Self-Love at Forty

Well, sure, we can talk about that, but I really didn’t mean self-love in the sense of, well, masturbation.  

It was recently Valentine’s Day, a “holiday” celebrated by many in love.  Why this holiday is in existence in its present form is quite beyond me. As I have  posted more than once before , I’m sure, on or around Valentine’s Day, St. Valentine is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travelers, young people. He was killed on February 14.  Popular culture honors the anniversary of his execution by giving gifts, sending cards, and by folks making a big fuss over their schmoopy.

As a very astute bus driver said on Valentine’s Day this year, “I don’t need no date on the calendar to treat my woman right.  I treat her right every day.”

I spent February 14 in travel hell:  I was returning from vacation while my hometown was dealing with Snowpocalypse 2014.

I was not sad that no one wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day.  I did not feel dejected.  I was not lonely (impossible, I was surrounded by hundreds of other surly travelers).  I did not long for champagne and chocolates.  I just wanted quiet, and my own bed.

The fuss and hullabaloo over the holiday did set my mind to thinking though:  Do I view love (and Valentine’s Day) differently now than I have before?   I’d say so.

Viewing love differently #1:

I’ve stopped caring what others think of me. Take, for example, physical appearance, particularly how others view mine.  A friend recently teased me because I sometimes put on make up to go to the grocery store ( I guess for her, under eye concealer and mascara count as full-blown make up, when for me, that counts as “just don’t scare old ladies and small children.”).  She thought that I do this because of what others will/might/do think of me and what I look like.

Au contraire.  I do this because *I* care what I look like.   I’ve been called beautiful, lovely, even sexy, when not wearing a speck of make up (ok, maybe a couple of those compliments were given while we were both intoxicated), but, the truth is, if I have deep purple bags under my eyes and look like I want to eat your brains, I don’t feel good.  When I don’t feel good, I behave differently.  I like feeling like I look my best – by *my* definition, no one else’s.  Don’t like it? I don’t give a rat’s ass.

What does that have to do with love?  Well, I used to think that in order to attract a man, and thus intrigue him enough to fall madly in love with me, I had to look good at all times.  I’ve finally realized that that’s bullshit.  All I have to do is be myself – truly – and if someone sees that, truly sees me, and is drawn to who I am (zits, under eye circles, cellulite, sharp tongue and all), then great. Come fall in love – lust is ok too – with me.  I’ve known this, of course, my entire adult life, but I finally *feel* it as the truth.  I know very well that when I feel good about my appearance, about how I’m presenting myself to the world, I will be more likely to be my true self.  And my true self is awesome. Some of you are able to shine no matter how you feel about yourself/your appearance.  Great, good for you.  I am not one of those people, and that’s neither right nor wrong.  It just is.  It’s who I am.  There are days when I care less about what I look like, sure.  But the point is – you do you, I’ll do me, we’ll all be good.  If I want to put on lip gloss to go to the grocery store, you bet your ass I will, and if you don’t like it, you can kindly  take yourself elsewhere, but I don’t want to hear one peep of criticism.  I’m just being myself, and I’m awesome, let’s not forget.

Viewing love differently #2:

There is not one definition of love.

A few friends of mine have mentioned this book, something about love languages. I have not read it, I do not claim to know all about it.  From what I understand, the author is describing what apparently many see as a novel concept:  if you don’t communicate/show affection/illustrate love to your partner (to anyone really) the way that is meaningful to them, you’re doomed.

Well. Maybe not in so many words. But, I don’t really see this as ground-breaking. I don’t see it as any different from tailoring your words/message to your audience.   I think it’s pretty obvious that if you tend to tell your partner that you love them, but you continually violate trust, or ignore them, they’re not going to feel loved.  Pretty obvious, not so easy to live by.  I think it’s key to find someone who communicates similarly to you, someone who understands your silences, your outbursts, etc.  There’s no wrong or right way to love, to express love (romantic or otherwise), as long as the expression is understood and accepted by the parties involved.  Similarly, there’s no wrong definition of what constitutes a relationship. 

I used to think that the “right” kind of romantic relationship had to consist of two people only, and those two people had to be strictly monogamous no matter what , or all bets are off.   Now? Well, I realize that next to no one is 100% monogamous.  I also know that reasons for straying from a relationship are rarely black and white. As above, relationships are all about definitions and boundaries, finding someone who shares yours.

