LISA SCHLESINGER, LCSW-C
What if Valentine’s Day had more to do with our infancy or early childhood then the here and now? Even when you have no conscious memory of your early childhood, you may have a sense about the quality of love you received. You may have memories of being loved or cherished. Perhaps your memories are of being tolerated or unwanted. This earliest sense or memory of being loved, cared for, or possibly unwanted shapes our capacity to love.
Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day, the holiday evokes in us sensorial memories about the nature of our early life. Valentine’s Day may put a silent pressure on us to remember our earliest days, whether we are aware of it or not. Our longings to be special are stimulated by this holiday. Singles wish that they could find someone to love and who can love them back. Divorcees wish for another chance at love. Valentine’s Day stirs up pain in individuals who seem to search endlessly for an ideal love; so, you ask what does this have to do with Valentine’s Day?
As a Psychoanalyst, I work with people who struggle with love. For some, love is a foreign idea only imaginable in a romantic movie. For others, obtaining a relationship is a hurdle, while for some love is fleeting. Some people believe that love never measures up to the original care they got from their parents. Some believe love means never having a life outside of one’s partner’s life. With certain couples love takes the form of fighting and thrives on the ups and downs. For others love is mutual.
Here are some scenarios to keep it real… imagine a woman named Susie expected that she would be married before age 30. Her parents modeled a committed marriage with the typical ups and downs. She wonders about how she ended up alone and thinks about her missed opportunity for love. Valentine’s Day reminds her of another year passing without her dream of a loving relationship.
A woman named Judy whose parents gave her everything that money could buy. She married Joe, who has a good profession but didn’t grow up with materialistic wealth. He had two loving parents who were affectionate and openly expressed their love for him. Now the couple is married and Joe feels Valentine’s Day is like any other day where he can express his love for his wife. Alternatively, Judy’s idea of love is to be celebrated with lavish gifts and lots of affection. Judy would do anything to get Joe to behave like she is accustomed. Her mission to “fix” Joe, leaves her feeling frustrated and misunderstood.
Now, take the hopeless romantic who waits all year for Valentine’s Day… she is anticipating a big celebration, consistent with her fond memories of her childhood celebrations. She lives in the past and expects that her boyfriend will treat her like her parents did, only to feel disappointed.
A woman named Jane imagines that she will celebrate many Valentine’s Days with her husband Tom who unfortunately died of cancer at age 35. Jane mourns each passing year wishing for someone to love. The love she experienced in the past will never amount to any love she could feel presently. Valentine’s Day is a painful day for Jane.
The irony is that Valentine’s Day is not only about love. It can evoke difficult experiences for people such as: feeling excluded or a third wheel, feeling lonely, and it can stimulate envy. But, love is a broad topic and can be associated with many different feelings. There are many stories depicting the history of Valentine’s Day, but in every tale there is a “wish” to matter and to be somebody special. So often, in practicing therapy, I encounter people who suffer with difficulties in loving relationships which stem from their history.
My recommendation is to think about yourself from within and to think about how your disappointments with love have to do with you. It is important to remember that this is just one day in your life. Make it a day to celebrate all the people you love.