Ah, another Valentine's Day. A day for roses, diamond-heart pendants, chocolate and other overpriced tokens that say “I love you.” All in all, a good day to do a little housecleaning.
Let me start by saying, I’m not a fan. I don’t like the notion that you must come bearing gifts to prove your love, that we actually need a day on the calendar to remember to tell somebody that he means something to you and the subtle message that if you don’t have a “Valentine” you are somehow less of a person. But in all honesty, my dislike for the greeting-card holiday that is Feb. 14 is rooted in a moment of heartbreak, a time years ago when the promise of love was rescinded. Strangely enough, I have long since forgiven the man, but still hold a grudge against the day.
So I started to do my cleaning. I pulled out relics of my past. Letters, photos, books, cassettes, CDs, movies. And as I started looking at the music and the movies, I realized they told a tale of my journey with love and made me realize it was time to have a reconciliation with Valentine's Day.
“Take My Breath Away”
In the beginning, there was head-over-heels everything is great and nobody-can-every know-how-this-feels love. The time when you still really believed, like Samantha in “Sixteen Candles,” that your Jake was going to show up in the Porsche and take you away. That all your dreams would come true and that love just happens.
These were the days when my sweetie and I used to go for long rides in his car, windows down, holding hands, screaming around the curves on back country roads listening to music. Lots and lots of music. Among the favorites? The “Top Gun” soundtrack, and most especially “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was big too. “I’m on Fire” never failed to stoke the flames. Young, alive and in love. Just like in the movies.
But in “Sixteen Candles,” Samantha doesn't catch Jake cheating on her. In “Top Gun,” Maverick doesn’t stay on the motorcycle and just leave Charlie in the dust.
Damn. Now what do I do? It’s hard to believe I was ever that naïve. But when reality doesn’t match your dreams, the hard falls start to accumulate. You doubt yourself. You lose your trust. First come the tears, then up come the walls. Enter angry bitter girl.
“Men, can’t live with ‘em … pass the Beer Nuts.”
Angry bitter girl puts in a lot of time at work. She goes out with friends, hangs out with her buddies from work. But her heart? That she keeps closely guarded.
This was my “Out of Africa” stage. Why give all your love to some Denys Finch Hatton when he’ll just fly off in his plane and die? You can’t get hurt if you don’t fall in love. The movies in my collection reflected the heartbreak of love — “The English Patient,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” All movies meant to be watched alone.
The music reflected that feeling too. I discovered the soulful longing of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams and songs about eternal love gave way to Prince’s “Sexy M.F.” and “Darling Nikki” (ok, so it wasn’t all girls’ nights and bon-bons).
Gradually the angry bitterness gives way to numb indifference.
But you can’t just close yourself off to one area. The wall encompasses all manner of advance and your spirit starts to sag. When you endanger nothing in yourself, when you risk nothing, you get exactly that back. Nothing.
“Love don't make things nice, it ruins everything”
One of my favorite movies is “Moonstruck”. Once you get past Cher’s horrible Brooklyn accent, it’s a very sweet movie. Toward the end of the movie, there is a speech Ronny (Nicolas Cage) makes to Loretta (Cher):
“I love you. Not like they told you love is and I didn't know this either. But love don't make things nice, it ruins everything, it breaks your heart, it makes things a mess. We're not here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts and love the wrong people and die! The storybooks are bull----.”
Now while that might seem like a cynical view of love on the surface, it actually says it all. Nothing is perfect. You can’t always pick the person you fall for, and you can’t expect to be made happy by love. There is no promise, just an opportunity to give love, and receive it, by keeping yourself open to it, in all its forms.
A couple of years ago, I had the great fortune to meet somebody who helped me to believe again. He awoke in me the desire for romance, and for desire, and to learn to enjoy happiness as it comes. It wasn’t happily-ever-after love, but I will always love him for it.
The trick is to not let everyday disappointment and reality kill the hope. You don’t need a leap of faith to believe. It’s everywhere, once you take off the rose-colored glasses and take a good look. It can be the classic wine and roses or the engagement ring in your champagne. But there’s a lot of joy to be found in enjoying a beer and a good laugh with your best buddy or being happily surprised by a late-night dance with a friend that still makes you smile.
If there was one movie that could encapsulate my entire journey, it would be "Someone Like You." In it, Ashley Judd goes from the high of being in love to the doldrums of being left to the bitterness of trying to prove that all men are scum to realizing the man right in front of her, who she thought she hated, is the man she's in love with. I haven't found my Hugh Jackman yet, but I have my eyes open.
Now, my cleaning is done and my music and movie collection is complete. It tells the whole story of love. And I’ve begun to make my peace with Valentine's Day. It can be a bitch, but then so can I.
I’ll close with a little Stevie Wonder. Happy Valentine's Day and keep the faith.
“Just as time knew to move on since the beginning,
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That I’ll be loving you always.”