Sorry, do I sound cynical? Well, if I am, there's certainly a reason for it. A few months ago, immediately after my dad got out of the hospital, my girlfriend of nearly three years dumped me without ceremony or warning, and began dating someone who will almost assuredly be her Valentine, this year. It was a crippling blow, but I've learned something in the time since that rather grievous Friday. First, I have some amazing friends who I really am happy to have; and, two, I'm not alone in being alone, and that's okay!
The Boring, Depressing Background.
See, for the longest time I had allowed my relationship status to define me. I watched who I talked to, worried that speaking with a pretty girl might convince my girlfriend-at-the-time I was cheating on her (while she cheated on me, naturally). I moved in with her, but by the time we settled on an apartment I knew it was out of my affordability range - and I went with it, because it's what she wanted. Vacations, dinner plans, hanging out with friends? All of these are things I had sacrificed to make sure I kept that relationship status. It was one I didn't even necessarily want, and for all the love her and I had truly shared at one point, by the end it wasn't hard to see that it was over.
Oh, there were good times. I got her a giant penguin for our very first Valentine's day. Trips to other states, places I'd never been and might never have gone in the first place. She was there, in the hospital, when I had my shoulder surgically repaired - and though she could have taken better care of me, immediately post-op, she didn't leave me to suffer all too often. Most of her family was miserable, but some of them weren't so bad, and I had some good conversations. What's more, some of the friends we made together have become long-lasting friends of mine in their own right.
Nevertheless, this break-up was by far the harshest I'd ever been through. It came at a time when I was still in a fairly decent amount of physical pain, still fighting an insurance company for physical therapy, and still fighting to keep the few family members I have left, well, here. It also didn't help that I had grown very attached to our cats, and that one of -them- had been in the hospital just weeks ago (I offered over $3,000 dollars to pay for his treatment, asking only for about $500 back within a year). Or that all my stuff was at her apartment. Or that we were under a month away from our three-year anniversary. Like I said, it's a good thing I have good friends, or I'd probably have ended up in a much worse place than I did.
It was time to start learning from this fairly-modified picture of one of our happier times, and the lesson should be pretty obvious.
Being Okay Being Alone
In that wedding-scene, open-bar-influenced photo, my left (pre-surgical; painful, thusly-medicated, but not crippled) arm is pointing at her. The idea was obvious: I cared about this person, and this person was #1 to me, even as we gave one-another bunny ears. It was nice, and the memory would warm me if it didn't hurt at the same time, like getting too close to a bonfire. However, I've learned that this finger really should have pointed at me, instead, as it should for all people in any relationship.
That doesn't imply someone should be selfish. It indicates, instead, that people have to take care of themselves, and as much as someone may "Complete" you, they can't do so without first taking into consideration the thing known as you. Modern day love stories always involve two people who, come hell or high water, are destined to be together. It's fate. One virtually completes the other, like those broken-heart necklaces; half a heart that only fits with it's chosen mate. For that matter, you might as well think of shoes as a metaphor - you've got the left one on, now go find the right one. And make sure it's the same damn shoe!
No, no, and no. I have, as a meagerly-successful, reportedly-handsome, hopefully charming man, the opportunity to call a girl up tomorrow, ask, "Hey, do you wanna go out to dinner? Do you wanna be my Valentine?," and probably get a positive answer in response. As a kid, as a hopeless romantic, all I'd ever wanted was that precious status! To be someone's Valentine, or their boyfriend, or more! Hell, I was a gentleman, right? I needed to find a nice lady to settle down with, to fall in love with, and to be happy with! This was so important that I never even took the time to, A, figure out who I was when it came to romance; B, to make the classic mistake of confusing sex for love; and, C, most of all, develop the courage and tact to actually approach any of the girls I secretly admired.
In short, I became a Nintendo generation cliche: Full of pitiable, emo-model unrequited loves, long-distance relationships, and even weaknesses in other areas of my social life. The very pressure of this monogamous, hollywood-style romance that fuels Valentine's Day had really kicked my ass, huh?! And even as I grew older, wiser, and bolder, I still measured my positive traits based on how, frankly, they enticed whoever I was with. Did this girl like me more as a writer, or as a goth? Did she like me more dominant or submissive? Did she prefer McDonalds at home or hibachi at an expensive place? What did I need to do to win that girl of my dreams?
To paraphrase Bruce Willis' character in Lucky Number Slevin, I woke up to find my dreams were the stuff of pipes. Though, if I'm not bold in my reinterpretation of cliches, a "pipe dream," derived from friendly herbs in accordance with local and state law, doesn't sound too bad when I think about what I'd gone through!
Now, Then Worry About Later
So you know the story and you know the lesson I had to learn. I knew, even as I recovered from the shock of the split, that a "rebound" relationship was a bad idea. I focused instead on developing good friendships with as little pressure as possible, and I am so proud to say that the friends who have chosen to trust me so far are helping, a lot. And I hope I'm helping them!
And right now, I'm starting to see the both forest and each individual tree. I don't feel like I have to force a relationship to manifest. I don't feel like I have to wait, on my tippy-toes, for a text message back from someone I'm interested in. People have lives, and they live them. I'll wait for a while, then I'll move on until they return. I'm learning that I don't need someone to complete me. Compliment, perhaps, but those are different words with different meanings. I don't need to spend every waking minute with a person, nor do I feel any unnatural obligation to devote blocks of time to a specific someone. What I do, I choose to do when it is reasonable for me and for those I do it with.
That's not to say I'm turning into a man-whore or a drifter. Eventually, I'm sure, the time will be right for me to settle things down. Eventually, things will be "official," and there will come a February 14th wherein I once again live up to that old, childish goal of having a Valentine. However, it will not be this year, and it isn't a goal which must be met in time for any certain, pre-designated year. As many nagging feelings as I might get about Valentine's day, this year, I don't have any obligations.
And that's a feeling I'm quite in love with.
Jesse Pohlman is a starving artist, sub-species writer, from Freeport, New York. He is me. Buy my book - or get it for free, on the 14th, in a universal "fuck you!" to the commercial system perpetuating this holiday's hyper-importance!