, “… For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Being single can be your prison, or it can be your liberty. Just as being in love can be viewed either way. It’s all in how you chose to perceive your own reality.

I am happier being single than I was being in a relationship in which I had love, but also a sinking feeling that it wasn’t the right one for me. If you have a partner this year, that is fantastic. Enjoy them. They may not be there next year, or tomorrow, or you may spend the rest of your lives happily together. You just never know. And if you are single this year, I really write this for you. Because there’s no need to feel any sense of lack.

If the world was really built so that the only true love which could be experienced by man was between a man and a woman in the context of a romantic relationship, that would exclude a whole hell of a lot of loving relationships that I personally experience on a daily basis.

This year on Valentine’s Day you might be single, next year you might be happily married. And then the friend with the seemingly perfect life may be divorced (I say that not to be a pessimist, but because no one’s life is any more or less perfect than your own– we all get exactly what we need).

Life is too uncertain to waste your time trying to believe what you see. It is all an illusion, a projection of your mind and you can only trust your first-hand experience– which is great because that’s all you ever need to worry about anyway.

Think of how much time and energy that frees up.

And also why, if you’re prone to jealousy (all jealousy is unfounded, by the way, or rather let’s say, it’s founded by confusion) social media can be your [temporary] worst enemy. That is, until you overcome the illusion that anyone else has what you want, or should have.

I highly suggest giving yourself a social-media cleanse if you’re really struggling with the haves-and-haves-not of your current life situation. If you get stressed looking at what you think other people have, stop torturing yourself and spend that time making your life into your own sweet dream. And maybe once you find some beauty in your own life, you’ll realize that you don’t need to compare anymore, and that nothing is missing in this moment, which is all you can ever experience anyway.

And second, I would like to make the point that it’s a handy little cliche that has followed us around since people realized they could mate, that every man needs a woman and every woman needs a man, etc. etc.

It’s also good for business. What industry doesn’t gain from the notion that you need something (whether it’s a romantic partner, a better body, a million dollars or the perfect baby) to replenish your somehow receding line of happiness?

If you think of it from a financial perspective, from the wedding industry to the dating industry to even clothing, make up, fragrance, entertainment industries, (and many more which I can’t possibly name or imagine)– almost every type of “industry” (funny– we don’t normally equate that word with love) benefits from making you believe that you need to find that special someone in order to be happy, self-realized and complete.

I would not want to ever give you the impression of attempting to denigrate romantic love, but from simply living life (and also having a three-year stint working in a law office which specialized in divorce) it is amazing how quickly that “true love” can go from marriage, babies, and vacations, to acrimonious separations in which every dollar, past Valentine’s Day card, and sexual act is up for sale, auction, debate, or used as evidence in a way to further ruin the former lovers’  lives.

Real love doesn’t turn spiteful. Real love doesn’t do battle in divorce court. And that’s because real love doesn’t have an opposite. Real love also doesn’t necessarily come in the package of the kind of love we see most often portrayed in movies and jewelry commercials.

When I broke up with Leo, I did it because I knew I had to. And I still loved him, and we parted ways with love.

Then when I knew he had found someone else who made him happy, there was an emotional release for me, because I knew without a doubt that we were definitely over. For good– a dream I’d had since high school had finally ended. And that was beautiful unto itself.

And when I finally grieved the final loss of the relationship, I came to see it in a different light. Not only was I released from the theretofore unshakable feeling that Leo needed me to keep him safe, loved, and happy (and that I needed him to do the same for me) but I was met with an unmistakable feeling of having passed on the love we shared to someone else in the world… To a total stranger (well stranger to me, not to him.) 😉

Not only was I happy for him that he had found happiness after our painful (and at the time, what seemed to be devastating) breakup… I had this feeling that I was somehow passing on the love I had so happily experienced with him, to another lucky person. So, not only had I gotten to experience this great love with Leo (which was just perfect for us for as long as it had lasted) but now someone else, who needed it more and who was more perfectly aligned with what he needed, was getting to receive it.

It was like passing down my favorite bag to an old friend. It felt like being on your death bed and being able to give someone your life savings, someone who you know will use it to do great things. It was something I had a great affection for, but could no longer use myself. And now it was getting re-cycled. How could I not be happy that someone else was experiencing the thing that had given me so much happiness in my own life?

Once I thought of it in that way, it seemed almost unimaginable that anything else could be such a perfect reality.

You can have love and keep it to yourself and jealously guard it until the day you die, but sharing makes it grow. And it is the most liberating feeling. If Leo never found love after we broke up, what good does that do me? That’s the ego talking, wanting the other person not to be happy just because they’re not happy with you. But that’s not how you, or anyone else, experiences love.

And as far as feeling like I need someone to complete me, I know for instance, my dad was being sweet and sympathetic. And he was just imagining how happy he is with my mom, and how much they enjoy each other’s company.

But at this moment, I want what I have and I don’t want what I don’t have.

That’s not some cliched mind game, that’s the best explanation of how I feel from my very core. And I realize in hindsight that if I had “found someone” right after Leo and I broke up, I wouldn’t have been able– because I wouldn’t have had to– experience this lesson that I think may be the most valuable one to date.

And that is: as amazing as it is to find love with someone else, I’ve found something (out of necessity and pain and space and time) that the love I experience every day by myself, is just as as rewarding as when I was experiencing it with someone else.

That’s because the love that I have in my life now is the same great love I had with Leo– it is just distributed into different channels, different experiences. In fact, I’ve learned that the love I had with him isn’t even about him; it always came from me. It’s the same love I give to my dog, and my family, and my friends, and everyone around me. It doesn’t require one specific single person to unlock my heart. Breaking up with Leo and finally being out on my own, cut me open and opened me to love from so many different layers of life that I never even knew were there.

