Valentine’s Day is a strange sort of holiday in the US. Really the only holiday on our calendar that can be viewed as a fairly frank celebration of carnal and romantic love, it just isn’t about children, cherubs, deities, saints, religion – or even cards, flowers, or candy. It’s not. It’s about romance. It’s about sex. It’s about the erotic and sensuous in life and the things that excite us about Love. Oh, I’m sure there are pre-school children everywhere happily giving and receiving lovely red paper cards with cartoon characters, cherubs, or hearts on them, and no doubt people will give friends and parents, or even colleagues, cute cards of one sort or another with some sap-tastic message of affection, and in some years it seems history books and the internet all but eliminate any discussion of sex, let alone holidays that might be sexual… but seriously? Look again at that stylized heart, please? That’s pretty representative of female genitalia. That arrow? Huh. Don’t you think it is curiously suspect, and perhaps more than a little phallic? Sure, sure, hetero-centric obviously. If you’re willing to move past that with me, can we at least acknowledge that the messaging is predominantly sexual – and admit that’s totally ok? Why not have a holiday to celebrate how awesome sex is? My sexual identity, the meaning and value of my sexual experiences, are a large part of ‘who I am’. It would be nice, what with all the conservative right-wing anti-sex messaging, to have a more honest holiday celebrating sex… but as a culture we are clearly not there yet. (No doubt part of the price we pay for allowing Puritans to ‘found a nation’!)

I actually do ‘celebrate’ Valentine’s Day every year. It’s not about religion, or rituals, or necessity, or obligation. It’s not about Hallmark, spending money, or competitive gift giving. For me it is simply a day set aside on which I take a moment to express to my partners, individually, that they are precious to me as romantic sexual beings in my life, and that I value those qualities about them that make them sexy and exciting to me, qualities that feel good – qualities of emotion and elements of our sensuous experience together. This year, when I was writing the wee notes on the hand-sketched cards, I found myself in the midst of an eye-opening moment of self-appreciation… I was about to write ‘Be My Valentine’ on a card… it rang in my thoughts ‘Be Mine’… and although my consciousness quickly flashed through all the iterations of semantic weirdness that develop around that turn of phrase in a poly-amorous relationship, the thing that hit me hardest was… ‘what about me?’ (It wasn’t as hideously narcissistic as it may sound in the telling, now.)

I’ve been struggling a lot recently with some deeply meaningful personal challenges that are intertwined with deeply personal events in my life, troubling elements of my history, feelings of loss, anxiety, and fear, and trying to build healthy relationships while I destroy unhealthy bits and pieces of who I am, myself. Complicated self work and it drives a lot of difficult emotional experiences. A thought hit me last night, and I woke with something less half-baked and more of an epiphany this morning. On some levels, my life and experience really are entirely ‘all about me’ – and can’t be anything else.  It does matter to me when one of my partners is hurting through my actions, words, or choices – perhaps it has mattered too much. Their opinions, their evaluations, their judgements are still their own. I can’t own that, even if it causes me pain, and even if they are factually correct and reasonable in their view.  It’s my own opinion, evaluation, and judgement of myself and my actions, and choices, that must count most with me… or I face my life in constant pain, frustration, and disappointment, while lacking the potential joy in the good things about me that may go unnoticed by others. I’m the only one on the inside of my experience. I’m the only one who hears my words from within my thoughts, and the only one who truly knows my heart. I am the only person in my life who has been along for the entire journey.  I have been letting hurt – my own and my lovers’, come between my existence and my experience (that probably doesn’t convey what I’m trying to say…).  I love my partners.  Their hurts matter to me enormously.  Their insights into my strengths and weaknesses are valuable to me.  I have a great respect for what they share with me about their perspective on who I am, and what their experience with me is like for them… and this morning I actually understand that this doesn’t change that their perspective, and their experience, are not mine.  How very liberating this feels!

I’m 49. I am living an amazing life, filled with tragedies, triumphs, pain, fun, confusion, trauma, learning, joy, opportunities, chances, choices – both good and less so – and this wild ride is far from over.  I have an amazing – if slightly damaged – brain, and a creative drive that is astonishing to live with. I have a compassionate nature at this point in my life that causes me great joy, now, and great shame for the way I treated people when I was younger. I have some measure of wisdom, largely gained through profound errors in judgement and poor decision-making. I know how to cry, and I am also a woman of proven strength, will, and candor. I’m funny. I’m wordy. I enjoy the things that give me pleasure with a will to surrender to those moments that most people don’t seem willing to explore. I grieve the things that hurt me most with a frightening level of abandon, and a clear lack of control, that scares me. I am a reasoning, free-will adult with decades of experience. I am sometimes a child, still too eager to please.  I am sexy… stronger than I know, and always when I need it most… prepared for more things that I can list, and well able to plan for anything.  I love a lot of who I am.  How did I lose sight of that? Because someone I love got mad at me? Because I disappointed someone? Made some bad choices? I think this year, I will be my own Valentine – and love me for all the wonderful things I do for me, how well I have survived thus far, and the amazing potential I have in my future.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I don’t belong to someone else (neither do you!) – I think I will ‘be mine’.