Valen­tine’s Day: Love never ar­rives too late

Texarkana Gazette - - OPINION - Gina Bar­reca

On the front of the first Valen­tine’s Day card I ever re­ceived was the fol­low­ing: “Be­fore I met you, Valen­tine, I didn’t know what love was.” On the in­side of the card: “Now it’s too late.”

I didn’t re­al­ize at the time that the smart-alecky tone em­bod­ied by that ini­tial bil­let-doux would, for the next five decades of my life, shape and re­flect my un­der­stand­ing of ro­mance and love.

I talk for a liv­ing, but it’s still hard to talk about love, es­pe­cially when it’s of­fi­cially man­dated by the calen- dar. (Men, of course, think Valen­tine’s Day is a woman-dated oc­ca­sion.) It’s hard to talk about love be­cause most of the time, we have no idea what we’re talk­ing about. We mut­ter; we fum­ble; we blush; we pur­chase plush toys. None of it makes sense.

And I say this as a woman who loves her spouse and is loved by her spouse. We’ve been mar­ried to each other for 28 years. We are still fig­ur­ing out what love means and are still hav­ing fun gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion on the topic.

For Michael, love means shov­el­ing the walk, deal­ing with the taxes and tak­ing the garbage to the dump. It means be­ing happy to see me when I come back from hav­ing given a talk on the other side of the coun­try, even if he has to wait at the air­port be­cause the plane is late, which it in­evitably is. It means ded­i­cat­ing his book to me. It means mak­ing me laugh. Love means not giv­ing me a cook­book as a gift, which he did on our first Valen­tine’s Day to­gether and never, ever did again.

For me, love means cook­ing fab­u­lous food that we both eat to­gether al­most ev­ery night (“fab­u­lous” can mean seared sea scal­lops with lob­ster or a grilled cheese sand­wich). Love means keep­ing the cats fed, their boxes clean and their fur shiny so that when they sit on his lap in the evening—pre­fer­ring him to me as they do—they are ideal crea­tures. It means not be­ing bit­ter that, even though I do all that work, the cats pre­fer him to me. It means learn­ing how to iden­tify makes and mod­els of cars, both for­eign and do­mes­tic, go­ing back to 1957, when Michael had a Chevy of which he still dreams. It means keep­ing tabs on all birthdays, buy­ing gifts for all oc­ca­sions and pre­par­ing for all hol­i­days, in­clud­ing re­mind­ing him that since Feb. 14 is on the hori­zon, he should be driv­ing off to a card store.

One of our ways of say­ing “I love you” is to say “Be care­ful driv­ing.” I’m not kid­ding. “Care­ful driv­ing” is the in­ti­mate phrase we whis­per in each other’s ears be­fore go­ing to sleep. It has noth­ing to do with that Chevy, ei­ther. We also say “I love you,” be­cause they’re im­por­tant words, even if we’re still fig­ur­ing out the mean­ing.

Plenty of folks de­fine love by em­ploy­ing the neg­a­tive. Shake­speare spent a whole lot of time de­lin­eat­ing what love isn’t: “Love is not love which al­ters when it al­ter­ation finds”; “What is love? ‘Tis not here­after”; “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.”

The Bi­ble tells us that love doesn’t envy, boast or keep records of wrongs, nor is it proud or self-seek­ing.

Even that ul­ti­mate author­ity, ABBA, as­serts that “Love isn’t easy.”

So what is it? It’s an un­but­ton­ing of the self. Not an un­but­ton­ing of the cloth­ing cov­er­ing your sexy self, but the re­as­sur­ance that, with­out any cam­ou­flage, cover-ups or com­pro­mise, you’re safe. You’re in the pres­ence of an­other per­son who would rather be with you than with any­one else.

Love is a gift, and as such, it can’t be earned. One of the most puz­zling as­pects of love is its lack of jus­tice. It’s un­fair. Love can elude peo­ple who seem to de­serve it while it’s heaped on those who ap­pear to ig­nore it, run from it, or slough it off as too re­stric­tive.

Love is in­con­ve­nient. Love is un­tidy. Love is re­lent­less, ruth­less and ra­pa­cious. Done well, it’s hi­lar­i­ous, play­ful and re­demp­tive.

And un­like what that orig­i­nal Valen­tine’s Day card an­nounced, I have learned that love, when­ever it ar­rives, is never too late.

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