February 14th is creeping up, which reminds me that some of us don’t have partners with which to celebrate, and are perhaps feeling particularly alone. Not bad alone, necessarily, but notably alone, more so than on any other day. I’ve been there far more often than not, and have occasionally overcompensated in response. One year, while still living at the UW, I handmade dozens of chocolate-covered strawberries and gave them out to all my single dorm friends. They responded with perplexed expressions, and I explained, “I love Love!”
This week leading up to Valentine’s Day is also the week leading up to Chris’s and my first anniversary. Exciting! Chris also happens to be away this week, across the country at the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, taking part in a panel on H.P. Lovecraft. I find myself in a quiet house, fixing myself small meals, sleeping in a bed that suddenly feels much bigger. At first, this made me feel a bit fuzzy around the edges, like my aura had expanded and was reaching out for the person whose shoulder I always touch as I walk by, whose eyes I always meet when I pause and look up between paragraphs. Then I felt small, like my aura had retracted inward again, and I felt myself inside my own skin.
It wasn’t really sad or painful, but it was interesting that I had to stumble across a little emotional and cognitive hurdle in order to remember how to appreciate my alone time again. Because loneliness and aloneness are not the same thing. Just as you can be entrenched in relationships that make you feel alienated and invisible, you can also feel perfectly in touch with yourself and the world when in a state of solitude.
Isaac Newton never married, but he gave us calculus, among so many other momentous scientific advances. Same with Nikola Tesla. Ludwig van Beethoven composed music that overflows our hearts, and Glenn Gould played them with deeper feeling than anyone, and yet both Beethoven and Gould were celibate. Emily Dickinson was so reclusive that most of her relationships existed only through written correspondence. Jorge Luis Borges was so sex-phobic that he forfeited marrying the love of his life, and yet his short stories gave flesh and blood to such mind-bending ideas as infinity and free will.
Not everyone who ends up alone is alone by choice. Sometimes circumstances get in the way. Queen Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen,” risked the political fate of all Europe with her choice (and non-choice) of suitor. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for acting upon his true romantic feelings.
In life, it’s never a given that you’re going to encounter your person—or people—who will love and respect and understand you, or that circumstances will allow for you to develop your partnership. There are so many obstacles to love–war, disease, religion, societal intolerance, personal maturity—that it’s a wonder any of us find each other, fall in love, and manage to maintain a loving, life-sustaining relationship in the first place.
Really, we should be celebrating Valentine’s Day because romantic love is never a given, and so damn difficult to achieve. In the meantime, there’s beautiful, loving work to be done by all of us, together and alone.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 02/13/2017.