A Valentine from Me to You: You’re Not Alone

14 02 2013

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine…

—Steve Winwood and Will Jennings

When I was a child, then a teenager… even into the decades of my twenties and thirties…I never questioned that my life would be like most everyone else’s. I would meet someone, fall in love, get married, have a family. As I got older and it wasn’t happening, I told everyone that was a-okay with me. I didn’t want it. So what if it was a lie? I shrugged it off and didn’t dwell on it.

By my early forties, I’d told the lie enough times that I was comfortable with it. Besides, at that point I’d gained enough weight that mostly people didn’t ask me about it anymore – whether I was seeing anyone, or wished I was, became a moot point. We all knew no one wanted someone like me. We didn’t talk about it. Ever.

Later in that decade, when I decided to change my life, to come out of my lie-induced trance, amid all of the incredibly beautiful, powerful and positive experiences came this realization: my supposed “okay-ness” with being alone was the biggest crock I’d ever sold myself.

Around that time, at a wedding, one of the bible readings opened up a pit of anger so vast I almost couldn’t contain my ire and join in the celebration. The reading didn’t beat around the bush – I thought they were the most cruel verses I’d ever heard. From Ecclesiastes 4:9:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

I stayed in that pit of anger for a long time, unable to claw my way out. At or to whom could I direct my wrath? I was just learning not to despise myself and that felt good enough that I didn’t want to turn my rage inward. So I directed it at the only other entity I could think of: God. And let me tell you, I am certain it was no coincidence that, during this time period, everywhere I turned people in my life were vociferously thanking God for the amazing partners He gifted them with. How that pissed me off, and fueled the fire I was burning up in!

At some indefinable moment, my angry defiance gave way to angry tears. I cried until the pit I was in filled with my own salty water. Suddenly, instead of being trapped in a pit I found myself swimming in an ocean of grief. After literal decades of choosing not to feel anything deeply, I felt every second of my mourning over what had never come to be. It wasn’t merely that I had no significant other at that moment, lots of people share that predicament. It was the fact that I have never had that. Never been cherished, wanted in a mature romantic relationship. Its a bit harder to find people who share that life experience – in part because who wants to admit that out loud? It feels defective. Deficient. I astonished myself with the number of tears I was capable of crying. I surprised (and frightened) my friends; seriously, we would look at one another in astonishment when yet another crying jag would take me in the middle of a seemingly innocuous moment. I was SAD. SAD. SAD.

One day, my feet touched bottom. On an emotional level, I was still doing that sniffly, hiccupy thing you do after a long hard cry, but I had come to the shore of that particular ocean. I wasn’t laughing it off, by any means, but I wasn’t in danger of flooding the midwest any longer.

Here’s the thing: even in the middle of my deepest anger and my soggiest grief, I was happy in a way I had never been before as an adult. Some days were downright joyful. Let me say that again so we all can feel the magnitude of what I’m saying here: some days, when I was angry beyond my ability to articulate it, or when I was so sorrowful I sat through dull work meetings trying not to cry, I was AT THE SAME MOMENT happy and sure of my own well-being.

How was that possible?

How is the reason I am rehashing all of this in a post on Valentine’s Day. In the three+ years I’ve been posting to this blog, I’ve discovered that the more honestly I share my true experiences, the more likely it is that someone – reading what I’ve written – will recognize him- or her- self in my story. So I feel confident that you’re out there. You know who you are – the person feeling so desperately alone. Unworthy. Defective. I want you, whoever you are, to know you don’t have to feel that way. Or at least, that isn’t the whole picture of who you are, or what your life can be.

First, it was possible to be both enraged and joyful because the more I opened myself to others, sharing my triumphs, failures, angers, and even my grief…the more others were willing to offer me love, friendship, and support. Incredible, amazing people in my life were able to understand that I was experiencing something profound. They couldn’t experience it themselves, not being me, but they could walk through it with me – and they did.

Second, it was possible to be both deeply sad and happy at the same time because the sadness was residual – left over from the past. Oprah (and therapists everywhere) always says that if you don’t let yourself feel it now, you’ll feel it later. With interest. So whatever you’re feeling, let it be felt. I ate to cover up my feelings, and while it seemed comforting at the time, it made things infinitely worse. I’ll take angry, crying, healthy and happy Jenion over my old dangerously overweight and sleepwalking self any day.