These days, I have mixed feelings on this one – I have been in situations where I have cheated.  I’ve been cheated on (and I’ve not always been hurt or angry as a result). I’ve been in situations where the “relationship” was neither romantic, nor monogamous.  I’ve been in situations where I was “the other woman.”   Think of  me what you will, judge me if you need to.  It’s important to realize that what works for you may not work for someone else.  This took me a while to learn.  The hardest part is jealousy, I think. Well, jealousy and trust.  I don’t know if I could be in an open relationship, as some of my friends are.  I do not criticize their choices, I’m just not sure I could do it.  That said, I’d much rather be in a trusting relationship where the person I loved and I felt and agreed that love and sex are not one in the same, and we put in place boundaries where that was ok.

I don’t know, but I can say that 20 years ago I wouldn’t have been open to even thinking about this.

Viewing Love differently #3:

I have no idea what romantic love means.

I haven’t been in love for a very very long time.  Years, really. More than five.  I love a lot of people in different ways.  I love my family.  I love my friends.  I am attracted to people.  Oddly and  inexplicably drawn to others.  I can say that the few times I’ve been in love, they each started with some combination of: friendship, attraction, being inexplicably drawn to one another.   Not one of the times I’ve been in love started with the intent to fall in love.  Only one started from pure physical attraction.

The older I get, the less I am able to define what starts a romantic relationship, or love, if you will. I love friends. I have friends of the opposite sex who I love.  Could that turn into being “in” love? Maybe. I have no idea.  There are people in my life who I find myself drawn to – because they’re interesting, funny, smart, or challenging.  Could that result in love?   Perhaps.

I think love comes from a place of allowing oneself to be truly vulnerable with another person, and finding that that vulnerability is accepted, understood, cherished.  That does not happen very often, at least not in my experience.  This is probably due to the cold fact that we hate to be vulnerable.  Vulnerability is what got us killed in the old days.  Don’t bring your sword arm across your chest? You’ll get stabbed to death. Protection = no pain. Right?  Nope.  Not always.  Sometimes protection can lead to isolation which can hurt. I call this Crazy Monkey Mode.  Going for extended periods without affection, touch, love (even romantic love) makes me a crazy monkey. I know I’m not alone here.

That said, I don’t know what romantic love looks like anymore.  In my life, love has taken many shapes, some conventional some not. When I was in my 20’s , a coworker asked me on a date, and I truly, honestly, had no idea he was asking me out.  For some bizarre reason, I thought he really just wanted to see a movie, and thought I might like to see the same one.  I didn’t.  I said no.  It was months later that he told  he that he had been asking me out, and he felt awful because I’d said no.  I had no idea.  I still feel guilty about that.

When I was in highschool, a kid followed me around for weeks, between classes.  He wanted to date me, he said. I was beautiful, he said.  He thought I was smart and funny, and really wanted to spend some time with me.  I was supremely creeped out by this because I could NOT accept that someone found me attractive, and smart, and funny, and interesting.  It was an impossibility.

When I was in my 30’s someone I wanted to love me started to.  That changed my life, changed me, even though we never got together in terms of having a full-fledged romantic, committed relationship.

Love doesn’t look like one thing.  It’s not the same for any two people.  I stopped looking for it, stopped trying to define it,  a few years ago.  At this point, I don’t know what it looks like, or how it happens.  I don’t want to waste any more time trying to “catch” it, or “find” it.  It is what it is, it cannot be forced.  If I never again have a romantic love, I know that I am surrounded by a lot of non-romantic love.

Viewing love differently #4:

You really do hafta love yourself.  Without loving yourself, accepting who you are, you have nothing. This post got a bit more sentimental and “deep” than I intended (next time, no Chris Botti in the background!), but I really do believe that to be true.  I’ve spent a lot of my life not liking myself, thinking I was too different, too this, too that.  I am who I am, not everyone likes me for me.  Some people think I’m snobby because I know which fork goes with what, or because when I man hands me a freshly ironed handkerchief to wipe my hands with, I swoon.  People think I’m mean because I’m direct, or because I tease or poke fun.  Some people think I’m ditzy because I laugh , or try to be nice , or because I defer.  Some people think I’m weak because I’m kind or because I choose my battles, or let others think they’ve ‘bested’ me.   I know who I am. Not everyone else does, not everyone else *gets* to.  This is exactly how I want it.  If you see all of me, it’s because I let you.  If you no longer get all of me, that, too, is by choice , and is for a reason.  Once you’ve lost that, you don’t get it back.

Love is important.  Self-love is even more important.

…and I haven’t done any cooking lately, so you’ll have to sit tight on that one.

Keep it hot, even with yourself.

-H

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