talking about love

I mentioned in my last post that as I entered the new year I had scheduled the articles that would go up in January and February. Around Christmastime I was talking with one of my friends at home and she was asking me about my blog and my plans for the year and asked to hear what articles were on the horizon. I shared my ideas with her and she asked me if I could write an article about being alone on Valentine’s Day. I told her, without really thinking about it, that I would. But as the past month has come and gone and I have thought more and more about an article about Valentine’s Day I’ve found myself at a loss for words.

I’ve had ideas bounce around my head for weeks but none of them seemed right or worthwhile – to write or to read. I thought about talking about self-love but those drafts quickly turned into me preaching about the importance dark chocolate and bath bombs. I thought about an article talking about how we should celebrate love every day of the year and not just on February 14th but those drafts always made me sound bitter and lonely and like I hate Valentine’s Day. I actually really love Valentine’s Day. I love that there’s a day in the year dedicated to love. I entertained some other ideas but about a week ago decided that I just wouldn’t write the article. I hadn’t really ever discussed love or romance on this blog before and that’s okay – I didn’t need to start now.

Then I picked up a book.

I picked up Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love which, in all honesty, only sits on my shelf because it was referenced in the movie Stuck in Love. It’s a thin book full of short stories and I spent a couple of hours flipping through them this weekend. The book closes with the story from which the book takes its title and the story follows a conversation amongst friends who are discussing what “true love” looks like. Partway through the story one of the friends mentions to the others that

“it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love”

In the moment, Mel, the character in the story, was commenting on the fact that all of these friends were describing what love looked like to them and none of their stories sounded the same and so Mel had concluded that none of them really had any idea what they were talking about, that none of them really knew what love was.

As I sat more with this idea though, that none of us really know was love is, I wondered why we think we shouldknow what love is. I wondered why we think any of us will ever be able to sum up an emotion, an experience, that millions of people tremble for in a simple sentence or three. I also wondered why, practically always, when we talk about love we equate it with romance.

I got to thinking about the kind of love they had all spent their afternoon discussing. All of their stories involved partners and marriage and romance. While the details were different, all of them were talking about romantic love, the kind of love we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. And the more I thought about that the more I thought about other kinds of love – self-love, friendship love, familial love, the list goes on. The kinds of love that don’t get a holiday.

Somewhere along the way I think we got the idea that the only love that “counts” is romance. That the only love worth celebrating, worth investing in, or even worth mentioning was romantic love. And so when Valentine’s Day rolls around, if you aren’t in a relationship in a world tends to let us believe that romantic love is the only love worth celebrating, it can feel very lonely.

So when I read What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and how we “ought to be ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love” I got it in the context of the story but it made more sense to me in the context of Valentine’s Day. We have centered a holiday, that whether you hate it or love you become wrapped up in, around romantic love – one kind of romantic love. Romantic love looks differently for everybody and love in general looks differently for everyone. I think the idea that the characters in this story, or maybe even the characters in your life, were debating which one of them had actually experienced “true love” is insulting to everyone’s personal experiences. It is time we move past the idea that love, in any form, could ever possibly look the same for everyone or that one rendition is any “truer” than another.

Additionally, I wonder what it would look like to have a Valentine’s Day that wasn’t consumed by romance. I wonder what would happen if being single wasn’t equated to loneliness. Before I wrote this article I googled “being alone on Valentine’s Day” and was bombarded with article after article explaining to me why being single on Valentine’s Day isn’t “that bad” and “11 Steps on How to Be Happy When You’re Single on Valentine’s Day” and how to “get through” or “survive” a single Valentine’s Day. My heart broke a little bit. Staring back at me were pages upon pages of articles explaining to me how it was okay that I was alone. All of them equated singleness with loneliness. None of them seemed to grasp the idea that single people have friends and family and people who love them. And that the love between friends and family is just a valid and should be just as celebrated as romantic love.

And so I wonder what it would look like if on Valentine’s Day we celebrated the friends and family in our lives and not just our significant others.  If we went on dates with friends and sent flowers to family members. If we called our aunts and uncles to tell them we love them. If we celebrated both our romantic relationships and our platonic ones with equal enthusiasm. We are surrounded every day by people who love us and yet on Valentine’s Day, if we aren’t in a relationship, it can be easier to feel unloved. I wonder if maybe we stopped thinking about romantic love as the only way to experience love if we would all feel just a little less lonely.

And so I don’t totally know if this is the article my friend was looking for but this is what I got. Maybe you don’t have a date this Valentine’s Day. But are you not alone.

OpinionElle O'BrienComment