As the painful number of heart-shaped chocolate boxes, “I LOVE YOU THIS MUCH” cards, and various saccharine garbage begins to spread around my city’s shops like toxic mold in a dark, damp room, I am—once again—forced to stare my sad, lonely existence head-on, like a deer about to be run over by a semi-truck, soon to be ripped apart into two mightily unclean pieces, entrails strewn for roughly 1.32 miles. Yes, this is what Valentine’s Day has come to represent after four years of being single: Venison meat and a dark Ohio highway.
Given that you are well on the other side of this fence, with that whole kids/husband/house thing going for you—which, at this point, feels to me like a concept drafted in Latin for which I have only been given a Korean 101 manual to decipher—I thought I’d ask for a bit of your advice. Or, you know, to just keep my finger off the trigger. Or, better yet, pull it for me. I can’t even fathom the concept of suffering this “holiday” again next year.
My Dearest Jenny,
As I read your words of anticipatory Valentine’s angst, my initial thought was: “dark and Ohio are redundant.” And then I started to envision your bloody deer entrails forming haphazard pulsating hearts along the road—ironic Valentine’s performance art if you will—and how I’d bet my left nut (if I had a left nut) that that exact exhibit is currently on display in some hipster-packed gallery in Chelsea.
If nothing else, I think we’ve stumbled on the perfect title for your second novel: “Venison Meat and a Dark Ohio Highway: A Young Woman’s Journey to Find Her (Literal) Other Half.”
But you asked for my advice (which has got to be looking like a stellar idea right about now) and/or to intervene in your Pre Traumatic Valentine’s Day Stress Disordered self-murder, so I will try to focus.
To begin, I’m going to have to challenge your inference that the “whole kids/husband/house” trifecta that I have “going for me” somehow enhances my enjoyment of Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t even aware that the dreaded VD was on the horizon precisely because of that “whole kids/husband/house thing.” Heck, I’m thrilled on the rare occasion that I’m oriented within the correct season these days. But since you’ve reminded me and thus added Heart Day to the ruminative conveyor belt that is my daily train of thought, I will give you my take through the distorted prism that is the “whole kids/husband/house thing.
Kids and Valentine’s Day: One fucking word… CRAFTS. I am going to have to produce homemade Valentine’s Day cards for every child within 11 degrees of separation of my daughter this year, because her failure to provide one to Anastasia, with whom she once shared a sandbox, will set off a cascade of self-loathing events for little ‘Stasia, featuring acrylic nails, multiple baby daddies, and the dreaded midday shift at Bubba’s Booty Bungalow.
Why homemade cards, you ask? Pinterest. That’s why. Thanks to that scourge of a website, rational mothering has gone the way of the dodo. My store-bought Disney princess packs can’t compete anymore with my cohort’s homemade heart wreaths made of dried rose petals and feathers plucked from the chest of a baby robin. And so my ever-present mom guilt will send me into the maws of hell that is Michaels just before a holiday, where I’ll wander aimlessly through aisles of beads, scrapbook supplies, and silk flowers trying to locate various red items that might adhere to some paper product, all while trying to not to think about the snow maze scene from The Shining. I will then stay up all night assembling some masterpiece of pom-poms, Red Hots, and sequins after my daughter’s nonexistent frustration tolerance and inattention to detail cause her to depart the scene prematurely.
Husband and Valentine’s Day: My husband and I have been married for 6 years and the only Valentine’s Day I can remember was our first (when he had yet to seal the deal). He definitely brought his “A” game, which featured a five-course home-cooked meal and some sort of scavenger hunt for gifts. Honestly though, I think if either one of us were to do something like that now, we’d end up mocking and/or having to revive each other from shock. Not out of malice but because it would feel so inauthentic that we’d need to call one other out.
Romance is a tool for single people. That doesn’t mean it necessarily disappears after you’ve been together for a long time, it just transforms into something else. Something less “stealing a first kiss on a moon-lit street while the hint of snow gently falls.” I mean if you look up the definition of romance in the dictionary the fourth entry is “a baseless, made-up story, usually full of exaggeration or fanciful invention.”
I think it’s the exaggeration part that resonates once you’ve been with someone for a while. Romance is no longer the excitement of “getting to know” or “finding out.” It’s more about “recognizing” and “appreciating” anew. A scavenger hunt for gifts used to make me go “awww.” Now, it’s watching my husband almost shart himself because the kids can’t enough of the “pull my finger” trick. For better or for worse, the classical notion of romance—the promise, the possibility—just isn’t relevant anymore.
House and Valentines Day: Where I’ll hopefully be spending it. That’s because much like New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day means sharing an experience with the mass public. And let me tell you, the older you get, the less the mass public has to offer in any realm.
SO my dear Jenny, let’s talk about the classical notion of romance for a while and that whole “beautiful, brilliant, funny, single, young, fun, full of promise” thing YOU have going for you. Indulge an old married woman’s need to live vicariously for a moment. The world is yours, Jenny Bahn. That’s the beauty of being single. You still have that “first stolen kiss under the moonlight” to look forward to. Let’s talk some ROMANCE romance.
Apologies in the tardiness of my correspondence. I have been busy being single the last week, which is to say I ran into someone I had recently cut things off with because of his 100% lack of emotional availability, got drunk, slept with him, and woke up the next day hating myself. And no, we will not be spending Valentine’s Day together… or any day for that matter. The concept of sunshine and my company was never fully embraced by this man, both of which it seems he had rather vampiric disdain for as indicated by never having had brunch with him or even having stayed in his apartment long enough to watch him wake up. As for romance, he did tell me he wanted to fuck me in the bathroom. Is that my “snow fall and moonlight” moment?