I came, eventually, to the shore of my ocean of grief with this realization: when you focus on what you don’t have, you will always feel deprived – even if you are surrounded by riches. And I am surrounded by blessings. When you focus on what you don’t have, you devalue not only the gifts you do have, but the givers of those gifts: the people who do care, who are there. And that includes my nemesis, God. This realization has recently allowed me to make my first, tentative, overtures of friendship toward God again. Don’t get me wrong. I still blame God. I am just learning to grudgingly accept that I don’t know everything God knows (including the big picture of my life).

In all of this I see the workings of a higher love, and it fills me with gratitude. That it would be possible to change my life never occurred to me until it started happening. That I could discover it possible to be happy with myself – even though I might wish some parts of my life were different – was a revelation to me. I know that since it was possible for me, it is possible for others, too. Possible for you.

There must be higher love, as the song says. Without it, life is wasted time. Look inside your heart and…stop wasting time. You may have to do work with yourself that is truly hard. And you may have to deal with feelings you buried in the past. But while romantic love, married love, is a beautiful thing – it isn’t the only thing. You are more than your relationship status, so much more! And you are not alone, no matter how utterly single you are this Valentine’s Day. In fact, you are loved.

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6 responses

14 02 2013
Mary Beth Helgens

Hi Jen!

Much LOVE to you this Valentine’s Day!

I am so humbled and inspired by reading your authentic and brutally honest post. People don’t have to be single to resonate with the beauty of your honest sharing. Being reminded to be grateful for the many blessings we have,,, and the gift of those who love us… is an important reminder for each and every one of us.

I love the description of love in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13.

In summation…LOVE NEVER FAILS! “Love believes all things. hopes all things, endures all things”. The love you are extending to yourself is now the foundation for all your relationships. The people in your life are blessed to call you friend.

I am a better person for having read your post today. Thank you!

With love,
Mary Beth

14 02 2013
jenion

Mary Beth:

Thanks for your reply – it really touched me! You have been so much on my mind the last two days, as I’ve watched Kylie experiencing the joy and excitement of her engagement to Derick. I love that one of her favorite things about the process was the opportunity to share their immediate happiness with you and the rest of their families. I am so happy for all of you!

1 Corinthians 13 has always been one of my favorites, too. I’ve always thought that if I could remember those lines and check myself against them when my heart is heading down a less true path, I would be so much closer to the person I hope to be!

I could never have foreseen what a gift you would be in my life – both in your own right and because of the wonderful person you raised in Kylie – but I am often grateful for the surprise!

Love,

Jen

14 02 2013
Amy Ressler

Hey there … thanks for this incredibly powerful, insightful, painful, beautiful expression of heartfelt emotion. What a great writer you are! What a beautiful person you are! What a wonderful soul you are! I am so grateful to know the beauty of your existence and the opportunity to apprehend the majesty of you.

14 02 2013
jenion

Amy, I sometimes look back on our college years and cringe. I’ve worked with college students my entire professional career, so I know I was no different from most…but I can see how lacking in self-awareness (yet so self-absorbed) I was. I have often thought, in the time since we’ve been FB friends and I’ve been following your adventures from afar, that I missed out in a big way by not getting to know you better. I appreciate the beautiful things you said in your comment – but I hope you know I think the same about you and how you’ve expressed your own unique and beautiful soul in this world! Thanks, and Happy Valentine’s Day, my friend!

14 02 2013
srfcreativestudio

Wishing you a very Happy Valentines Day Jen with all the love I can send! Your post as always is very moving and motivating. As I read your post I just want to take all that pain away and fix it for you, but knowing I can’t really do that.You are taking the right steps all on your own to heal and become a new and better person. A rare opportunity that most people pass up. Words (my words anyway) can not describe how proud I am to know you. You also have a gift of inspiration and motivation. I am sure there are many times when you listened to me whine about my husband you probably felt like punching me… and rightly so, how ungrateful I am sometimes. You have inspired me to be more appreciative and grateful of what I have instead of concentrating on what I don’t think is right. From now on I am going to live knowing that the “grass is pretty damn green” on my side and stop looking over the fence. Thank you again for sharing

14 02 2013
marionpatterson

Well written, Jen. Thank you.

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