On a morning walk with two of my best friends, bundled in our winter coats like pigs in a blanket, we realize that this year, we all have Valentines. It’s almost hard to believe. How could we all be happy at the same time? Is there enough space in the atmosphere for all our smiles? The moment doesn’t last long. A cool wind cuts through us when my friend says, “Probably not where you thought you’d be this time last year.”
She’s right. I didn’t think I would be alive, let alone in love. What’s the point of love if it only leads to pain and loss? Not only did I have a vendetta against love, but I also had a vendetta against everyone who was in love. How dare you laugh and smile and share funnel cakes at the pier when so many loved ones aren’t here?
I wasn’t even thinking about dating back then, so it wasn’t that I was jealous of romance. I think it all just seemed so artificial. Tacky. Romance movies made me want to puke and the chocolate would be cheaper after Valentine’s Day anyway, so why bother?
It doesn’t help that my view of love growing up was skewed. My grandparents were the Hallmark-movie love story: they were high school sweethearts, got married, ran a business and raised children and grandchildren together. I idolized them, noting how devoted they were to each other, how my grandfather would die to spend one more hour with her.
My parents weren’t so perfect, despite appearances. Sometimes being liked meant hiding the mess of us, the anger, the tears. I won’t go into further detail, but I learned that love wasn’t perfect, and sometimes what you thought was love, as my favorite poet Ada Limón once said, was really just pain.
I was so afraid of inheriting my parents’ mistakes that I thought any love I endeavored to have would hold the same fate. I was terrified of love because I had been hurt enough times to know when to give up. Because in a world brimming with uncertainty, why would I want to risk what little control I had?
It would be easy to say that I don’t feel this way anymore. But I’d be lying. Partially. When it comes to love, especially falling in love, words fail us. I feel like I’m falling into cliche every time I describe what it feels like. A bond so strong you’d die trying to hold on, no matter the consequences.
Yes, there’s pain. There’s great fear in opening your heart entirely, in letting someone see you, and it all seemingly being for nothing if things don’t work out. I’ve circled here quite frequently. Hell, I’ve even tried pushing someone away because I thought breaking up would give me the certainty I needed. It doesn’t work. And maybe, like me, you’ll find someone that stays despite your crazy. Because sometimes, the people who love us know us well enough to know what we truly want. Which, for me, is love and security.
Nothing about love is easy. But then again, nothing worth anything is ever easy. Whether it be friends, family or a significant other, it’s difficult to stare uncertainty in the face and despite it all, resist your fears, allow yourself to love. I wish I could tell this to my younger self. Honestly, I wish I could remind myself of this a few hours ago. Embracing love and fear in the same sweep, and nurturing it like a child, is part of growing up.
One of my greatest reservations with love and relationships is that I believe nobody will ever love me as much as I love them, which really reflects the little love I have for myself. Nevertheless, I am afraid of loving too much, of loving too hard. On the one hand, if I give someone all of my love, every bit and chunk, I will have nothing left to give. But on the other hand, is it not a gift to have so much love, to be capable of loving someone so much that you couldn't possibly love them any more?
I learned how to love from my mother. Like me, she is always hurt because she hands out her love until there’s none left for herself. In spite of the household I was raised in, the tumultuous love I witnessed and felt, my mother’s love never wavered. She would get hurt and get back up again. Love harder. She, in turn, learned this from her mother. I carry my grandmother with me everywhere. Without her, I wouldn’t know how to love another human.
Further, it’s important for me to reframe my fear of love by reminding myself of the blessing of having any love at all. I am lucky to have a heart big enough to love boundlessly, so why define it by the pain?
Be kind to your partners; be kind to your loved ones. If I’ve learned anything from falling in love with another human, it’s that I love so much more than I don’t. Much of my worrying comes from — you guessed it — love. In honor of Valentine’s Day, and my first time really cherishing it, I would like to share a poem with you.
Forget the cardboard and milk cartons,
the makeshift mailboxes decorated with
heart stickers and glitter, everyone
getting their fair share of joy and candy.
Candy’s only going to rot
our teeth, so us grown-ups celebrate
with love and chocolate (yes, lots of chocolate!)
because what else is there besides love and chocolate?
My father would rise with the roosters
to buy my mother roses, a dozen or two,
and sometimes he’d even send them
to her office. And for one day,
there would be no fighting, no
empty vases to explain for.
This year, I trade petals for peace.
I want a call from my mother,
a glass of wine, and a card:
two construction-paper hearts bound
by the glue of I love you.
Love deeper. Love harder. Love until there is nothing left. Love because you are worth every smile, and every tear. If I leave one legacy, let it be love.
Christian Paulisich is a junior from San Leandro, Calif. studying Medicine, Science and the Humanities and Psychology.