I’m going to go ahead and give everyone a moment to dance that out. (I do love a good impromptu dance party.)
I had originally intended to post this on Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t want it to come across as another “I hate Valentine’s Day” rant. Because I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. I do, however, hate the hustle associated with it.
This year, I had the great fortune to have coffee with an old friend on the 13th and he shared with me a story that sums up pretty well that terrible disco dance everyone tries to do – and, more importantly, is expected to do – this time of year. By way of background, I will tell you that my friend is an amazing man and one hell of a gentleman. He won’t let me walk next to the street when we’re on the sidewalk together, opens doors, listens. He is gallant, that one.
I think what I love most about him, though, is his courage and commitment to his passions. We met because we both worked in public relations. He was much higher up the corporate ladder and was likely earning a decent chunk of change. Judging by the suits he wore, I’d say it was very decent. Anyhow, he gave it all up and moved to LA to pursue his dream of being an actor. It’s not been an easy road, but he’s never cashed in and walked away. He believes in it and in himself. As someone who refuses to give up her day job to pursue writing full time (I do have two kids to provide for now, and the lemon pup who needs a hip replacement), I have so much admiration and respect for what he’s doing with his life. Any time I mope about a rejection letter, I remind myself of how he’s put it all on the line.
Anyhow, he told me of a Valentine’s Day past when his long-time girlfriend agreed to celebrate two days early because he had to work. He is not a fan of the day and she knew this. Also, did I mention he gave up his lucrative career to pursue his dream? Anyhow, he takes her out to a splendid, fancy dinner. They do it up. He pays the bill, a bill that could have covered a car payment or something else more practical. And when you’ve given up a career, practical is a big concern.
Two days later, on Valentine’s morn, she is dismayed that he has not made any effort to celebrate the actual day. By his account, this woman knew of his distaste for the day. And yet he’d celebrated it with her anyway, just a wee bit early. But it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough.
I’m not saying I blame her. The expectations that get built up around this day are monumental. I laughed when I found out only 10% of engagements happen on Valentine’s Day because marketing campaigns would have you think otherwise. People actually think, and tell me, my husband is a jerk for not celebrating Valentine’s Day. My husband cooks almost every meal for our family, he cleans, he spends as much time with the kids as I do. Why does he need a special day to tell me he loves me? Why isn’t the fact he rubs my feet and my back when all he wants to do is collapse considered a Valentine?
Because it’s about the show. It’s about the report back to friends. We all know that Valentine’s Day is generated by corporate culture trying to make another dollar. Some people truly love it anyway – the opportunity to surprise someone you love, the temporary boldness that allows you to tell someone you have feelings for her, the opportunity to celebrate love. And I say, hats off to you, my friend. Keep celebrating if you love it.
For the rest of the folks, the ones who are ambivalent about it or who kind of dread it because you have to come up with a gift idea or make hard-to-get reservations and find a sitter who is probably off on her own Valentine’s Day adventure, or who, goddess forbid, don’t have a date, I say let’s just stop. Let’s stop doing the hustle because what it comes down to is that the small self, the ego, so desperately wants approval. It equates approval with love and those things just aren’t the same. Approval can be lost at any time.
Love, on the other hand, is grace. It is given freely, even when the giver doesn’t approve of the recipient. Love isn’t about a dozen roses (especially if those roses were grown with tons of pesticide in poor working conditions and generated a ton of carbon emissions in the shipping process. Just saying) or chocolates (again, working conditions are a huge issue in the chocolate industry), or diamonds (don’t even get me started). It is about holding someone’s hand in the dark, and we’ve all got dark stretches in our lives. It’s about watering the seeds of personal growth and rubbing oil on scars. It is seeing another person in all of her glory and baseness at the same time and wrapping that person up in yourself. There simply isn’t a Hallmark card for that. There isn’t a gift that conveys that kind of devotion except the service that is done through love.
It was hard this year to watch the amount of waste generated by the holiday: the cards that will be tossed in a week or two, the flowers sticking out of compost bins, the candies that get thrown out because the recipient doesn’t even want them. It was also hard to watch the emotional waste: the build-up to the day (What will I get? Will he propose? I need a new dress!) followed by the inevitable let-down, even if someone got everything she thought her heart desired. The fact is, Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with love. It has everything to with the hustle to look like love. And when we’re done with one night of hustling, we wake up to start it all over again. Because approval is all about what have you done for me lately.
I’ve realized that much of my life has been one long, overplayed version of the hustle. I do this dance several times a day, every day. And it depletes me. I am left without the energy to engage with those I do love, to do the acts my soul wants me to do, not my ego. I am left longing and lonely, despite thousands of dance partners. For me, Valentine’s Day has become a symbol of the fact I’d really like to bench it from here on out. I don’t want a dance partner if that’s the dance we’re doing.
So, I’m stepping back. I’m reevaluating how I interact with people, and why. As Cheryl Richardson says, if it’s not a 100% yes, I’m not going to do it anymore. Trying to get approval is killing me. And it’s killing our planet. Just look at all the waste associated with wanting someone to like us: we drive enormous cars we don’t need and buy toys for kids who already have too many and otherwise buy stuff to say “I love you” because we’ve lost the language for that. All the while, we’re starving for genuine connection.
So, my beautiful people, I share my two challenges. One, what can you do to shrug off the hustle today? And what can you do to truly celebrate love? xoxo