High above the city, glasses clinked throughout the room as happy couples toasted to their romantic good fortune. Fine linens, tuxedoed servers, and bottles of champagne littered the rooftop restaurant. Soft light, soft music and softly dressed men and women created a layer of elegance that swirled atop an undercurrent of anticipation.
It was an important day, after all. And not just any day, but the most important day for displaying your relationship status to the world. Sitting across from me was my own newly-acquired relationship status. It was the first time in my life that I had had a Valentine, and for once I was glad to fit in with the rest of the world.
I glanced at my date, somewhat shyly, unsure of how to act. He was strikingly handsome, but his appearance wasn’t exactly easy to pin down. One minute his hair was dark and curly and the next it seemed to be a little lighter and straighter, almost windswept. His eyes shifted between a deep blue and a brilliant green, sometimes almost even brown. But it must have just been the light, because people’s eyes don’t do that.
In many ways my Valentine was still a stranger to me, yet there was something familiar about him as well. It was like his presence reached down into my soul and pulled out feelings I had long pushed away. Maybe love? No, it was too early for love.
“Back to our conversation,” he said with that cherubic smile. “Is it really true that this is your first Valentine’s Day with a Valentine?”
Ugh. It’s true he hadn’t been my Valentine for long, but if this night was just going to turn into yet another why-am-I-still-single dating conversation, I think I’d rather go back to eating takeout at home alone.
“Yes it is,” I said in return, with a somewhat forced smile. “Is this your first Valentine’s Day with a Valentine as well?”
“Oh no,” he said. “I’ve had many Valentines.”
Terrific. This thing was just getting started and it was already headed downhill.
Just then the waitress came over to take our order. She had dark hair and a pretty mouth, although her eyes looked sad and she seemed a little frazzled from the rush of the evening.
I looked up at her and tried to give her an encouraging smile. “I’ll have the sirloin, please. Medium rare.” My date looked up at her, his eyes now deep blue and a sudden reddish tint in his hair. “I’ll have the salmon,” he said, giving her one of his brilliant, melt-your-heart smiles. She smiled back and walked off, a new pep in her stride as she went.
“No seriously,” he said again, “I know you hate the topic, but on a day like Valentine’s Day, I want to talk about love. I want to know your thoughts on why so many people are staying single longer, and why people seem to be so quick to leave relationships when things don’t turn out the way they expected.”
“Well,” I responded, taking the bait, “I don’t think it’s as simple as you make it out to be. Life is messy. It’s not like people are trying to avoid love. I think everybody wants to be loved. But perhaps we are losing a bit of institutional knowledge about how to love.”
Just then a couple to our right started to argue. Something about secretaries making reservations and long weekends working in other offices. My date looked at them, his eyes suddenly sad and heavy, as though the strain of the fight was borne on his shoulders.
He looked back at me and said, “So many issues could be fixed if people took the time to love. How many of the world’s problems ultimately boil down to basic loneliness? Gang activity, human trafficking, teen pregnancy, extramarital affairs, drug use, alcoholism – how many of those start with the need for belonging and human interaction?”
“That may be true,” I admitted, “but what do we do about it? No matter what, there is always going to be loneliness, even in the midst of an otherwise healthy relationship.”
“That’s a fair point,” he admitted, “but does that mean it’s not worth exploring?”
Now fully engaged in the topic, I leaned in eagerly. “Alright Cupid, what would you propose? What is your solution for ending loneliness?”
Just then my alarm went off. Startled, I rolled over in my empty bed and grabbed my phone off the nightstand. It was 6:00 AM, February 14th.