Yesterday, on 2/13/2013, I did two things that are, for me, vanishingly rare: one, I went to a mall, and, two, without blinking, I dropped $130 on lingerie.
Not because I have a hot Valentine’s Day date (I don’t), and not because I’m upset that I don’t have a hot Valentine’s Day date (I’m not). Just because, well, the bras and panties were there and I was here and I’ve been working out and have a nice tan from my trip to India and I sorta liked the idea of titillating myself just a bit.
Ahem. I know how that last phrase reads. But won’t be deleting it because we’re all adults here, and last Sunday, at a Chinese New Year celebration, I received a fortune that read, “Do everything with confidence.”
So I am.
A good motto for 2013, I think, particularly as it’s a dangerous-sounding kind of year, what with the 13 and the zero rubbing up on each other in such an immodest manner.
Let’s count backward: At 20, on Valentine’s Day, I was working up the mettle to dump my college boyfriend and move to France. At 13, on Valentine’s Day, I was at a Steven Segal movie with my very first boyfriend, to whom I’d given Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy” album as a token of my affection. In return, he’d given me my first, slobbery kiss, on my best friend’s couch, while a small crowd of hormonal fellow adolescents shrieked and giggled in the next room.
I selected my lacy under things with the help of my oldest and best friend. In Victoria’s Secret, we giggled at the clueless, disoriented male human types out solo shopping for their female companions.
“They keep buying, like, just slips for their girlfriends, and I’m like, ‘You need a bra to go with that!’” the saleswoman lamented, tossing us an eye roll so spirited and indulgent that the colored part of her eyeballs disappeared completely, for just a moment.
I watched a sort of trashy-looking guy in Lee jeans and work boots attempting to pair a set of pink, lace-trimmed “Cheeky Panties” with a red push-up bra, but bravely resisted the temptation to intervene.
His battle, alone, I decided. I’ve got plenty of my own dragons to slay.
Today is Feb. 14. The lacy under things came with a free box of chocolates, which I’ve just picked my way through. I’ve sampled champagne, pistachio cream, and passion fruit fillings, and I’m feeling nauseated and philosophical from the endeavor.
Ah, Valentine’s Day.
I don’t mean to sit down today and write a manifesto on love. How pompous. How grand. What do I know about love, besides? I’ve got a comet’s tail of ended relationships dragging behind me, which either makes me the best or the worst person to speak on the subject, but I’m not sure which.
I’ve had dozens of boyfriends; I’ve said, “I love you” to six men among those dozens; and I’ve really, really, meant it thee of those six times.
My freewheeling lifestyle, my addiction to world travel and my restless nature have conspired to make long-term relationships difficult, indeed.
But oh, have I tried!
A year ago, I was milling around a kitchen on the Oregon coast preparing homemade chocolate truffles for my then-live-in-boyfriend, gulping down a thick wad of secret doubt and trepidation.
Six months ago, I was newly single, settling into my new Portland home, and smarting from the betrayal of a very old friend whom I’d convinced myself I loved, and, worse, whom I’d convinced myself loved me back. Neither was true. Or maybe one was, but who can know which by now?
Two months ago, I’d just been dumped by a man I was dating casually, the week before Christmas. That stung, too, but I forgot him quickly, with the assistance of about a gallon of red wine and a 600-piece puzzle I jigsawed together alone every night until my disappointment abated and I was staring at the visage of a hairy wizard in his treasure-strewn lair and Christmas Eve finally arrived in all its amnesiac, tryptophanic glory.
One month ago, I was on a second-class Sri Lankan train, chugging joyfully along the edge of the Arabian Sea, halfway through my South Asian travels and reeling with new inspiration and ideas.
Now I’m home, and single, and feeling pretty darned good, aside from the whole chocolate-induced coma thing.
Still, I suppose the holiday must be working subtly on my subconscious in some ways.
Exhibit A: See last paragraph of previous section.
Exhibit B: That lingeire.
Exhibit C: Last night, I dreamt I’d slept with 135 people and was tasked with confessing this to everyone I met, which was about as enjoyable as it sounds. But it’s not what you think. My dream self was simply cognizant that these events had, at some point, come to pass, and I was feeling rather shame-faced and Retroactively Puritanical about the whole thing.
Do I buy the premise of love anymore, at all?
From what I’ve seen, marriage seems like mostly a sham, or at least a massive setup for train wreck-style failures of unimaginable sorts.
But I can’t reject the concept of standalone love. Not entirely. What could be more human than wanting to desire and be desired?
Maybe we’ve all fallen too in love with falling in love, and that’s why we can’t stop gorging ourselves to the retching point on its pursuit. It’s like that old, bad joke:
Why did the robber rob the bank?
Because that’s where the money was.
If you are not in a relationship, my question for you is this: if, when the day’s work was finished, you decided to sit alone at your desk in the waning February light wearing overpriced lingerie and feeding yourself chocolates until you felt ill, would that be embarrassing to cop to?
If you are in a relationship, my (only slightly incendiary) question for you is rather different: Are you going to shill out for chocolates and flowers and gigantic steaks and cheesy-ass dessert specials with your Somebody tonight to show them you love them, or do you love them because you shilled out for chocolates and flowers and gigantic steaks and cheesy-ass dessert specials?
Economists call it Sunk Costs theory: endeavors become increasingly difficult to abandon the more we invest in them.
They also become increasingly more appealing. A recent study called it the “IKEA Effect.” The more effort you put in to something, the better you convince yourself that something is, be it a crooked, tottering bookshelf or a romantic relationship.
“I built this,” you declare. And, just like some solitary, self-satisfied and eager Old Testament God, you look upon it and you see that it is good. Even if, really, it’s not.
But if I were a God, I like to think I’d be of the non-judgmental, not-smiting sort. After all, we’re all of us Tiny Little Lovesick Humans trying so fucking hard so much of the time, and who can fault us for that? Posturing and preening and masking our true intentions with bravado and lust and shame as loves wave hello and then goodbye and time ticks ever onward.
What do all those moments add up to? All those individual ticks?
For so many years, I told myself my clock would chime, clamorously and finally, when my Forever Somebody-or-Other came sweeping in through the side door, gathered me into his arms and presented me with a mismatched, over-priced bra-and-panty set. And it would all be so beautiful and perfect that I wouldn’t even care that his teeth were crooked, or that he was preceded by everyone he had been preceded by, the good ones and the bad ones and the troubled and lonely and angry ones.
It hasn’t happened just yet. And I’m not holding my breath. I need it for too many other things.
My wish for all my friends on Valentine’s Day is that they take a moment to think about what they are building, with or without a partner, and why. Hang social norms, familial pressures, the squeeze of your chosen or given cultural institutions.
How does your particular project make you better? Just you, alone? That question has got to come first.
Now, I’m going for a jog.
Incidentally, two things I learned from pondering all of this.
- Both “Segal” (As in Steven) and “IKEA” are in Word’s spellcheck.
- “Enjoy your VD” is a deliciously ambiguous thing to say to another person, especially on the occasion of underwhelming, over-sexed consumer holidays. Try it.