A Valentine to Myself

I never loved another person the way I loved myself.

Mae West

There’s something absolutely terrifying about radical independence. It’s not a message our culture encourages – stand up for yourself, be strong. So many traditions are in bed with lies that are bundled together and pre-packaged, everything with a price tag.

I used to be one of those people who laughed at conspiracy theorists, who bought into the happiness for a price tag placebos thrust before us. “Behold: Your happiness and future await! Sign here.”

In the muddle that is codependence, I had lost all sense of who I was. So much was we, us. Who was this person? What did she like, dislike? Why was she so terrified of being alone? These were the tougher questions with the most challenging answers. Honestly, I’m still working out the details. I had an ex-boyfriend who liked to say that we’re always in flux, that I’ll continue to change the rest of my life; while this is technically true, I find it more helpful to think of the calculus concept of the asymptote, infinitely approaching ego – approaching honesty – the kind of self-identification where I can stand with full courage before the gallery and understand precisely what it is that I’m displaying. Fully naked to myself and fully naked to those who matter.

There was a moment when I visited my ex-boyfriend in Cleveland last February, a moment at which I could understand that no amount of sacrifice would bestow a relationship with significance, a moment at which I understood he would be eternally unhappy with or without me, always seeking, a “grass is greener” kind of guy. I realized if my quest were to “complete” him, then I would always feel unfulfilled. I decided I didn’t have time for that bull shit. I still loved and cared for him, but to lose myself completely in him would be unwise. I needed to protect myself and love myself with or without him.

Ex-Husband was back in Maine, and while I missed him, I was thrilled to have the break from managing his untreated depression for him.

The resultant epiphany of the February trip: I am my own primary relationship. I am my own primary responsibility.

The same kind of electricity coursed through me that I felt in my dorm room my first semester of college reading Lord Jim as other students binge drank down the hall, feeling like I was taking shelter under my shabbily painted blue lamp. Sometimes it seems that I botch everything I’m passionate about, but at least it happens.

After my solo trip to Cleveland, I found myself fantasizing about wandering aimlessly through my favorite thrift store, and I set aside $40 as mine. That trip affirmed my independence. I felt as I did at twilight on Gran Via on a long ago trip to Spain.

*

It’s April 1999, and I have the curtains pulled open in my hotel room, watching the sun set over Gran Via. I’m 18 years old and in Madrid with a tour group comprised of random people from my high school. No one I know and certainly no friends. I’m one of the jazz band kids, and these are athletes. They move in swarms through the cathedrals taking pictures of everything they see. I hang back and make notes, trying to eavesdrop on the workers’ conversations. These are tourist traps. While my group bustles energetically through monument after monument, the staff lean sleepily at their counters complaining about their love lives, the government, the fat tourists. In Segovia mesmerized while staring up at a fresco, I am almost left behind, and yet this does not bother me. It has occurred to me with technicolor intensity that the world is much larger than I was ever capable of realizing, that all along I was staring at the ceiling while thinking it the sky. For the first time, the world is limitless, boundless. Anything is possible.

I almost forget that the people on the street can see me leaning in the window. I clutch my robe tighter around me. It will be a hot day tomorrow, but morning will be measured, subdued.

I see a throng of girls from my tour group head down the street dressed in Planet Hollywood Madrid T-shirts. They are heading to Dunkin’ Donuts.

*

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Whether you have one lover or a hundred or if you’re single — whether by chance or circumstance, don’t forget to love yourself.

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