Valentine’s Day

My ex-husband and I never made a big deal about Valentine’s Day. I won’t be missing flowers, chocolates, or a fancy dinner out. But it will be the first time in 30 years that I have a Valentine’s Day without a partner, and that feels harder than I expected. I’m reminding myself of some important things.

First, this isn’t really my first Valentine’s Day “alone.” Last February 14, he still lived here, but in the important ways, our marriage was over and he was already gone. Sleepwalking through life in the fog of depression, I just couldn’t see it clearly. I felt lonelier then, physically together but emotionally distant, than I do now.

Second, my life is full of love. Far more than I realized a year ago. Let me count the ways:

My parents, who talked to me every day for a while. Who told me I hadn’t destroyed my life, that I was strong, that I would not just survive but thrive, that I would grow and change and make a new life and new happiness for myself. Who told me these things before and until I began to believe them. Who told me, in my first terrible shame and self-blame, that they love me as I am.

My sister, who responded to my news with “Now we can be real sisters, because you need me.” Who sent me affirmations and grounding techniques to practice when I was overcome by fear or anger. She’s a real sister, for sure, and I hope I’m being a real sister too.

My kids, just being themselves in the midst of these changes to our family.

The first friend I told, who sat with me in parks or went for long walks with me this summer and fall, listening, offering wisdom. If it weren’t for this fucking pandemic, there would have been a lot of hugs, dinners together, and glasses of wine as well.

The dog and cats, who snuggle up close at night so my bed never feels empty. In fact, guys, I could use a little more room to turn over!

The college friend who schedules a weekly FaceTime to share laughter and book recommendations and her hard-won advice about grieving.

Other friends who listen, and walk, and check in. The friend who crocheted me a scarf that feels like a hug. The colleagues who sent me flowers and set up Zoom happy hours and told me to buy new bedding.

The many people who, when I told them I had separated from my husband and was having a hard time, thanked me for sharing my vulnerability (it’s surprising how many used those exact words). Who helped me keep taking the risk of being emotionally open.

The people who told me how amazing and strong I am, so many and so often that I decided to try believing them.

I’ve been listening to Maggie Smith reading her book Keep Moving, written in the wake of her own divorce. She argues against using the word “broken.” Your heart is not broken, she says, it’s working fine, feeling things, doing its job. You are not broken, your family is not broken, your life is not broken.

I think this is mostly right. But to say my heart is broken feels right for me. The thing is, it works better broken. There is a line at the end of Laurie Colwin’s novel Family Happiness that has stayed with me since I first read it decades ago, and that I think of often now: “Polly felt her heart break open to love and pain, and to the complexity of things.”

That’s the way my heart feels broken. I tried to seal it shut, encase it in a hard shell that would protect me from the pain of depression. That didn’t work. (Surprise!) But it meant I felt almost nothing but the pain. Love couldn’t get in or out of that shell, even though I wanted to feel and express it.

Broken open by the pain of loss, I’m feeling so much–grief, joy, anger, calm, fear, peace, irritation, happiness–sometimes all in the space of few minutes. My broken-open heart can receive love. Love is helping to heal me. And so at last I have some to give again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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25 Responses to Valentine’s Day

  1. Melissa Beck says:

    This really resonated with me. I’m alone this Valentine’s Day for a different reason but your points still apply. Thank you! ❤

  2. Juhi says:

    Thank you for sharing your open, layered and vast heart. You’re amazing. I am honored to be a part of your journey. Sending love and hugs.

  3. Vickie says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  4. Anne McCausland says:

    This is truly beautiful. You are an amazing person. And you write wonderfully. Maybe that is your next career. We love you lots! 💝

    Sent from my iPad


  5. KeiraSoleore says:

    This is poetic in its beauty. More power to you in your struggles and triumphs. From what I know of you, you will triumph in the new life you’re building. Thank you for sharing your innermost vulnerability.

  6. sonomalass says:

    I remember my first divorced Valentine’s Day. It was weird, because as you say, I hadn’t been a “single” person on such a “couples” day in a very long time. Unlike you, my former husband made a HUGE deal out of Valentine’s Day — he was very performative about it, often to the point of embarrassment and sometimes to the point of spending money we really couldn’t spare. Being without that was a huge relief to me. I expected to feel alone and sad, and I was very proud of myself that I was instead able to recognize that I was better off than I had been.

    I am so glad that you have love!

  7. Kaetrin says:

    I’m so glad you are doing not just okay but better than that. Sending love.

  8. Janine Ballard says:

    This was lovely. I feared up when I read about your parents. They are awesome. And something I found to be true when I divorced is that even total strangers can be so kind.

    • Janine Ballard says:

      That was supposed to be “teared up.”

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Thank you, Janine. They are indeed awesome. This time has made me pay attention to how much kindness there is in the world. So often we focus on the people who are not, or the moments when they fail.

  9. willaful says:

    It makes me so happy to see you reaching for joy even as you let yourself experience pain.

  10. merriank says:

    I think in Finland they have Friends Day instead of Valentine Day and celebrate all the different ways we connect and live in community. Maybe we need to talk about being friends with one’s self too? Also how kindness is both radical and necessary to living well. Wishing you and your boys well

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Thank you, Merrian. I am definitely working on kindness to and making friends with myself. I’ve realized that I need that to have kindness and love to give others.

  11. Sunita says:

    This is truly lovely, Liz. There are so many kinds of love in the world and we need them.

    I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day, although I did enjoy having to chivvy my male colleagues into appropriate behavior toward their extremely deserving wives back when I was a junior professor. But the big deal around the day (most of which is commercially driven) creates weird expectations and stresses, starting with elementary school. I salute the people who enjoy it, but there should be a way for the rest of us to bow out. I like Merrian’s Finland example.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I was so grateful when the elementary school Valentine production years were over! Ridiculous. We put so much weight on romantic relationships to meet all our needs, and they can’t. Celebrating other bonds and recognizing what they add to my life (and building them, too) has been a gift of this time.

  12. Your openness brought me to tears and your parents and sister and all who have helped you sound wonderful. I’m glad you felt less lonely this year and thank you for sharing your grief and love and beautiful Valentine’s post.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I am really fortunate in my family and friends. It’s hard to be far away from so many of them right now, but in some ways the pandemic and personal challenges have brought us closer than ever.

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