With Valentine’s Day approaching, a divorced father reflects on the ebb-and-flow of love and relationships. Not only on how it can drag us down, but how it can lift us up as well. He also reassures us that, despite pressure from a love interest, he does not own the new Nickelback album.
You know what’s missing from that hapless Valentine’s Day movie that came out last year? Interspersed throughout moments of the vapid and beautiful pontificating about the NATURE OF LOVE and realizing they’re all entirely too attractive to not end up copulating, we need scenes of maybe Paul Giamatti or Phillip Seymour Hoffman arriving home to a barely furnished apartment, heating up some leftovers in the microwave, and catching up on Breaking Bad season three. Perhaps he absent-mindedly fiddles with the indent on his finger where his wedding ring used to be. Or, I dunno, Molly Shannon chauffeuring her kids to their after school activities and then romancing a half bottle of wine while she bitches on the phone to her sister about her mortgage.
I realize it’s the dumbest, most self-evident truth ever to say that divorce sucks. It does. But it turns out that being divorced doesn’t suck. Or doesn’t have to, depending on how you choose to view your lil’ life shift (I don’t recommend referring to your divorce as your “lil’ life shift”, though, it doesn’t actually help). It’s awful rebuilding your life from the foundation up, and relearning how to communicate with people who own whichever genitals you think look neat. It’d be really easy to tighten up into a hard little ball of regret and anger, closing yourself off to new experiences, but that path certainly doesn’t stick it to your ex the same way being happy and having metric tons of fun does. I don’t claim to have all the answers (or to even know half of the questions!), but it seems the best course is deciding to walk that tightrope of taking heed of what your experiences have to offer without letting them define you.
In my intervening years of renewed singledom, I’ve had the widest possible array of Valentine’s Day and overall dating experiences, anywhere from hibernating with Elliott Smith on autoplay to various escalating stages of relationshipping. For whatever reason, even though I’ve been kicked in the balls by love a few times over, I’m still totally optimistic about the whole thing. Enough to keep sticking my balls out there in hopes they’ll not be kicked. At least I’ve learned enough to wear an emotional cup and jock strap. Hopefully. Did I take that metaphor too far? Full disclosure: I’m a self-diagnosed sap. I think copies of Love, Actually and When Harry Met Sally should be shot into space to teach celestial species about humans (along with Aliens— I wouldn’t want those martians to think we won’t throw down if we have to).
I’ve made a lot of mistakes, though. Like, a lot a lot. I’ve thrown myself into situations that the little voice inside me (we’ve all got one–some of us have several, but that’s another column) has screamed WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?! repeatedly, like I had something to prove. I’ve allowed my optimism to cloud my judgment to the point of willfully ignoring the red flags being hoisted around my neck. And then there was the time I refused to see Closer because I thought it was a thematically inappropriate second date movie (I forgive myself that one, this was my first post-marriage dating scenario and I was raw and green). But what’s the alternative? The trick here is that I’ve had to allow myself those errors. It’s true–you really do have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince/princess. And I have no doubt I’ve been other people’s frog as well. That’s just the way it works. That said, I’ve also met several truly amazing women, that for whatever reason–be it distance, having different priorities, or her devotion to Nickelback–it just wasn’t meant to be. Luckily I’ve managed to maintain valued friendships with most of them, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I still haven’t heard the new Nickelback album, so draw your own conclusions.
I’m not so sure I can wallow in the hearts-and-flowers commerce of Valentine’s Day anymore, but I suspect that’s as much a byproduct of getting a little older as it is weathering bad break-ups. I’ve grown just as uninterested in the in-your-face perpetual sales pitch barrage that is Christmas or Halloween or any other holiday. The fact that I was married several years ago but now am not can only have but so much bearing on how I view Valentine’s Day today. I’m here now. I’d rather deal with that than dwell. It’s not like I don’t have my moments… it’s all too easy to get dread flashes of impermanence or be hyper-aware of relationship entropy. If I allow those bad moments of the past to have that much say in how I’m perceiving my present, there’s not much reason to get out of bed. And as it turns out, I actually like getting out of bed.
So yeah. Still optimistic about it all, but that’s tempered with a smidge more caution than I’ve exercised previously. And it’s an active choice. I like love. I like the idea of putting out that extra bit of effort for someone who’s earned it. I like most of the chocolates in the heart shaped box (you can leave out the lemon ones, ick. Who thought that was a good idea?). I like feeling optimistic about the future, and allowing myself that weird nervous energy when I start to connect with someone and I talk too damn much. It’s also imperative to show my daughters through example that you don’t just roll over and give up when things don’t go the way you would prefer. I don’t want them lugging around any more emotional baggage than they accumulate for themselves. At the end of the day, as long as I feel like I’m meeting that requirement, I’m doing okay. So I guess Valentine’s Day and I are cool.
Now who’s up for checking out the new Reese Witherspoon romcom opening this weekend?
stock photo by Brent Schmidt