It's Valentine's Day, which ranks right up there with New Year's Eve on the Great Expectations scale. This is the holiday that transports us back to third grade and the Valentine Mail Box on the teacher's desk. You remember: Everyone "mailed" their cards the day before. Then, on the 14th, the teacher opened the box and distributed the contents. If your desktop was covered with white envelopes, you were an eight-year-old hottie. If not, well…do the math. In the self-esteem sweepstakes, it was winner take all.
Ah, love. It is not meat nor drink nor shelter nor a roof against the rain, as Edna St. Vincent Millay wisely observed. But for something intangible, it sure packs a wallop. Love makes you crazy, fat, thin, clear-eyed, dazed, euphoric, and miserable, sometimes all in the same week. It transforms sensible adults into impulse-driven adolescents. It is the force that gets us out of bed in the morning and the thing that can keep us there all day. And it has inspired more poetry, music, perfume, weight loss programs, murder, and melancholy than any other aspect of the human condition.
Oh, and lists. Love—the search for it, the end of it, the endless maintenance in between—is a great list generator. Ten Ways to Find the Perfect Mate. Four Foolproof Tips for Keeping the Flame Alive. Three Break-up Mistakes to Avoid.
Back in my feature-writing days, I filed my fair share of those list stories. I called up psychologists and marriage counselors and dating-service operators and ordinary people and persuaded them to pour out their hearts. I learned about middle-aged crushes and geriatric romance and the 80 zillion ways that love can go wrong. I still remember the woman who attributed the longevity of her marriage to the fact that it took 15 minutes to locate and unlock the weapons in her house. As anyone who's celebrated a double-digit anniversary will tell you, it ain't all moonlight and roses.
So what is it, really? In honor of the day, I've made—you guessed it—a list. The product of my own painstaking but unscientific research, I'm calling it Five Completely Subjective Truths About Love:
1. To love is to will the good of another. I didn't make this up. Thomas Aquinas did, in the 13th century. It's still the most accurate description I've ever heard.
2. Love means always having to say you're sorry. There was a lot that was wrong with the '70s: polyester; polyester bell bottoms; Nehru jackets; Love Story. For best results, acknowledge mistakes. Make amends. Daily.
3. In love, there is one who kisses and one who offers the cheek. It's a French proverb, and they should know. One day, you're doing all the heavy lifting. The next day, the balance shifts. Sometimes, you're the cherished. Other times, you're the one doing the cherishing. Eventually, it evens out. Maybe.
4. Often, love reveals itself in silence. Or, as a wise woman I know once put it, the secret of a happy relationship lies in leaving a great deal unsaid. Like "You look tired," or "Is that what we're having for dinner?" Or "Is that what you're wearing?" You get the picture.
5. Real love may not arrive until the first grandchild. Another Gallicism, right on target. To stand together before the child of your child is to stand, for a moment, on sacred ground. It must be what Browning had in mind when he wrote, "the best is yet to be."
Happy Valentine's Day. May your desk top be covered with white envelopes. m