Four “Love lessons” from a begrudgingly closet romantic…
Aaah Valentines, the most romantic, or miserable day of the year. Entirely dependent on one defining factor: a fulfilling romantic relationship. [“Fulfilling” “romantic” and “relationship”, are all intentionally ambiguous words here. Read on!] Valentine’s is a day we owe to the Catholics, in particular Saint Valentine. Back in the 3rd century, as the Roman Empire was de-Paganising, a festival called Lupercalia which was held mid-February to celebrate fertility and the coming of spring was replaced with Saint Valentine's day to commemorate the Christian martyr who was executed on the 14th of February. Over time, the celebration as well as Saint Valentine became associated with romance and love and so Valentine’s day evolved into what it is today.
To celebrate the day, and as a begrudgingly closet romantic, I would like to share with you some lessons in love I’ve collected along the way. Of course, love and romance are deeply individual experiences. For that reason I don’t expect that these ‘love lessons’ will resonate with everyone. I would like to encourage your feedback, any thoughts or disagreements, or submissions of your own work to bring new perspectives to Dis-Course. Furthermore, a quick reminder that Dis-Course is always open to submissions. If you have any work that you would like to publish, please send them my way via our contact link below!
Modern romance has no blueprint…
The conventional western idea of what a relationship looks like is a shoe that fits a very specific foot. It is heteronormative, cisgendered, and monogamous. It was also historically built off the back of the unpaid labour of women in the home. While this shoe, and variations of it for that matter may be the right fit for some - which is entirely understandable, it is familiar after all - not everyone aspires for the white picket fence anymore. The entire topography of a romantic relationship is shifting. As we move away from conventionality, and embrace diversity in gender and sexuality we also move away from this previously set blueprint. This migration is a double edged sword. The blueprint is comfortable to most, it’s well defined, it’s familiar. Venturing into non-monogamy and unlearning the reactions we have been taught to have feels like reinventing the wheel. To most, it is not a necessary topic of thought. The existing wheel works just fine.
These topographical shifts in relationships are varied. Whether they be a smaller shift with the existence of women in the workforce and thus, less in the home or an entirely new* approach to romantic relationships in the form of polyamory, the shifts are multifaceted, but undeniable. The way I see it, this change brings an exciting time for exploration and discovery. Allowing yourself to let go of ‘the blueprint’ whatever it may mean for you, is a doorway to explore what the profile of an ideal relationship can look like for you. Yes, this process takes a lot of time, energy, and unlearning. But ultimately it is a process of self discovery. Our romantic relationships take such a large slice of the pie chart that is our lives that we might as well tailor them to look exactly how we want them to. Be open to creating your own manual on love.
*There are many examples of polyamory and queer relationships throughout the roots of history. However, they have not been accepted or adopted by Western cultures which have been the dominant deciders of norms over the past centuries.
Jealousy is a non-feeling…
On the topic of blueprints and how the topography of relationships are changing, non-monogamy has taught me a lot about jealousy. Mainly that it is not a primary emotion. It’s a word we use to describe some underlying fear or impulse which we either lack the emotional vocabulary for, or the willingness to be vulnerable. In my experience, jealousy is the result of a conglomeration of emotions bubbling to the surface and not finding a healthy outlet. Thus, finding routes of anger, resentment, possession, or bottled insecurity. The most prominent times I have felt jealous have been when I did not feel secure in myself or my relationship. This is not to say that the only people who experience jealousy have unhealthy relationships or that my relationship was unhealthy. Far from it. I think we feel jealous when we fear that we will lose something. When we have something worth losing.
The only way to combat this feeling is to do what the water buffalos do when they see a storm brewing. Run straight into it. Discuss your jealousy with your partner(s). This may seem like a daunting feat, but a relationship is built upon holding space for each other. Your respective jealousies are parts of your emotional landscapes that deserve space. Not only do they deserve space, but they need it in order to be resolved. Resentment grows when you cannot discuss your insecurities, if you cannot find solace and comfort in your partner.
