Saturday, February 01, 2014

Two Weeks To YUCK

I met my wife fifteen years ago right around now. 

Sorry, love, I don't remember the exact date--your arrived in my life just after I stopped keeping even an occasional diary. Not mention I had no way of knowing when I walked into that job interview that 'phone drone' was merely the first in a long line of jobs you'd have for me over the years, jobs that very quickly lost the "bs" of that first one and give me my "y" in life. Joy, in other words. Had I known such unlimited joy was coming down my pike, I would have marked the date years in advance. But I didn't know that. How could I? I didn't even know what joy was, before I met you. Or love, for that matter. I had ideas about love, lots of them, but I'd never really seen it up close until you showed up. Did you ever wonder why that's what I call you? "Love", instead of 'darling', 'honeybear', 'snookums' or 'snugglypoo'? Because that's what you are. Simple like that.

Nevertheless, it was right at the end of January or perhaps the first of February when I was hired on by the woman who would, not two years later, be my wife. When I found out I was hired, I went in to get my schedule. Eva stole a glance at my calendar for the month of February as I was marking it up, and laughed at the single word that was already there. On the 14th. YUCK.

YUCK pretty much sums up my longstanding feeling about Valentine's Day. The word was originally Newfie slang for vomit, and that's not far off what I feel like even now as I contemplate the day.

Does that surprise you? A man as openly loving as I am, with a visceral hatred of the day set aside for love? It shouldn't. It stems from years of ritual humiliation in school. 

It goes without saying I didn't get Valentine's cards from anyone until deep into high school. My first came from a woman I would have cheerfully died for...and it was carefully crafted to be as generic and bland as possible. Even as that card resisted my every effort to read  something other than friendship into it, I cherished it. That was probably my first adult lesson in love: the love of a friend is sometimes--check that, often--worth much more than the love of a...lover. 

You don't come to lessons like that easily, not when you're a lovesick teenager with a heart ten sizes too big and an overwhelming need be something to somebody. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Darlene for being the one to teach me. It's a lesson that has served me very well in adult life.

Before that, though...nothing. I'd hope against hope that THIS year would be the year I'd get a card, a little Hershey's Kiss, anything at all....and nothing. There are worse things than nothing, though. Ever give somebody a Valentine's card only to watch her take the unopened envelope, rip it up into tiny pieces, scatter the pieces, and then wipe her hands on her jeans? Yeah. That happened to me twice, five years apart. That was a microcosm of my school years from grades four to nine. I wasn't just picked last for teams in phys. ed...I often had team captains arguing bitterly over having to take me when I was the only choice left.  You think I'd get used to this sort of thing. I never did. It was just more tears to try not to cry.

High school as popularity contest....a clichéd theme if ever there was one. But on February 14th every year you'd see the cliché come to life. Girls would display the cards they got; boys would downplay them in public only to gloat over them later. And if you didn't get a card, no gloat, only goat. 

I understand that now there's a widespread rule about Valentine's Day in school, to wit: you give everybody a card or nobody. I have to say I love the intention here, but I don't think it changes much of anything for the little losery Kennys coming up through the ranks today. 

First off, I can't imagine how this rule can be enforced. Oh, sure, you can ban the giving of cards in class unless there's one for everyone....but there's recess, and lunch, and before and after school, and even between periods....lots of time for cards to accumulate and hateful, hurtful remarks to be said to the people you'd rather not have given a card to. 
And second, kids aren't stupid. They know which cards are real and which ones are fake. Looking back, as much as I wanted a Valentine's card year after year after year, I wanted a real one, not one given  by a teacher's decree. Worse than that, imagine if I'd got a fake card and tried to treat it like a real one. That wouldn't end well. 

This all comes down to the prevailing attitude in educational circles today, which is that self-esteem is at least as important as academic success. I'm here to tell you that while this is true, the methods by which schools (and many parents) try to instil self-esteem are pure-d bullshit. You don't get someone to feel better about themselves by shielding them from academics, in sports, in love (even its puppy variety), in anything. You feel better about yourself when you fail and then succeed...the more you fail, the harder you fail, the better the success tastes when it comes. Trust me on this: I failed so hard at so many instances of puppy love--and even at my marginally more adult attempts at the real thing--it'd be embarrassing. It IS embarrassing, if I insist on looking at it in that frame of mind. Except I learned from my failures at love, and again, I owe those people an immense debt of gratitude. Without you, I'd never have found the woman I married; nor would I have the coterie of dear (and mostly female, oddly) friends that so enrich the parts of my life Eva hasn't. I can only hope that those who have dumped me have likewise used me as a stepping stone to much better loves in their lives. 

One other thing I'd like to mention about my experiences with love. For years, I figured the reason I wasn't getting any love was that I wasn't giving enough. And so I'd give, and give, in ever more gaudy and extravagant gestures, and even people who might have loved me--if they existed--were no doubt scared and repulsed. I thought if I could just try harder, ever harder, eventually I'd be rewarded.

It strikes me that many people seem to think that way about prayer...if you don't get what you want, you're not praying hard enough. Whereas, at least according to my own spirituality at least, the only proper prayer is one of gratitude for what you have been given (which is why I always try to remain thankful for even the worst situations I create for myself). 

I think a LOT of people feel this way about various problems and predicaments. If it's not working, do exactly what you were doing, but do it harder. What perverse quirk of human nature put that destructive commandment into our skulls, anyway? 

As for Valentine's Day, I think that's why I still dislike it so much. It tries too hard. It's too shrill, in-your-face, and conditional. Real love, I have found, is best experienced in the quiet moments, totally independent of what day it is. Real love doesn't care if anyone's looking, but neither does it seek an audience...

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