For many people, Valentine’s Day is the most dreaded of all holidays.
If you are single, you may long for that perfect relationship that you fear will never come.
If you are in a couple, you may long for that perfect relationship that you fear will never come!
To be fair, Valentine’s Day has a meaningful purpose, if we think of it as a day set aside for us to more intentionally convey our love to our loved ones. It’s a little bit sad that we need a day hallowed for that purpose, because it means that we human beings have trouble expressing our love to one another on any, ordinary day. But we all know that tends to be true. Expressions of love, tenderness, affection, and devotion are essential in feeding any love relationship–and sometimes we need a little incentive to spark the fire in our romantic relationships, too!
But the practice of Valentine’s Day seems to have morphed into a pursuit of an ideal love which we all long for, at some deep level. The baby at the core of each of our psyches longs to be utterly adored—to feel that we are the most beautiful creature ever to grace the planet! And that same baby in each of us also longs to be understood in a very magical way—to have someone know us so intimately that our needs and wants can be met even if we never express them. I think this is the reason why Valentine’s Day gift-giving is so maddening. And, I have to admit, that we women tend to be the culprits in this particular dynamic. We want our man to pick out the perfect gift for us without any direction—as if such an achievement would prove that he really loves us! And the man suffers a complementary magical baby-level expectation that is the source of his great resentment—he doesn’t want to have to PROVE his love in order to be loved; he wants to be loved unconditionally, just as he is.
So we might say that Valentine’s Day has become a celebration of infantile love—which is why it is so disappointing for most of us. Because infantile love is fantasy love, its celebration is doomed to failure. Mature love is quite a different thing.
Mature love accepts and expects the flaws that are inevitable in any real love relationship. It even celebrates them.
None of us is perfect. We do well to recognize that in ourselves and to honor it in our loved ones. In a way, that is what makes love so meaningful—that we receive love as imperfect creatures and that the imperfect love that we give is received and even treasured. It feels great when we are admired for being beautiful, smart, or clever—but doesn’t love really sink in when we are loved in our worst moments, when we are cranky, awkward, or screwed up? It’s so pleasant when we are all getting along swimmingly, but don’t we feel more secure in our relationships when we find that we can weather difficult storms together? I am coming to understand, more and more, that love is built in the gaps, through the troubles, and with the flaws.
There are stories in many cultures about the importance of keeping in mind the inevitable reality of imperfections. Deliberate mistakes are said to be woven into rugs (the “Persian Flaw”) or blankets (the “Navajo Nick”) or quilts (the Amish “Humility Block”). These are said to be reminders of our imperfection as human beings, designed to keep our spirits humble and our feet firmly planted in the real world. Some experts dismiss these stories as myths rather than actual practices, saying that one does not need to deliberately make mistakes in such works of art, as they are inevitable. In either case, you get the point.
The truth about real, human, mature love is this: flaws are built-in aspects of any love relationship. What makes it love is when we have the commitment to accept this reality in ourselves and in one another–and to work with patience, kindness, and grace to try to make repair when the hearts get broken.
Next year, I would like to put together a gift basket for my husband for Valentine’s Day. It would include a quality bar of 72% dark chocolate, a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and a box of band-aids. We could both use them.