In elementary school, I remember the anxiety of the Valentine’s day ritual: the class making crayon-colored, cardboard hearts stealthily passed from desk to desk. How many would I collect as proof of my popularity? How good I felt when the stack was big; and how awful I felt when it wasn’t!
When I got older and the downy cheeks became shave-able fuzz, I accepted the romantic myth of Valentine’s Day, believing love is delivered in a box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers.
In my bachelor pad days I upped the ante to a fancy dinner with a champagne toast. The focus was on ‘romantic love.’ Just thinking about my sweetheart ignited chemicals in my brain called monoamines that made me feel dizzy. My pulse raced when ‘we’ were together.
Cut to me decades later, married since the dawn of time. I am not absent the heady rush and intense feelings but admittedly the role of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice has gone to a younger man. What I experience now is true love. It’s not hormones and chemicals creating the feelings that thrill and delight; it’s the thousands of shared experiences that have created a marriage of passionate friends.
The facades have long since crumbled. We see each other for who we really are and have decided we made the right choice. What adds excitement to the merger is watching our feelings for each other continue to grow deeper over the years.
We learned quickly that love is not a card that gushes with flowery verse. It allows room for anger, grief, or pain but does not threaten to withhold itself if it doesn't get what it wants. We’ve learned that love cannot be used as a reward or turned off as a punishment. Love does not say, "If you are a bad boy, Mommy won't love you." Love does not say, "If you want to be loved you must be nice, or do what I want, or never love anyone else, or promise you'll never leave me.”
When we hold each other close and say, ‘I love you with all my heart,’ we know the phrase is metaphoric symbolism for the gratitude, compassion and magnanimity we feel for each other. True love springs freely from the heart, two people allowing their powerful feelings to surface knowing the intimacy they share makes them vulnerable to the risk of potential heartbreak. It takes a leap of faith, and time to grow.
A cautionary note about the familiar expression, ‘two people merging together as one.’ Indeed, it is wonderful to be in love, the time when feelings are so intense you feel as if your heart is swelling in happiness; you literally feel overwhelmed. And therein lies the danger; the fear of disappearing; losing individuality to the overwhelming power of “the couple.” It’s frightening to be hopelessly immersed in love’s coils, smitten numb and desperately afraid of being abandoned.
Thus, this warning: you must love yourself at the start in order to remain whole whether the relationship flourishes… or subsides. You must feel positive about the person you are – compassionate, loyal, honorable - in order to sustain an intimate relationship without losing yourself in the swirl of emotion that characterizes the froth that the Valentine’s card calls “love.” Only then is it wholly safe to open your heart to let someone else in.
When mutual trust becomes established, the connection evolves into ‘we’ in lieu of ‘you’ and ‘me.’ That is a relationship distinct from being merged; it defines love as “wanting what is best for the other.” It is a space for love to bloom.
The headline quote is by Anne Taylor Fleming. But for words to describe true love there is only one master, Khalil Gibran:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”