What does Valentine’s Day mean to you? Is it mostly about celebrating romantic love or a chance to acknowledge all types of ‘Love’? Like most people, I have two ‘Valentine card bins.’ One is a bin for any romantic love interest―the other bin is for family and friends, with the biggest emphasis this year being on my 5-year old daughter. Statistically I am not alone.
According to the U.S. Greeting Card Association, almost 200 million Valentine cards will be sent this year in the United States. About 100 million of those will go to a family member other than a spouse—usually to children. Another 800 million Valentine’s day cards are exchanged in schools, and teachers become the largest recipients of Valentine cards. These statistics are reassuring.
With so much violence, killing and destruction in the headlines Valentine’s Day has taken on a new meaning to me. Isn’t it a beautiful thing that over a billion messages of love and appreciation will be shared between Americans this week? How many other days of the year are dedicated solely to the practice of expressing loving-kindness to other human beings?
This year I am focusing on February 14th as a day to let people from all areas of my life know how much I love and value them. I would encourage you to step out of your comfort zone this week and do the same on Valentine's Day this year.
Different Types of Love
Psychologist Robert Sternberg has written brilliantly about different types of love and the components that go into them. Under his Triangular Theory of Love there are three components of love: Intimacy, Passion, and Commitment. Sternberg differentiates between various combinations of these three components to identify types of love like: friendship, infatuated love, empty love, romantic love with the ultimate being consummate love. I wrote a Psychology Today blog last summer with my own version of types of love called “The Language of Love.” Check it out if you have time or interest.
Expression, vulnerability, and connection are key.
Brené Brown has been a large influence in helping me understand the importance of vulnerability, authenticity, and connectedness when it comes to living wholeheartedly. Ultimately, no matter which type of love you are dealing with, the 3 key ingredients necessary to keep any type of love alive and strong in my opinion are: expression, vulnerability, and connection.
Expression is about taking the time to tell people how you feel and to show them. Expression is a combination of actions and words. Vulnerability is about sticking your neck out and realizing that you have to expose yourself emotionally if you want to feel a true connection to another person. And Connection, as Brené Brown says in this TED lecture , is what we’re all aching for and is the foundation of every type of love.
You See Everything. And You’re Still here.
As an ultra-endurance athlete I learned that if I wanted to tap into my deepest inner-strength that I had to peel back all my emotional armor and expose a raw nerve. This was the only way that I could really become a conduit for a Source of energy that always felt more like it came from without, than within.
Like so many gay teens, I was very shut down in my adolescence. Like everyone, I wanted to feel worthy of love and belonging. I didn't. I feared that if people knew who I really was that I would be rejected. So, I created a bulletproof veneer, blocked most people out of my life and became very disconnected, emotionally shut-down, and at times suicidal.
Running turned this around for me. When I ran with my headphones on I would go to a place where I felt completely connected to my emotions for the first time. Whatever song I was hearing would connect me to some type of Source. But I was still alone. I think I was having an ongoing love affair with the "other." Running became a sanctuary for me and helped me get through a rough adolescence--break world records...but it was still an isolating solution. I didn't fully understand the importance of expression, vulnerability, and connection yet.
This morning when I was jogging on some snow packed trails on Cape Cod a song by Alanis Morissette called “Everything” came on my shuffle mode. I had forgotten about the song and had an instant flashback to when I ran 154 miles on the treadmill at Kiehl’s. I like to have an anthem before every big athletic event and for that event I requested that the song be played over and over again during the 24-hour run ad nauseum.
We all have secrets, shame, and insecurities. What I love about the song “Everything” is that it reaffirms that this is universal with a subtext of saying that we have an obligation not to abandon or bully people who have the courage to express who they are and make themselves vulnerable.
Conclusion: Love is the Message
I was very proud to be an American when President Obama declared at his second inauguration that: “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
And again, when President Obama stated to CBS’ Scott Pelley in a “Super Bowl” pre-game interview that the Boy Scouts should be open to gays. Obama said, “I think that my attitude is that gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and every walk of life.” The leaders of the Boy Scouts of America clearly do not share the same opinion nor do they have the courage to take a stand on it. What message does this send to young Americans? It seems kind of wimpy to me. Is that what leadership is about?
I wish that when I was growing up and coming out that the President of the United States had understood the importance of: expression, vulnerability, and connection. It was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and Ronald Reagan clearly didn’t get it....
This Valentine’s Day I hope that we’ll all make an effort to keep moving the ball forward—let anyone (especially children) know how much they matter to you—especially if they don’t fit into a cookie cutter idea of the mainstream. My grandparents always sent me “Guess who?” Valentine cards. They remain my most cherished mementos. We all want to feel worthy of love and belonging. Let the people you cherish know how much you love them through actions and words this February 14th, and every other day of the year.