A week or so again, on a rainy Wednesday evening in Manhattan, I met my friend Sid for a cocktail. It’d been months since I’d seen Sid, yet the moment she breezed behind me, taking her seat on the stool next to me, it was just like it always was- like walking into a familiar house, the soft light and crackling fireplace, the echoes of laughter in the distance. I forgot how much warmth she brought with her. I was immediately swept up.
One cocktail turned into two and by then we’d caught up on work and guys and family and were onto the deeper stuff. The more wounding parts of life. I asked her how her roommates were. The last time we’d spoken she mentioned there was tension with one of them– something to do with unwashed dishes. I knew that tension. I remembered it from when I first moved to New York and lived with my old best friend, the one I don’t speak to anymore. I knew how the small habits of others crept under the skin and started to feel like personal affronts. How the benign little things- uncleaned toilet bowls, crumbs on the couch, empty shampoo bottles – snowballed into the devastating.
The situation hadn’t gotten better. They weren’t talking anymore and though Sid knew why, her roommate, Jenn, didn’t. Jenn just knew that Sid was being distant, so she retreated even more, leaving more unwashed dishes, to which Sid became angrier about, and now there was this palpable tension. Sid stopped going out with Jenn. Jenn would respond by talking badly on Sid to their other friends. At some point during all of this, things came to a head when they were either both out together or both drunk in the apartment and Sid finally told Jenn why she was being distant. Jenn thought Sid was overreacting. Sid thought Jenn was inconsiderate. So the tension stayed, both girls refusing to admit or change or move.
It was really bad for a few weeks, Sid said. But then, one morning I woke up a little hungover and I just realized I didn’t want to fight anymore. So I walked into her room and sat on her bed and told her that I loved her. And she said she loved me and promised to pay more attention to the dishes. And even though she sometimes still leaves her coat on the table and doesn’t buy the toilet paper when it’s out, it’s a definitely better.
What is it about being hungover, sick, depleted that causes us to shed our egos, our pride, our tough exteriors? Because I knew exactly what Sid meant when she said that. I know that onrush of feeling when the ego has been stripped. It’s when I find myself most sensitive, most vulnerable, yet at the same time most loving towards anyone I come in contact with. It’s like when I’m a little tired or a little depleted, I’m a little more giving.
But how am I the rest of the time? I think I’m loving. I try and see the good but then I also see this side of myself that’s so quick to judge. So quick to withdraw my affection, my approval, my attention at the slightest sign of something I don’t like. Like my brother’s new girlfriend. She’s sweet and kind and always lovely to me, yet I find myself on guard around her – on the look out for one small detail, one wrong move, one exposed side of her I don’t like, one thing that doesn’t match what I expect of her – and I am ready to withdraw my approval, my acceptance, my attention. Ready to cast her off as not good enough.
I’ve lost not just one, but a few friends from this habit of withdrawing love at the first sign of difference. When I look back at my early twenty-year-old self I hate how she built all these grievances up until they became walls I couldn’t see over. Until I’m sitting here at almost thirty and wondering how I could let such stupid, little things keep me from loving all the wonderful things about them. Because when I look back on the friends I lost it’s not the small, annoying things I remember, but the big things – the good things about them I can’t believe I overlooked.
“We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we long for, need, love or desire. Often against reality, against their benefit, and always, in the end, a disappointment because it does not fit them.” -Anaïs Nin
Maybe it’s just something that comes with age. Maybe we need to meet enough people, live with enough roommates, learn enough lessons to realize the little things should stay little. That in the grand scheme, all that matters are that they’re a good person, that they make you laugh, that you can talk to them. The dishes and the toilet paper don’t matter. Or maybe it’s just something we need to practice, this loving one another.
It’s so freeing, so liberating, so energizing to put down my expectations of others and watch them come to me as they are. To have them surprise me and teach me and remind me that everyone is so uniquely, so beautifully different. Simone Weil said that love is just attention, but I’m starting to believe that love is just acceptance. Then again, maybe attention and acceptance are the same thing. I see you is the same as I accept you.
As I sat trying to write this newsletter last night, I wondered if this was a corny idea. This plea to love each other more. Then I remembered that Thursday is Valentine’s day, a day I never celebrate because I believe it’s just a symbol of consumerism. Besides that, I’ve always believed that people in love don’t need a day to celebrate. Being in love is celebration enough. But what if we changed the concept? What if we used the day to express our love for those we’re not romantic with – our friends, our family, our coworkers. To use it as a reminder to find love for people we forget to express love for. To remember the reasons we love the people we take for granted every day.
What if we sent cards to each other this year? Simple cards with the simple prompt of Things I Love About You:
And what if we got really romantic with it? What if I told Sid that she reminded me of coming home? What if my list had really beautiful, whimsical reasons I loved her? And also really basic ones? Like how she’s giving and beautiful and fun.
What if you forwarded this email to a friend and both of you sent cards to one another? Both of you wrote down on a simple piece of paper simple reasons that you love one another? Because as much as I believe in spreading love for others, sometimes we need to be reminded of the reasons we’re deserving of love. Sometimes I also need to hear something nice about myself. Below is a list of some of my favorite ways people have told each other they love them. Different definitions of love. Different reasons for loving. Because this Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be corny and commercial, it can be a reminder that there’s a million ways and a million reasons to love each other.
Beautiful, Whimsical Ways To Express Love For Each Other (use these as inspiration for your own compliments or take them and make literary Valentine’s Day cards) :
“I like you for you have the ability to pause time; only you can make it cease for a bit.” – Virginia Woolf
“Do you still smell of pencils and sometimes of tweed?” – Zelda Fitzgerald
“Thanks again for saving me. Someday, I’ll save you too.” — Zelda Fitzgerald
“Please, in all this muddle of life, continue to be a bright and constant star.” – Vita Sackville-West
“How glad I am that you exist.” — Vita Sackville-West
“Darling – thank you for my happy hours with you. You mean more to me than you will ever know.” — Vita Sackville-West
“Then I met you and unavoidably you were special.”— Anne Sexton
“You have a style to your life that I envy. You know how to take care of yourself. You know how to love yourself. I envy. You know how to reach out.” – Anne Sexton
“What I admire in you so much is your transparent quality.”— Virginia Woolf
“You put me in touch with my own soul.” — Katherine Mansfield,
“Your power of thought is rare. Your capacity for feeling is incomparable.” — Katherine Mansfield
There isn’t anything in this world but mad love. Not in this world. No tame love, calm love, wild love, no so-so love. And, of course, no reasonable love. Also there are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But, who wants easier? We dream of love, we moon about, thinking of Romeo and Juliet, or Tristan, or the lost queen rushing away over the Irish sea, all doom and splendor. Today, on the beach, an old man was sitting in the sun. I called out to him, and he turned. His face was like an empty pot. I remember his tall, pale wife; she died long ago. I remember his daughter-in-law. When she died, hard, and too young, he wept in the streets. He picked up pieces of wood, and stones, and anything else that was there, and threw them at the sea. Oh, how he loved his wife. Oh, how he loved young Barbara. I stood in front of him, not expecting any answer yet not wanting to pass without some greeting. But his face had gone back to whatever he was dreaming. Something touched me, lightly, like a knife blade. I felt I was bleeding, though just a little, a hint. Inside I flared hot, then cold. I thought of you. Whom I love, madly. – Mary Oliver