Commentary: Valentine's Blues can be hurtful
At least it's on a Sunday. Friday and Saturday are the worst.
Second only to New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day is a surefire downer for those of us who find ourselves alone on a day when it seems that everyone else is happily in love. Of course, it's all silliness. Compared to cancer and earthquakes, compared to not having a job or a place to live, who cares about silly red hearts full of chocolates, or frilly cards and bouquets? Let Hallmark have its day. Let the florists' registers ring. Why should the rest of us care?
I wish I could have back every moment of my life that I lost bemoaning my loneliness -- not because everything turned out right, but because it did no good and never does. Cursing the rain does not make it stop. An umbrella is better.
At a time when more and more Americans are living alone -- some very happily, and some not so much -- Valentine's Day is almost an anachronism. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Many that don't are miserable. Couples that seem so perfect -- remember when John and Elizabeth Edwards seemed so well-matched, so much in love with each other -- often are anything but.
I remember sitting at a luncheon with all these fancy ladies, some of them married to Hollywood's leading celebrities and powerhouses, and me the only single woman in the group. I joked that I slept with a dog every night. A real dog, I mean -- my Labrador, Judy J. Estrich. "You're so lucky," said one, whose husband was and is a big movie star. I thought she was kidding. The rest of the women nodded in agreement. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. You don't have to be alone to be lonely.
My son was born on Feb. 12. We went home from the hospital on Feb. 14. It was the happiest Valentine's Day of my life. Sometimes it seems like yesterday, but it wasn't. It was 17 years ago. In one more year, my son, like my daughter, will go off to college, God willing. If I am lonely now, it will only get lonelier. That is the way of life.
So I didn't live happily ever after. So fairy tales don't come true. I know I am lucky and blessed. We are the luckiest people on the face of the globe, we who live in this great country, the home of the free and the brave. The task is to remember that amid all those lacy hearts.
I recently read a wonderful book called "Devotion" by Dani Shapiro. It is about one woman's search for meaning at midlife, a personal story, but also a universal one. She, too, is lucky and blessed -- blessed with a husband she loves, a healthy son, a beautiful home and a fulfilling career. But no one gets everything.
Her father died when she was in her early 20s. Her mother was beyond difficult, and their relationship was never good. Her son suffered a terrible illness at birth. She couldn't have the second child she wanted. No one gets everything, but unless they write a memoir, who's to know?
Early in the book, Shapiro finds a teacher, a Buddhist, who teaches her a simple mantra: "May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease." Not may I find my true love, and may he be tall, dark and handsome, and rich and loving. Not may I find myself on the receiving end of endless love. Safe. Happy. Strong. Live with ease. A Valentine you can give to yourself.
May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Happy Valentine's Day.
Susan Estrich's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.