Jealousy is like mold. The more you ignore it the more it grows and the more toxic it gets. Yet it's one of the most taboo and difficult feelings to admit to. Perhaps you don’t want to seem possessive and controlling. Perhaps you don’t want your partner to think you’re insecure and irrational. Or maybe you don’t want to give your partner “the upper hand” by admitting your vulnerability to them. -Which, if vulnerability feels like defeat, there's a whole other can of worms to address that far exceeds the scope of this particular paragraph-. The truth is, your jealousy does probably stem from some level of one or more of these things. Perhaps it is insecure, irrational, controlling, and possessive. All the most vile and difficult to accept afflictions. But you have to get your hands dirty to clean the gutters. Talk about why you feel possessive or insecure. Dissect it, unlearn it, and heal from it.
None of this is to say that jealousy should be given space in all circumstances. There are times when it truly does come from a toxic or possessive space. In those cases, leave the water buffaloes to their storm. Instead, opt to run the other way. There are some circumstances when someone's jealousy has formed a mind of its own. It is neither your fault nor your responsibility to heal someone else's mis-alligned neural pathways. No matter how much you may care for them. “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm”.
Don't water the garden of those who don’t ask for it…
I read an anecdote the other day. It went like this: a woman moves into a new house. She quickly settles in. She fills it with flowers and art and the scent of freshly baked cookies. When she is done fixing up the house, she turns her attention to the garden. One that is shared with the adjacent neighbour, a business man with little time for the smaller pleasures of life. The garden has an arbitrary border constructed by a row of pebbles. She fixes her side of the garden up. She plants lavender and orchids and it soon becomes a haven of bees, butterflies, beetles and caterpillars. Halted only by the border of pebbles, she turns her attention to the business man’s garden. Little by little, his garden too becomes a haven, endowed by an assortment of colourful bugs.
One day, the man knocks on her door in a rage. “You planted a peach tree!” he says. “There is nothing I hate more than peaches! Take it down at once”. The woman, heartbroken, rips the sapling from its roots and stops caring for his side of the garden. It soon deteriorates back into a sea of overgrown grey shrubs. “You might read this and resent the man” continued the anecdote. “But notice how he never asked her to tend to the garden”. She took that task upon herself with no prompt or request from the man. She put hours of care and labour into the garden and she was the one to get hurt and waste her time. The concluding sentence read “Don’t water the garden of those who don’t ask for it”
Many of us tend to take it upon ourselves to do unwelcome emotional labour and become resentful when the efforts are not reciprocated. If you are giving 120% to someone who only has 10% to allocate, the disparity in energies are bound to result in animosity. If someone is clear that they will not reciprocate your efforts, either verbally or through their actions, your labour is misplaced. It is up to you to be receptive to these messages. Evaluate the efforts in your relationships. Are you watering a garden that would rather be left alone? Perhaps it doesn't desire to be left alone but is unappreciative. Either way, preserve your 120% for someone who will match your investment.
Romance is not reserved for another…
The same way that sex is sometimes better alone, so is love. I know there are a lot of “treat yourself” “you can’t love someone else until you love yourself” quotes out there. Often plastered over some generic sunset stock photo with a squiggly font. This love lesson is not that. I absolutely believe you can love someone before you love yourself. It’s more a matter of learning to love yourself right so you learn how to be loved for your worth. I received a bit of advice the other day -in the form of an Instagram Reel-: “Learn to love your loneliness, it’s what protects you from giving yourself away to all the wrong [people]”. I agree that loneliness is not a comfortable feeling. Especially the fundamental, isolated type. But when I think about memories of my favourite Valentine’s days, two come to mind. Both are post-breakup. Both involve me, at a cafe alone, writing.
Don’t settle for anyone less than those who give you the feeling your favourite activity brings you on the turn of the seasons. Find fulfilment in your solitude. Not only will it equip you to accept better love, but it will make you a better lover. It’s astounding how quickly your insecurities fall away when you know that what most equate with the worst case scenario -being alone- to you is really not so bad after all. We are taught all the ways we should exist in relationships. Either by the relationships we observe growing up, the films we can quote every line of, or playlists full of ballads. We are not taught how to learn to love ourselves. Even rarer so, how to be loved. The poet said: “We accept the love we think we deserve” Love yourself to the brink of narcissism and back. Bring yourself laughter, tears, pleasure; and the love that comes your way will start to mimic the joy you bring yourself.
Happy Valentine’s Day, dear reader. Thank you for being the reason I got to spend this Valentine’s sitting alone at a cafe, talking to you.