I’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day, but social media told me that today is that day.
Remember when Facebook had a “relationship status” field that you had to fill in? I’ve been forever grateful that by the time social media began to grace our lives (using the term “grace” loosely here), Andrew and I were married with the certificate to prove it (yes but where IS it? I digress). I saw others fluctuate over the years, typically concluding with the most honest of all statuses: “It’s complicated.”
These days, it seems to me like that simple two-word statement pretty much sums up the nature of my relationship with the whole of humanity: It’s Complicated.
Living in tension is tricky. People are nuanced, complex. Putting them in boxes is an easy way to know what to do with it all. And honestly, we don’t have time to delve into the psyche of each person we interact with. It’s kind of like me with my own personal library: I’ve amassed several bookshelves full of materials. I want to read it all at once. This thought is overwhelming, so I default to doomscrolling. (Not recommended.)
I’ll admit that at this point, I’ve unfollowed several social media accounts. But I’ve held onto some. These are people I value a great deal, and I believe interaction needs to take place in person, one-on-one.
The online world obscures our humanity.
It seems to me that sitting in person with another human, literally eye-to-eye, you can communicate so much more than text. The depth of caring, for instance. Isn’t this why emojis emerged? From mere script, we often cannot discern tone, intent, sarcasm, or poor attempts at humour (or, um, detect actual humanity — looking at you, bots & troll farms).
Look, there have been times in my life when I’ve definitely lost touch with reality. I’ll tell you about this one time, years ago.
Okay, so a friend and I went for lunch. Soon I was ranting to them all about how I felt someone we both knew hated me. I was absolutely convinced. But as I conveyed my feelings and observations, and my friend listened, I could see them attempting to quell their alarm. Our realities were not aligning. I was worked up, not in a healthy place, but they were — and they cared, they were present to hear everything I had to say, without judgement — but I could see in their eyes that the things I was saying just didn’t check out. There was concern. Eventually this fact lodged in my brain, and it stopped me in my tracks. I leaned forward. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
The nature of sincere, in-person conversation and listening is this: I could see my friend cared, I knew my friend had invested time listening to me (and was maybe regretting this lunch situation by now, ha), and if I valued my friend at all, I’d allow them to speak their observations as well.
With some hesitation, my friend confessed, “A little bit, yeah…!”
Honestly, just the way my friend looked at me in response to my rant was enough to make me consider that maybe I was wrong about the thing I had believed so intensely: what if the person I’d declared hated me, did not in fact feel that way?
I’m not saying my behaviour changed right away, but as years went by and I continued to interact with this person, they became someone I genuinely like and respect and enjoy talking with… and no, they never hated me.
I’m grateful for my friend whose in-person reaction to my ranting, caused me to reconsider my perspective… and step into reality.
I know we don’t have the capacity to do that with every human ever. However, I reserve this energy for those whose relationships I deeply value.
As for the rest?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
(Here’s a picture from my brother’s wedding rehearsal in 2003. Andrew and I had been married for almost ten months at this point and felt like total pros. This pic has nothing really to do with this post except for the fact that Andrew is my valentine except that I don’t actually care about Valentine’s Day aside from cinnamon hearts which I buy for myself when they first appear on store shelves in January. Also the red in the pic is very Valentine’s-Day-ish, yay! And, this is a bit of an easter egg for anyone who watches Daily Bonnet or Andrew Unger livestreams in which you can see pictures faintly in the background. This pic is one of them.)