I’m spending Valentine’s Day with 3000 high school students.
I actually volunteered for this assignment. It’s one I’ve been doing for years, including when Shawn was alive. I run the Model UN program at my school and the students have a big conference every year right around Valentine’s Day. The first year I did it, Shawn sent a massive bouquet of red roses to the hotel where we were staying, and all of my students went totally crazy. (“OMG, that’s so sweeeeeet!“) I laughed when I called him later that day, recounting the story. He didn’t do it because he needed to show me he loved me – I already knew that. He did it because he knew it would make me smile, and make me feel special. Especially when I was dealing with a hotel full of high school students.
I’ve been grateful that for the past two years, I’ve continued to spend Valentine’s Day with my students. There’s nothing like high schoolers (and high school drama) to distract you from your own emotions. And it’s so innocent! At our Model UN conference, the kids give each other “candy grams” which are notes filled with those tiny candy hearts. I love how wrapped up they all get in this simple gesture, and I also love that when I talk to the kids about their lives – and the love they want, or hope to someday have – their expressions are full of possibility.
So as I’ve been sitting at this conference, I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day, the future, and this idea of “possibility.”
When Shawn was dying, he repetitively told me that if he died, I would need to get remarried. In fact, it was one of the first things he told me after he received his stage four cancer diagnosis. Each time he’d bring it up, I would push the suggestion away and tell him, “I only want to be with you!”
It was true. It’s still true, in a lot of ways.
Shawn was a realist, both in his professional and his personal life, and he knew that he needed to push me to date in order for me to be able to move forward, eventually. And yet, he could not have foreseen what it would be like for me to do this. Based on my conversations with him, I think he thought I’d spend some time consumed by grief, but then I’d wake up one day and want to date and I’d easily find someone to marry.
I mean, Shawn and I had gone from “just friends” to “we’re so in love that we are pretty sure we’ll get married” in the span of just a few months. So why wouldn’t that be how it happened for me again?
I think he also imagined that when I started dating, men would come flocking and I’d easily pluck one out to become my next husband.
That has not happened. At all. I mean, my life doesn’t exactly lead me to meeting a lot of available single men, but that’s not really what seems to be the real sticking point for me. Yes, I’ve managed to meet a few men that are around my age bracket, single and gainfully employed (among other related and important characteristics.) And every once in a blue moon, I actually manage to have a moment with one of them.
But it’s never simple with me.
For example, a while back I was with a guy who I found attractive. We were hanging out, talking about life, and generally having a really nice time. He was being sweet, and (I think) trying to figure out how much I liked him, and he started to play with my hair. (I just re-read that sentence and it sounds creepy. It was much sweeter in person, I promise!)
Anyway, at that moment, I could have leaned toward him, smiled, and let him proceed with this strange dance of emotional intimacy. Instead, I stood up, put my hair in a ponytail, and started telling a crazy story to distract from the moment.
I couldn’t handle it. But I wanted to. I wanted to be that girl who I once was. The girl who could easily look a man in the eye. The girl who liked having her hair played with. The girl could let a man in, emotionally.
But I’m not there, apparently. I mean, maybe (as my friends suggest) I just haven’t met the right guy. That is a distinct possibility.
Or maybe I just need more time. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that you don’t arrive at (“I’m ready for emotional intimacy!”) but rather that you come to, slowly. I mean, it took over a year for me to really enjoy eating again after Shawn died, and there were still times in the second year when I couldn’t even look at food. So maybe – maybe – I’m asking a lot of myself.
And maybe Shawn was too. “You’ll find someone else,” he said to me. And maybe he was right. Or maybe not. But I think, for both of us, we assumed that if and when I wanted to date, the next step – finding a new husband – would come easily. We didn’t think about all of the in-between steps, because just imagining not being with each other was horrible enough.
I’m working on it. I want the possibility of a new relationship – a real one, where I can look someone in the eye and let him in. One where I can talk about my life, and all the emotions that I have on a daily basis. One where I can at least let a man play with my hair.
I believe in that possibility, even if I’m terrible at it right now. I believe in it, because Shawn believed in me and in my ability to make myself happy.
For now, I am going to just relish being around all these high school kids who see a future that has so much possibility. They don’t know what will happen to them over their lifetimes. They don’t know if they’ll find love early in life or much later than they thought. Most of them don’t even know if they’ll get a candy gram from someone they’re eyeing at this conference.
But the possibility exists for them.
And I think it does for me too. Not to get a candy gram, obviously, but to find someone that I can really let in. It’s not guaranteed. But it’s possible.
Happy Valentine’s Day.