THIS VALENTINES DAY DIDN'T SUCK
Two Valentines Days, a year and a world of freedom apart
Learning to live a life of second chances is always a process. It’s not a single event. It takes experiences and restarts and offering ourselves grace in the act of learning. The road there is occasionally lined with doubts and false starts, but it always remakes us. Once we’ve started down this road, we get to say that we are new persons, and whenever we think back on who we used to be, that person feels a million miles away.
While I lived at the Love Dungeon, I experienced living in real community. It was a place where I truly belonged. Beyond just among my housemates, I felt very much connected to Isla Vista, and to the city where I lived. I had constant opportunities to meet new people and share different experiences. That was something I really treasured. I enjoyed it because the company was great, but I was truly able to appreciate living in community in light of the loneliness I had once experienced.
Although I experienced it fairly early in life, the loneliness I had to endure was very real to me. It was more than a sense of having few friends. It was more like a crippling feeling that I didn’t have anybody invested enough to make my life a shared experience. Without that, nothing felt validated. For me, this was a long, nagging, dry spell that lasted for a few years.
Towards the end of my senior year, I noticed how Love had pulled me far away from that state of loneliness. I no longer felt that way, and I actually felt the complete opposite. My time at school, living at the Love Dungeon, and engaging with other people in my life presented me with so many opportunities to enjoy the presence of others. I discovered how many people in my life I had. At any given moment, I could now reach out to people and have a conversation that shifts the way I think or we could create an unusual memory that lasts forever. I realized that I had been blessed with a really rich and vibrant community in my life.
Chris explained to me that the real wealth worth pursuing in life came in the form of sacred memories and significant relationships. People were worth investing in. If that’s the case, I thought, the past few years had taken me from broke to billionaire.
When my loneliness had hit a low point and I couldn’t find anything in life worth living for, I received my second chance by realizing that life was a gift. That made me ask the big questions, about its Giver, and why we should be given life anyways and what we should do with it. As I began to realize the importance of good relationships and began to pursue them not as a means of comforting myself, but as a platform for Love, my new life really began.
During the low point of my loneliness, I fell under the illusion that having a romantic relationship would be the ultimate fix for that feeling. I strongly believe that there’s a lot of damage hidden in the myth of two people who “complete each other.” If we’re constantly looking towards other flawed human beings for our own fulfillment, we’re bound to be let down. If we get that satisfaction from God’s Love and the grace that it entails, then our relationships are no longer made up of two halves becoming a whole, like we typically envision, but instead it becomes about two becoming one– a beautiful paradox.
But I wasn’t born with this knowledge. I had to learn it through my own false starts and disappointments in relationships.
For starters, I never dated much throughout high school, and so whenever a romantic interest would arise in my life, she would become the object of unhealthy obsession. No matter how beneficial or unhealthy the relationship actually was, I would cling to it out of fear. That sort of insecurity is never good news in a relationship, and so none of them ever really lasted for a very long time.
Watching the romances of others became more difficult to endure. While I actually had a pretty expressive romantic side, I had no outlet for it most of the time. I would have to keep that all trapped within me. I felt like I was turning into the Grinch of Valentine’s Day.
Speaking of Valentines Day, by the time I had reached the middle of my college years, I had never gotten to experience Valentines Day romantically. It felt both very silly and irritating at the same time. I mean, Valentines Day was more of a corporate invention, anyways, right? And as a guy in my early twenties, I didn’t think I should feel such a strong urge to humor the most saccharine of holidays. But to tell you the truth, I did. Just once, I wanted to experience the flowers and the chocolate and all that tacky stuff I kept missing out on. None of my past flings had ever endured the cycle of a full year at that point, and none of them ever survived into a February.
As I started to overcome my own loneliness, and seek my fulfillment outside of romance, I became a lot better at not being such a hopeless romantic. I began to notice those feelings change. At first I started to wonder if I had just been desensitized to the the loneliness, but the wonderful thing was, I didn’t actually feel so lonely anymore. I started to recognize people in my life as a blessing, I began to invest into these relationships instead of clamoring for attention in more selfish ways.
This process of growth was a long and slow one, one that made consistent, constant progress over a few years.
During the winter of my Junior year of college, I had the chance to study abroad in Argentina. I stayed in the home of a local family, which consisted of an eccentric host mom with a deep interest in astrology and reflexology, her fourteen year old daughter who spent most of her time convincing me that mermaids were real, and a very, very old and frail cat.
I also had a roommate, Brian, from Central Washington. He had been at the Argentine homestay for longer and had gotten used to the family’s quirks. They were very nice and welcoming, but they had the most colorful personality traits. On my first day, they told me that their past student had been from Vermont, and that he brought them a very nice container of syrup. The syrup was all gone, but they had kept the jar because it was such a nice container. I was anticipating one of those glass maple leaf containers, or something equally as crafty. I was surprised when they pulled out a rather dull grey, plastic jar. Both my host mom and her daughter rubbed the jar delicately, as if it were an exotic treasure. Que lindo, expressed my host sister. It’s so nice!
I was very worried about the state of the cat. Kiti was about fifteen years old and very, very sick. On my very first day, my host mom said she hadn’t seen her in a few days. There were a few awkward moments for me in getting accustomed to my temporary home, but it would be incredibly awkward to have to spend my first few days comforting a grieving host mother. Finally, about three days later, the sick and elderly Kiti returned, her hair a faded grey. I attempted to stroke her back, and felt nothing but tiny bones.
Kiti fought the good fight, and allowed me about a month to get adjusted and used to her family. Then, in early February, she keeled over. A neighbor found her and informed my host mother.