Romance is dead. So is ROMANCE romance.
And I will be soon, too.
When I kill myself.
Admittedly I struggle to relate to your kids/husband/house trifecta—that thing we stupid girls have been taught is the ultimate prize, the goal of this whole horrible scramble for love. I can’t get a dude to stay around for more than two months, let alone imagine he’d father two children.
I can however fully relate to your homemade, Pinterest-inspired Valentine’s Day cards, an ambitious task my mother herself was spared when I was a child. Yes, it was only perforated cards and candy hearts for my young beaus. None of this fancy feathered crap you’re losing fingernails making. Yes, I grew up on the cusp of the Internet era, a time marked by card catalogues and MS DOS. And, yes, I’m almost thirty. Thirty and single and living in New York. The only trifecta in my future is apartment/ gin/ cats.
A Future Weird Smell Wafting Down an Apartment Corridor
I see you’re going to make me bust out some shrinky stinky stuff. My telling you that I woke up to one of my “ultimate prizes” announcing that the cat had pooped in her bed (it was a hairball), while the other one actually did shit the bed after proudly shedding his diaper, will not be enough to make you appreciate your blissful single life, will it?
Fine, but I must warn you that I sucked as a therapist (it seems “cry me a river” is not an acceptable response to a “depressed” patient grousing about her “abusive” husband, putting her on a budget and limiting her copious chardonnay consumption). I will try my best, however, since I can’t in good conscience let you rob the world of your presence. It’s simply not fair to the rest of us who like to read really good shit.
It was either Buddha or Tony Robbins who said that all events, situations, interactions have no intrinsic meaning on their own. We assign meaning and that’s why we’re so damn miserable. We take inherently objective facts and interpret experiences through the twisted, neurotic, insecure lens of our minds. And thus we suffer—completely manufactured suffering, mind you, because our interpretations flat out suck most of the time. They’re not helpful, they make us feel anxious or depressed, and we accept them as fact even if they are far from accurate. I mean would you hang out with some chick who constantly told you that you were ugly, or a failure or that you were unlovable? No, you’d kick that negative crazy bitch’s ass to the curb.
But we do it to ourselves all the time. We fill our lives with catastrophes that never materialize. The point is not to feel like a dummy for doing it—because we all do it and most of the time without even knowing it—but to feel hopeful because we can learn to make more reasonable conclusions.
Unless the bathroom fornicator was not up to the task, why hate yourself for making sweet rumpy bumpy? I can think of far worse ways to spend an evening (hand washing shit stained crib toys). And if this dolt is incapable of recognizing how unprecedented you are then he is clearly intellectually and perceptively inept and you are dodging a yard sale of future genetic contribution. Why would you want to spend Valentine’s with a simpleton like that barnacled to your side, much less any significant chunk of your future? Why define yourself by his incompetently formed version of you? You know who you are. And you are amazing. Hell, you’re on my “hall pass” list of husband-approved flings and I have fantastic taste.
Any time you start to feel shitty, just identify what current bullshit you’re telling yourself and ask if it’s helpful, realistic, and/or accurate. The idea of an “ultimate prize?” Not helpful or realistic. The idea that your happiness is dependent on getting some lunkhead to stick around for more that 2 months and father your dependents? Not helpful or accurate. What about existential authenticity? Coming to peace with who you are. Now there’s an ultimate goal you can control.
I’m not saying that being alone doesn’t feel awful at times. But you know what feels worse? Being with someone you shouldn’t be with for the sake of obtaining an artificially “ultimate goal.” What happens when one of your perfect “Plato other halves” (and I’m not referring to the one strewn all over the dark Ohio highway) arrives but you’ve gone and married the lavatory lover? Are you really willing to give up the opportunity to be truly loved and understood because you committed to someone just to avoid being alone? Figuring out who we really are so that we can find our best matches is not easy work and like everything else worthwhile, takes time to cultivate.
And 30—oh my god, grandma. My mom has salad dressing in her refrigerator older than you. I know it feels old. I felt old at 30. Just like my daughter feels like she knows what’s best for her at the ripe old age of six (subsisting on a diet of nothing but Angry Bird popsicles), or like I constantly felt I had all the answers in my teens and 20s, particularly when it came to love (“Sure, Rob disappears for long periods of time, has a proclivity for “dancers” named after spices, and frequently passes out on my front porch, but I just know he’s the one for me!”).
That’s one of the tragic aspects of life: Despite what we earnestly believe at the time, our perspective is perpetually incomplete. We always end up looking back at our younger selves and rolling our eyes. This is why we can’t get lazy with perspective. We must constantly tweak it and shift it, particularly if it’s not working for us—and by that I mean if it’s not making us happy and successful and at peace.
In the words of another member of my “hall pass” list, the epically darling and talented Rhett Miller: “Someday somebody’s going to ask you a question that you should say yes to,” Jenny Bahn. I promise you. I guarantee it, actually. In the meantime enjoy bathroom sex and being young and single and beautiful in New York, and instead of catastrophizing your future, daydream about the eternal excitement of potential.
But if you do hit 35 and are still single, let me suggest the “rag doll” breed of cats. They are great.
You’re a better therapist than you think. More sex in bathrooms. Less tears in taxis. Over and out.
Very Much Alive Future Katie Levisay Hall Pass
This piece originally appeared on FlipCollective.com under the title: Katie Levisay Talks Jenny Bahn Off a Valentine’s Day Bridge