On this Valentine’s Day, I request your indulgence as I break away for a moment from the normalcy of the theme of my blog articles. Today, I wish to discuss a topic that rarely (i.e. very nearly never) comes up when our heads are engrossed in our work life. The topic is ‘love’. This is not about integrating love in a discussion around work. My intent is to provide something to ponder if you are one of the multitudes who, especially this time of year, find themselves reflecting about their life’s course where intimate relationships are involved.
I will mention up front that this is a little autobiographical – which for me is reaching beyond my comfort zone. I am going completely off the ranch today. Saddle up!
On this Valentine’s Day, I am immersed in reflection of all the indescribably fantastic romantic relationships I have had in my life. The experiences I have shared with my ex-girlfriends have been nothing short of magical. And still, I have inevitably wound up making my way to the exits. This Valentine’s Day I find myself compelled to analyze this. That I am analyzing an emotional phenomenon is something that surely surprises no one who knows me well.
To begin, I want to share a story of love felt, stifled and then lost. For nearly a quarter of a century, I have resisted temptation to allow one very painful experience to be incorporated into the narrative I tell myself about my existence. I have done this because I did not want the memory of one individual to ever serve, or be seen as serving, me as a crutch. I am convinced now that by suppressing what was truly the first feeling of love in my life, I have put myself, and those with whom I have been involved, through horrific emotional pain. If you are among them (I am referring to no more than about a handful) please know that my love for you was real then and even today my affection is strong. I am truly sorry for my role in the pain we experienced together.
In the spring of 1988, I was looking forward to my fast approaching 21st birthday. My parents agreed to throw a party at our house and I thought that was really cool. I began calling friends to invite them. I called one of my dear friends Tonia and before I could share the news of the party, she interrupted to say she had something important to tell me. I went to her house and learned the news that would change my life forever. She had just been diagnosed with leukemia and the prognosis, while not immediately dire at first, was certainly not good.
Tonia and I met a few years earlier at the house of a mutual friend. I remember that night like it was last week. We nearly watched the sunrise together we talked for so long. Our relationship evolved into a very special friendship. I loved hanging out with her either alone or with our other friends. We never actually dated. I never wanted to ruin the friendship we did share and I lacked the courage to move our relationship towards anything more no matter how strong my feelings. I believe that then, as still today to some measure, I lacked trust in my feelings. During our friendship, Tonia dated a couple of guys here and there. In a weird way, rather than be jealous, I felt happy for her. If I did not have the courage to tell her how I felt, then at least someone could make her happy. Despite my determination to keep my feelings suppressed, I know now and have known for some time, that I was in love with her. I know at that post-adolescence age, ‘in love’ can often be a mask for a myriad of sensitivities. I am convinced even to day that I was in love because the feelings I had then for her are as sharp in my mind today as any experience from my youth.
So let’s return to the crushing diagnosis. Well, within fourteen months, her battle was lost. I visited Tonia often (at home and in the hospital) during in those fourteen months. During my one of my last visits in the hospital, while she was unconscious, I finally manned up and told her how I felt about her. I could only hope that she heard me, and that she took leave of this world aware of my love for her. Within days, she was gone. I have no idea if she felt the same way about me and to speculate one way or the other is only to invite undue torture upon myself.
Her death completely crippled me emotionally. The pain I suffered from this has left such a mark on me that to this day it impacts my ability to allow myself to fully “fall” in love. If there is even the iota of a chance of feeling that degree of pain from loss, I seem to have taken the position of forgoing the joys that love offers. I have loved since and for many I still hold in my heart a great deal of love. I am a loving person. The difference is in the degree of full surrender.
Here is where the nerdy analysis emerges. I had concluded that falling in love is something for someone else. Please forgive the cliché and the near reference to the lyrics of The Monkees “I’m A Believer”. I realize now that this paradigm has only served to structure the narrative I tell myself about my rightfulness in receiving love from another person. For 24 years, I have not been willing to accept the love of another simply because I either did not recognize it. If I recognized it, I was afraid of it. If I was not afraid of it, I did not trust it. If I trusted it, well, then I simply questioned my deserving of it. The strange thing is that I was loved greatly as a child so the question of deserving is a mystery. Being adopted may play a role. I am not a psychologist and can’t opine – especially since I am the obviously the most non-objective person here.
So today, nearly a quarter century later, I feel that I must give myself permission to allow the story of Tonia into my life’s story. I can only hope that by doing so, I can also learn to grant myself permission to recognize, trust, and accept love from another person, and more importantly, from myself.
If you have someone in your life who means a great deal to you – tell them so. Do not wait. If you are without a significant other this Valentine’s Day and that is not your preference, first smile and love yourself. If this is difficult, do not beat yourself up. Accept the difficulty and start from there. Second, ask yourself, what narrative do you hold as true that might be holding you back from receiving love of another person?
I wish a Happy Valentine’s Day to all!
Thanks for reading, have a Great Day!