I’ve never really been into Valentine’s Day.
Well, I should clarify, romantically. I am all for fake holidays. I have been known to throw National Cookie Day parties and celebrate National Ice Cream day like the holiday deserves. So Valentine’s has always been a good excuse to buy chocolate (50% off the next day!), send friends cutesy, punny, ridiculous cards that are targeted for children, and obviously celebrate my gals like Leslie Knope taught us. Even the times I happened to have a boyfriend for the occasion, February 14th felt the same as July 17th or November 3rd. In my book, you never need an excuse for a cute card or surprise chocolate. That happens year round.
But this year I found myself ordering Valentine’s Day gifts a month ahead of time. I planned an epic galentines (guys and girls!) virtual Netflix party, complete with the same snacks from Target being delivered to all our doors. I scoured Etsy to find the perfect chocolate treat to show up on my friend’s porch. I venmoed some of my favorite ladies a surprise coffee-on-me Saturday morning surprise. Valentine’s, this year, felt as exciting as Christmas.
Was it my first married Valentine’s? Yes. And while that may have contributed, last year RJ stood me up for our gym date and we ended up eating Domino’s pizza and fighting over the toppings. All that to say, we aren’t really a Valentine’s couple.
I told my friends, as I was most definitely going obsessively overboard to plan a virtual movie night, I just needed something to look forward to. What else are we doing to keep ourselves sane lately? With every day blending into the next as we are going on a year in this new world of ours, a bright spot on the calendar is very needed. But also? I felt the need more than ever to remind the people I love how much I love them, how much I need them, how grateful I am for them. Sometimes that’s a sweet text message, a nice card in the mail – sometimes it’s a Target box with pretzel M&Ms, white cheddar popcorn, and matching mugs.
I recently finished Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. While you will really love the book if you’re an avid Call Your Girlfriend listener (I am!), anyone will enjoy it. Two best friends co-author the account of becoming best friends, then co-workers ….and then almost strangers. They discuss missed communications, avoiding dealing with issues, and actually going to therapy together to save the relationship. It was so refreshing to read a book about adult friendships (why do we never discuss this??); it was also healing to read them describe things I never had words for. ‘Stretching’ as your friendship goes through a change – and you both have to choose if you’re going to stretch to meet each other in the new place, with new needs and expectations. Shine Theory, which isn’t new if you’ve listened to their podcast. ‘Big Friendship’ is how they coin the kind of friendships that are rare and special and lifelong. They discuss how hard it is to make good friends as you get older(!!!). They normalize therapy. They talk to actual experts and try to get to the bottom of what so much of us experience in platonic relationships, but rarely hear talked about.
Reading their story made me extra grateful for mine. The friends who immediately clicked. The friendships that took time to develop. The people who have stretched for me, the people I am willing to stretch for. The people who have pushed me to be my best and the people who have called me out when I’m leaning towards my worst. Almost every chapter left me wanting to call or text a friend I was thankful for, reach out to someone to make sure they knew how important they are to me.
Ultimately, it was so refreshing to read a love story that mimics what some of the greatest loves of my life have been: my girl friends.
The same week as Valentine’s Day was H’s birthday. I knew it was coming, I knew it was going to be hard – but I wasn’t ready for what it was. She’s only been gone 6 months, but it somehow felt like the anniversary of her death. In this weird season where time passing feels like swimming in a pool of jello, it can feel like nothing is changing for other people. When you are no longer physically living life with people, seeing them on a regular basis – it feels like their life just paused where it was. If you don’t see it up close and personal, it can’t be real, right? So her birthday – a very stark reminder of time passing, of a new year – was one of the first times she really, truly felt gone.
Last year I posted a poem on Ash Wednesday. She commented on it, saying how much it connected to her. This year I shared the same one, and had an overwhelming sadness she wouldn’t read it this time. There’s so many small, mundane reminders of “this time last year”. It makes her feel closer, in a strange way. I wonder how long it will take for these little memories to fade away. The big things, the obvious parts of her – I hope I’ll never lose. But the small moments? The seemingly insignificant jokes and comments and gifs – how long will those stay with me? Is part of the grieving process grieving the passage of time? I want to stay close to it all, close to the days I can say “this time last year we were talking about this” instead of, years from now, “I had a friend once who…”
I am learning Big Friendship brings Big Grief. They go hand in hand.
A month before I met RJ, I remember throwing a fit with God. My best friends in San Diego, my safe places for so long, had slowly started moving (geographically) away. I had stood by and watched friend after friend fall in love. I was happy for them, but I was also a little over it. “When is it my turn??” I demanded. “Where is my love story??”
She whispered back, “You’re living it”.
And God, as She always is, was right. I was working at a job I enjoyed, with co-workers who were actually my friends. I was going to seminary in my free time, something I both enjoyed and felt like I was being led to do. And best of all? I was so known by so many wonderful people. Friends who bought me flowers and chocolate when I had rough days, friends who called me out on my shit and called me to be better, friends who may have lived farther away but didn’t let that distance diminish our friendship. I was part of not one, but two community groups at a church that truly felt like family to me. I had built a life that wasn’t easy or perfect, but that I loved. What better love story is there?
RJ changed my life. I’m not denying that. Falling in love with him, discovering this kind of love existed – is something I in no way deserve but am so, so grateful for. Maybe newlywed bliss is part of why Valentine’s Day meant so much to me, why I went all in this year. But as grateful as I am for a funny, kind, generous, intelligent, handsome husband – I’m grateful that falling in Big Love hasn’t changed my other loves. It’s just made them even sweeter.