I am coming up on my first Valentine’s Day as a married man. It is coming on the heels of my young family’s first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. The red and pink advertisements are reminding me that this year is different, that I have my best friend by my side. This year I have a voice and a face and an ally to go to bat for me against my brain chemistry. While historically I have not been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day, it serves an important purpose for my annual rhythm. This is one of the last First Holidays I will celebrate with my wife Miranda. For that reason, I have also circled Daylight Saving Time on my calendar exactly six weeks before our first anniversary. Because this will be our first Daylight Saving Time and something to celebrate with Miranda, who made her first trip with me through my darker months of depression.
This has been an incredible year. I got married, which is altogether different than falling in love. That happened a while ago, but this year I got to celebrate that love in the presence of friends, in the midst of business, and right in the thick of work travel and my brother’s wedding and my wife’s job and moving homes. But I got to celebrate.
This has been a hard year. I fought depression, which is altogether different than acknowledging sadness for the first time. That happened a while ago, but this year I had to weigh it against my anticipations and invitations and vow writing. But I had things to weigh it against.
Being married doesn’t make Valentine’s Day easier. For every opportunity we find to connect as a community, we will inevitably be reminded of things that can dampen our joy. Maybe those reasons are named Bitterness or Depression or Ex-whatever or Dad. It’s OK to acknowledge these things. The hope for any celebration is that the company we keep will be well served in distracting us for a while. This holds true in the day-to-day as well. Saying “I am in love” has never and will never make my depression vanish. But it grounds me in a deeper truth: that I am worth more than my brain, my body, and my brokenness. It reminds me that there are perspectives that are more accurate than mine. It promises that the sunlight will stay a little longer and that new memories await us.
We just got a new batch of interns a few weeks back. For the last few years, I’ve asked them during their first week to think about three words or concepts that define the most important aspects about them. For all the times I’ve walked through this exercise, I’ve never said “depressed” or “addict” or “tired.” Though these words may be true of my experiences, they are not the most important things about me. But maybe it can give you peace to know that I am these things too. So while shame might drive your eyes to meet your feet, you can take comfort in that we are sharing common ground.
Miranda has been the perfect companion, but this collection of words isn’t meant to praise her as much as it is intended to encourage you. I have this new love, yes. But I have had love all the while from friends and family and all things that give me perspective, context, and purpose. The difference this year is that the love I have is harder to escape now. I have a constant check in, a leveling voice. I cannot outrun her love any more than she can outrun mine. I am loved even when I don’t feel like I’m worth it. You are loved even – and especially – when you feel alone.
So if you feel alone, hear me: You are not alone because you are loved. Love laughs at the stale candies and clichéd cards that line shelves one week and trashcans the next. That is romance, and romance will not fix you. The deeper truth to love is that it is found in the desire to share yourself with others. Love often looks less like a hero and more like a companion, but it still has the ability to save you if you let it.
You don’t need to be ashamed if this Valentine’s Day feels cheesy or lonely. There are enough people on the planet to guarantee that thousands feel exactly like you do today. Love is not monopolized by any day or the status of your romantic relationships. Love wants you to know that we are thankful for you. That we celebrate and cry with you. Love won’t let you walk through this alone.