It has opened me up to a love of other people, a love of strangers, a love of the world around me. When I was forced to stop using my natural source of love (him) I had to get creative. It cracked my eyes open and forced me to see the world in a different light. Now I see beauty all around me. There is always an amazing movie playing just before my eyes. Out walking with my dog, I see the beautiful homes that people have built with their own hands. I see the trees, the snow, and I breathe the fresh air.

Love doesn’t have to be with a Valentine. It sure can be, but it’s all around you every moment. You just have to open your eyes to the possibility.

As Madonna once said (I am quoting Madonna and Shakespeare side by side.)

“Freedom comes when you learn to let go/Creation comes when you learn to say no.”

I said no to the version of love that everyone had taught me, and I had complicitly believed, I needed in order to be happy. I made up my own version of love. And it’s working for me.

And I’m not just saying this because I’m single. I’m single by choice. When I got happy with myself, the motivation to “find someone” just fell away. You can be totally happy on your own. I’m not saying I don’t love and enjoy other people– in fact, I love and enjoy them more than I probably ever have before in my life. But I don’t feel like I need anyone. At all. Ever.

I learned to find love in all areas of my life. For instance, I got my dog, whom I know with almost certainty that I would not have today if it weren’t for breaking up with Leo. And he is the new love of my life. And it’s a kind of love that is pure and honest and isn’t based on anything except the fact that I just… I don’t even know why I love him. I can’t even explain it but I feel it like I can feel the urge to pee. (Which is actually coming on quite strong at the moment… Why do I always have to pee?)

And some day, I maybe I will have a new love of my life, when Blue is gone. Or maybe he’ll be it forever. He or I could die tomorrow– who knows?

The myth of romantic love tells us that we find this great love with one person. I’ve found that this simply isn’t true. And this is coming from a past-described “hopeless romantic”.

I wasn’t romantic about flowers and dinner reservations on the regular holidays. But I was romantic in that I loved being in love, and always liked having a boyfriend (my first relationship was sixth grade– it lasted nine months.)

This is something we can either buy into, or not. I can only speak from experience that my life is so full of love and joy that I truly can’t even imagine meeting someone who would make it any better. I can’t speak for myself in five years, or even one. But what I am saying is that I’m not missing out on anything by being single.

And I don’t think anyone is missing out on anything by being single, except if they believe that they are.

I feel more centered now living life on my own and loving everyone and everything– because I’m not looking to just one person to satisfy all my needs. I’ve diversified my love portfolio to include everything within my experience. I no longer expect anyone else to satisfy anything for me, and so whatever I get from them is like the icing on an already beautiful cake.

If you are single, don’t look at it as an impediment to your happiness. Don’t imagine that when you find love, your life will be perfect. Your life will never be perfect, until you realize it always has been perfect and always will be– and then it is.

Weddings are often followed by divorces. I still have trouble wrapping my mind around this concept– especially now that I’ve actually been to a wedding and seen the power of the ceremony (or at least, what we ascribe to it). I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way. In fact, I mean it quite optimistically, and if you have an open mind you will see.

The truth is, nothing in life is certain. Nothing in life is forever. Maybe a diamond lasts forever, but the finger upon which it was placed will not, nor will the person who did the placing.

Some day, you will be separated from your loved ones. Whether it’s distance, death, or discord. You have everything you need within yourself. You are born alone, you die alone… You are the complete package. The love you think you have for others, is only what is emanating from yourself. They’re your mirror; you’re the source.

Cultivate the love within. It is the only true investment you can make. Follow your center, your heart, your intuition, whatever you want to call it. It’s the truth. And it’s your essence as a being. (I think it’s also why we love being around animals; they are much more in touch with it than we mentally-oriented beings tend to be. And also they don’t break your concentration by speaking when you’re trying to finish up a post. But they just might sprinkle some pee on your floor. That’s how you know they’re your biological child.)

The love you find within is the love you will share, nothing more and nothing less. I am happier now on my own than I was before when I had what everyone else wanted. I am complete just as I am. That isn’t some concept I read in a book; it’s the reality I live and feel and know just like I see my hand writing these words.

It’s an impenetrable truth, once you experience it for yourself. And when you do, you’ll never be able to look at love the same way again.

Get a dog (he’s my main center of attraction… if you didn’t already know. And that kind of love is incredible– and unconditional and not at all mental– except maybe from your end), or a cat (yes, I now love cats too), go for a run and pump your legs and breathe fresh air and feel your blood flowing, get outside and notice the skyline, see the beauty behind every face you encounter. Look at a flower or a tree or a bird. It’s there just waiting for you to discover.

And don’t let Valentine’s Day hype get you down. Enjoy it for what it is, and don’t imagine you need a date as a pass in order to do it.

You aren’t any less worthy of love if you are single. That’s really just a sticker-chart goal we made to make you think you need to change yourself (by buying something, usually) in order to make yourself worthy.

And that, my friend, is what I like to call bullshit. 😉

If it’s a day for love, it’s a day for all love.

Like the Rastafarians say, One Love. There is only one source of love. It’s all the same. (It’s like water– we can put it in any type of container, but it’s still just water.) Sometimes we think it comes from one person, but in truth it comes from wherever we believe we can find it.

I learned the secret that is really no secret at all; love is all around us. Love is us. Love simply is.

But if you wanna send me and my dog some chocolate… I’ll send you our address. 😉

Blue loves chocolate. And beer.