This week, I realized that for the first time in seven years, I don’t have a Valentine. While the rest of you are scrambling to make those last minute dinner reservations, and picking out the perfect card with the perfect message, and ordering a bouquet of flowers, my Valentine’s Day plans will probably consist of what I do every Saturday: go to yoga, play with my pup, write on my blog, finish my grad school homework.
And PLEASE PLEASE don’t feel bad for me. For the last seven years, I did have someone who took me out to a really nice dinner, and wrote me a really cute card, sang Val-O-Grams to me, and sent flowers to my school to surprise me. It just happens to be that this Valentine’s Day, I am supposed to spend it as a single person. I believe, for whatever reason, there are things in life we must experience as a single person, before we experience them as a paired person. For example, I attended two weddings this summer, and specifically chose not to bring a date, because I knew I needed to experience going to a wedding as a completely single person, and I had the time of my life. Weddings are really great to bring a significant other to, because it revives your relationship and reminds you of how and why you, yourselves, fell in love. But, going singly, weddings reminds you that you, too, have that option someday, and that is so exciting (plus, you can dance with whomever you want to). The last time I went on a trip to Europe, I had a boyfriend back home, and this time, I knew I had to go to Paris without any attachments, to experience how the dynamic of the trip would change. For my first trip, it was super fun to check in with my boyfriend and tell him about all the great things I was doing, tell him all the funny adventures we went on, and when I came home, it was SUCH a great feeling to see him, because I had missed him SO MUCH. But, this time when I went, it was also really great to NOT have anyone to check in with, and be able to be footloose and fancy free. And this year, it’s my turn to experience Valentine’s Day as a single person.
Valentine’s Day really is about giving love to someone else. One of my most favorite things to do is to make someone else feel like the most important person in the world. Someone did it to me one time, and I love being able to give back those special moments to another person. For example, one year for Valentine’s Day, I spent about two weeks decorating cut-out hearts and writing quotes/memories/things I liked about my boyfriend. I broke into his apartment and taped the hearts to the wall, with the intention of, when he walked in after football practice, he would be surrounded by 200+ memories of us and good thoughts about himself. And, anytime he walked into his room, until the taped got old and they started falling off the wall, he could be reminded of those things. Last year, I put together a box for my Valentine, found his address off the black market, and sent it to his house. I waited anxiously for three days–literally on the edge of my seat–checking the UPS tracker, anticipating the moment the package would show up at his door, and knowing the kind of joy and surprise he would experience when it finally arrived. This week, our school sponsored a kid from the Make-A-Wish foundation and the boys basketball team invited him to come shoot hoops before the assembly; watching the kids’ face light up as he walked into the gym was the most fulfilling experience. I absolutely LOVE watching people be given these moments of joy and love.
While I don’t have any one significant person to do these things for this year, I do believe that there are other ways to indirectly send love. In our society, we often think that “giving love” and “showing people we care” comes with a price tag; the more expensive dinner you buy me, the more you care about me; the nicer diamond necklace you gift me, the more you love me; the more money you donate to Make-A-Wish, the more generosity you show. While I do believe it is important to give back, I believe that there are so many other ways you can indirectly give love to other people.
It can start simply with the kind of conversations we allow ourselves to partake in. I believe that the energy we surround ourselves with is the energy we omit to the universe. If I allow myself to listen to dirty, derogatory music, I internalize that, and therefore omit dirty, derogatory energy to the world. If I allow myself to watch violent, vacuous television shows, then I am putting violent, vacuous energy into the universe. Or, if I allow myself to engage in criticizing, complaining conversations, then I omit criticizing, complaining energy.