My host mom started to cry.
She was like a daughter to me, she explained. Fifteen years we’d been together.
I nodded sympathetically, grateful to Kiti for allowing me the month to get accustomed to my host family before having to s!hare in their tragedy.
The next day I asked my Argentine teacher if it was within cultural norms to get people flowers for such an occasion. She said that it would be a good idea, so after class, I went to Avenida Cabildo, a main street with many stores and kiosks to see if I could find flowers. I expected to have to do a little bit of a hunt for them, but to my surprise, there were flowers being sold everywhere. I went to a green kiosk built into the sidewalk and bought a bouquet of sympathy flowers for my host mom.
As I walked home, it occurred to me why I had such an easy time finding flowers to buy. The day happened to be Valentine’s Day. I laughed at the irony. I finally had the opportunity to buy somebody flowers on Valentine’s Day... and it was an older Argentine woman mourning her dead cat.
Well, technically I got something I wanted, I told myself.
On my way home, I walked by my school again, and I saw Brian over there sitting with his girlfriend, Elaina. The two of them began dating in the seventh grade and had been together ever since. They’d known each other since Kindergarten, both hailing from the same small town in Central Washington. While I felt like in the past, seeing this would only remind me of my own loneliness and leave me feeling a little bit bitter, this time I noticed I just felt happy for them. They were having a sweet moment, and when I got to interact with the two of them together, it was always a positive, refreshing interaction. You could tell they were both crazy about each other, even if they’d been dating for years and years. Brian was the more quiet one, while Elaina was a free spirit, relaxed and down to earth. I thought of them together as simple and sweet, yet enduring and committed. It made me thankful that such a bond existed in the world, even if I wasn’t currently experiencing it myself.
I got home and made my way through the housing unit’s long hallways. “Mama?” I called. When she entered, I held out the bouquet of flowers.
A year after Kiti’s Valentine’s Day tragedy, I was living at the Love Dungeon. The last thing my Argentine host mother said to me was that the next time we saw each other we should both have new novios, significant others. I hadn’t seen her since then, which kept me true to my word. I still wasn’t dating anybody.
I was spending another Valentine’s Day single... but I definitely didn’t feel like I was alone this time around. I was in good company at the Love Dungeon, and at the time, most of us were single, with no major romantic plans.
For many others Valentine’s Day had been rechristened as Single Awareness Day, with an acronym to conveniently spell out the word SAD. To a good amount of people I knew, the day simply served as a reminder of their own lonesomeness or of past mistakes made in relationships. Although a lot of my friends joked about their single-life lamentations on Valentine’s Day, I was aware that there was more than just one element of truth to it, one to which I could relate. For many, February 14th marked a legitimately difficult and painful day to endure.
I think it was Chris who initially came up with the idea of us doing something to reach out to our community on Valentine’s Day, making it less of a day to spend wallowing and more of a day of hope. He sent out a text message to as many people as we knew, inviting the ladies over to our house at six in the evening, and inviting all guys who were available to come over right away.
Soon, the house was full with my housemates who weren’t in class and a number of other guys who wanted to pitch in. Chris and our friend Jake came in carrying a large bucket full of colorful flowers. He asked everyone who could to pitch in five dollars. When six in the evening came around, the girls who showed up would be invited into a center of affirmation and support.
Chris and I divided up a package of Post-it notes, where we wrote a number of affirmations– You are Loved. You are a work of art. You are made for something unique. We then plastered our front door with these messages.
Right at six, we had the first of our invitees show up. We had each take a Post-it inscribed with something they needed to hear. These weren’t passive-aggressive come-ons, but rather reminders that God Loved them and one way he expressed that was through community. Afterwards they’d be welcomed into our home for some crackers and brie cheese and drinks.
“If you have somewhere you need to go tonight,” explained Chris as more girls walked in, “then thanks for coming, we just wanted to show you that you are cared for. If you aren’t in a rush then we encourage you to just hang out here and enjoy some good company.”
Bear in mind that this was within the tiny confines of the Love Dungeon, so in no time at all, the house was packed. At one point, we might’ve had around 40 people at home at once. All kinds of people we knew showed up. We even had some people in dating relationships pop in just for the pleasure of the friendly welcome and lively conversations taking place at home, and they were welcomed all the same. Bearing in mind how challenging Valentine’s Day can be to some people, I looked around and didn’t find any loneliness. All I saw were clusters of people, laughing, swapping stories, and acting as a vibrant community.
I was encouraged by all of the positivity. I saw how people were so much happier than they probably would’ve been spending the evening alone. I saw how it wasn’t only the girls who benefitted from this event, but the guys who pitched in to help were also encouraged. There was a sense of hope in the room, but it wasn’t a hope that someday we’d all find romance. It felt like a hope towards something even greater.
That hope pointed towards healing. Some, who had previously found Valentine’s Day to be a feat of endurance were now surrounded by Love and community and acceptance. There was joy where we had become accustomed to pain. It was an incredible thing to witness. For many, it served as a night to be on the other side of a second chance. At the end of the day, a Second Chance is about freedom, much like a jailbreak. You are no longer a slave to past mistakes or hurts.
I’ve been thinking about what happens to us when we realize we are Loved and accept a second chance that brings us back to life. I think it looks something like going back to old places as a different person. You can walk on the streets where you used to be tortured by past habits. You can go into those buildings where deep hurts lurk. You can revisit old places, but as a different person, you find that you no longer need the things you used to need.
Second chances bring us back to life. We can walk through old prisons as new people and realize that things will never be the same.