Searching in vain for the perfect Valentine's Day
When I was young, I loved paintings by Norman Rockwell. I spent so much time looking at them.
They depicted a lovely Americana that we all wish we remembered. But we don’t remember it—not really--because it never quite existed.
It is the stuff that fantasists’ dreams are made of. What ever happened to the America we once knew?
Well, folks: It never existed. At some level, we all know that.
The problems society faces now are ones that, in various degrees, we always have faced. They made be worse; they may be better; one thing they are not is new.
Two of my favorite Rockwell paintings were and still are “Freedom from Want” and “Four Ages of Love: Courting Couple”:
The first painting shows a Thanksgiving celebration as I always just knew, or at the very least, thought it should be. The second painting shows a couple in love in a way that would make for a picture-perfect Valentine’s Day.
Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day were my favorite holidays. Maybe they still are.
Thanksgiving represented for me the ideal of what love in a family could be—a family gathered around a Thanksgiving meal, all smiling, all just loving the opportunity to celebrate together a joyous family and communal holiday.
Valentine’s Day represented to me the ideal of what love between two partners could be—the two partners right next to each other, indulging in the perfect love and courtship we all hope for and, sometimes, look back on with longing. If we are lucky, sometimes we even get glimpses of it in our lives.
Life rarely lives up to our ideals
The heck of it is: I cannot remember even one Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day that was absolute perfection. I've had rotten ones, bad ones, good ones, even some great ones. But Norman Rockwell never came to life.
I came from a broken family, and we never had even one joyous Thanksgiving. I’ve had a mixed bag of relationships, and it was not until relatively late in life that I finally figured out how to make one work—if one ever really, truly, and fully can make anything work in life.
There are always challenges to be met, problems to be solved—kids to be fed, bills to be paid, work hassles hopefully to be resolved. I’ve always been striving for the life that has never quite happened.
When I was young, I remember being positively depressed on Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.
I was missing out on the totally joyous, cheerful, and just plain fun time that almost everyone else was having. How could I have been so unlucky, or alternatively, done so many things wrong?
Then, in my early 30s, when my personal life was not at its peak, I started studying intimate relationships. And I discovered something I probably should have known.
There weren’t many other people who were having those ideal holidays either. Almost everyone I knew or studied was having their own problems. It was just that no one seemed to be talking about them, at least, not to me.
So, all those tons of people I imagined living in Norman Rockwell’s world were, in fact, living in my world of a few close-to-being-realized dreams and one heck of a lot of shattered dreams, or hopes that they were feeling never would be realized.
My problem wasn’t that I was not living a Norman Rockwell existence; it was that I thought such an existence was attainable—outside Rockwell’s art, of course.
Perhaps such an existence is attainable, but probably only for someone who has some kind of idealistic or Pollyannish view of the world that can just cast all their problems aside.
But I learned the lesson I think most of us eventually learn: Holidays ain’t all they’re cracked up to be, and often, neither is life.
If we want it to be better, we have to act deliberately and diligently to make it better. “Get better” won’t just happen.
You CAN make your romantic life better. That’s what our website is all about.
But in the meantime, if your romantic life isn’t all you hoped it would be, don’t despair. Hardly anyone else’s is either.
And for many of us, the best we ever do is to have fleeting glimpses of the Norman Rockwell life.
Start with what you have and make the best of it
Forget about that fantasy life. Make the best of your real life, even if it's not what you want it to be right now. Make it be all it can be.
Read our blog to find out how. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Meanwhile, if holidays depress you, remember that all those people you are imagining living these fantastic wonderful lives exist—but pretty much only in paintings and fairy tales.
Still feeling bad? How do you actually get through the day?
Sometimes, rationalizing just doesn't help. You are not yet over that breakup, it seems all your friends are in happy relationships, or you just feel lonely. How do you get through the day?
Get yourself a little gift. Not only other people are worth a kind word, a nice gesture, or a thoughtful gift. You are as well! You are as worthy of love as everyone else, even if you may not be able to see it.
Get yourself a little something you've been wanting to buy for a long time but never followed through. Try a new tea? Those expensive chocolates? Get a new blanket? My personal favorite is a heating pad -- nothing makes me feel better than some extra warmth on cold, gray days.
The power of distraction is never to be underestimated. How about binge-watching your favorite TV show? Or bundling up with a hot chocolate and that book that's been sitting on your nightstand forever? Or would you rather go out and take a hike? Use the day and plan something special for you that you've been wanting to do for the longest time.
Get together with others
Do you have any friends who are single? When did you last see your siblings? Plan a get-together for Valentine's Day. If no one's available or they're far away, how about a phone or video call? Being with others will help ease the feelings of loneliness, distract you, and show you that there are others who appreciate you.
Stay away from social media
People don't post on social media when something goes wrong in their lives. On social media, you get a curated look into people's lives that is not representative of the real thing. Research has shown that spending too much time on social media can lead to feelings of depression. Give yourself a social media-free day.
Allow yourself to feel the pain
Remember -- emotions are a normal part of human life; the positive ones as well as the negative ones. Allow yourself to grieve a loss or break-up. Properly processing your emotions and being mindful of them will help you move on when the time comes.
Make a plan
Perhaps most importantly, make a plan. What scares people the most is unpredictability and uncertainty. Think about what your day is going to look like, and then create a day that you can look forward to rather than dread.