So, I can give love back by (a) abstaining from these kinds of conversations and (b) re-directing conversations when these negative-energy-producing conversations do come up. When I hear someone starting to speak ill about another person, I can make a comment, such as “Oh, I love So-and-So. She is such a nice person”. We teach people how to interact with us, and by directing conversations in this way, I am signaling to people that I don’t talk about So-and-So in a negative way. When I hear people constantly complaining about situations, I can try to focus the conversation on finding a solution; “I know that is really frustrating, but why don’t you try to change your objective statement in your resume?”. Or, when I hear someone use a derogatory phrase, I can ask them to pick a better descriptor instead. We can choose to engage in these types of conversations, and intensify this negative energy, or we can choose to stifle, re-direct, and emit positive energy instead.
We can also give love by allowing people to complete their missions. In yoga this week, we have been focusing on this idea of ‘asteya’, which means, ‘non-stealing’. Certainly most of us are not thieves by the traditional term; we know that taking money or tools or chickens or cars from other people is bad. But, stealing is also constituted by stealing someone else’s limelight, someone else’s time, someone else’s positive energy away from them. Say, someone works incredibly hard to accomplish a goal, and when they do reach that goal, we judge them, make stabbing comments, refuse to congratulate them or recognize their hard work; we are stealing from their accomplishments. Or, we make a commitment to someone, and then don’t show up; we are stealing their time. Or, when someone is in a good mood, and then we come in, criticize them, complain, and ultimately sabotage their good moods; we are stealing. We steal these things from other people when we feel a lacking in our own lives.
However, giving love to someone else could be allowing people to complete these missions; to take a step back and let them revel in the limelight, to respect their time and only commit to things we can absolutely do, to embrace their good moods. It could be allowing someone to apologize to us, because that is crucial to their development. It could be giving people opportunities to show us that they have changed, because they also need to prove that to themselves. It could be recognizing that someone else is in a different position of their lives than we are, and not letting that influence our interactions. We all come from different parts in our lives, we all need different things at different times, and I can give love to someone else by allowing them to complete their missions, because why is it up to me to stand in the way of someone else’s path towards their own self-achievement?
Or, we can give love back by choosing to assume best intentions. When people target us, say mean things to us, partake in malicious and power-seeking actions, it usually has nothing to do with us, but rather their own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. It’s often a vicious cycle: people do mean things and push people away, because they don’t like themselves, and the more they push people away, the more they don’t like themselves, and so they continue doing mean things. When, in reality, to stop this cycle, these people need love, and choosing to believe good intentions could be an indirect way to give that.
It could be that you screen shotted that embarrassing picture I sent via SnapChat to send to all of your friends to make fun of me, or I could choose to believe that you were just trying out your screen shot function. I could choose to believe you made that comment in order to intimidate and threaten me, or I could choose to believe you just made that comment. I could believe that you left the house a mess, because you knew I was having people over and you wanted to embarrass me, or I could choose to believe that you woke up late and were scrambling to get out the door, and actually were not thinking about me at all.
I always think driving is an excellent venue to practice this cognitive shifting, because most of the time, the people we drive around are strangers–people we have absolutely no investment in. When someone cuts me off, I could choose to believe that they are just a jerk, or I could choose to believe that they have a screaming child in the back and they are just trying to get home as soon as possible. If someone is driving really slow, I could choose to believe that they are trying to make me late to work, or I could choose to believe that their tires are bald and they are trying to prevent from slipping off the road and causing an accident. When someone stalls through the light cycle, I could choose to believe they are texting and driving and not paying attention, or I could choose to believe that their car literally did just stall. Of course, there are always circumstances when people DO malicious things intentionally, but most of the time, I am not in a role where I should concern myself with their intentionality.
I believe the world is a harsh enough place that it is our responsibility as humans to put as much good back into it as possible. People already suffer enough–from disease and famine, to loneliness and loss, death and destruction–that anytime we have an opportunity to offset that balance, and give back, we must show up, whether that is through giving love directly–by spending time with people, buying them nice presents, writing complimentary cards–or indirectly–through the kinds of music we listen to, the types of conversations we engage in, the types of thoughts we allow ourselves to have.
“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and a richness to life that nothing else can bring” –Oscar Wilde