Modern Love in the Digital Age: Volume I
The darkness crept into my bones like a horrifying roar screaming at me to back away, just back away. I looked at the wreck – a grey Toyota with low headlights, tires with barely any tread, and no gasoline to spare. The car sat there looking miserable in all its loneliness. Where could I go? Running like a frightened squirrel, awkwardly and no more confident than a nineteen-year-old can be in any life-important moment, I fled. My eyes saw nothing but blackness down a long road as I ran and ran. The car was broken. I was alone. The fear engulfed me but five minutes later I had discovered, light, an empty parking lot and a small hotel (with a phone). This was the day before your mobile saved your life.
It wasn’t long before I heard her voice. You know the moment. You remember. “Mom? I’m in a bit of trouble.”
There’s a lot of talk about love right now and for all of that discussion, I see very few people ready to say Happy Valentine’s to some of the most romantic people in their life. For me, it is someone who always remembers to send a card or for many years, gave me candy without fail. Like a clock that just refuses to stop ticking, she never forgot to remind me I was loved every February. This was my mother.
I’ve definitely had my share of letting her down, especially in my younger days. She has been there for me whether I had my life together or not. There was the day I left my keys in the bottom of a grocery bag and was locked out when I packed to go to college after Christmas vacation, the many months I was victimized in sixth grade by a Seattle bully, the surgery week I was stuck in the hospital and had a nauseous reaction to every piece of food, the moment I cried because I lost her dad & my grandfather, and of course, the day I sold my car and belongings to move to Hong Kong.
Mothers have the uncanny ability to see into our emotions more than most. For someone who is admittedly not often conscious of my feelings (A trait I most likely have inherited from her side of the family) it is important to have relationships that understand who you are and yet are able to challenge you. These are the ones who bring the best of you forward. One of the things this woman has taught me through years of being available when I was angry and when I was overjoyed, is that real love is patience for the ones you care about. She certainly has needed some for all the aggravation I’ve caused her.
On the Day of Hearts, you might see a lot of anti-affection quips telling you that Cupid is a mythical, fat baby, that Singles Awareness is hardly a reason to go crying, and that we should make fun of all people in relationships. While the anti-valentine is a clever ploy to use sarcasm for no apparent reason, I think there is still some sanity in being a sardonic anti-valentine with a bit of heart.
There are the obvious lovely-dovey couples who take kissing selfies and show off the bouquets of pink peonies that were just delivered to their office colleagues. I can say that I am not a major fan of Hearts Day mainly because of these foolish people. There is intense pressure (on males ad infinitum) to buy chocolate or an overpriced set-course-for two to “prove” love. Gag reflex, I say. Love cannot be proven through materialist attempts at romance. It has to be proven through loyalty, through the attempt at understanding a person and what they are all about. Real romance is always seeing hope even despite the darkest, ugliest days. Therefore my sardonic anti-Valentine appears in all its glory this fourteenth of February, with a proviso. In this cynical culture of casual hook-ups and lonely digital Dungeons-and-Dragons and World of Warcraft players-role playing-life, isolation abounds. I still believe that people should cherish each other.
We’re not lonely because we’re all out of heart, it is because we’re trying too hard to have a heart.
While I do have a valentine of my own, if I would even call him that silly term, I would never assume that cards and roses would prove his heart was with me. Love is about choice. My realization that Mom chose to be there for me is what speaks to my heart more than anything. It is why I can never truly speak with a bitter after-taste when I talk about red candy hearts, smarties, and lace-covered chocolates. Candy does not mean anything, per se, but they symbolize the effort someone took to choose you.
She reminds me that to love is to choose someone over and over again no matter what they do. We lead informed, educated lives in most Westernized countries and are indoctrinated with the idea that choices mean lots of different flavors, lots of different friends, lots of different relationships, and lots of failed ones. In some ways, modern thinking means modern love equals “move on to the next one.” Regardless, to choose the same person over and over is beautiful because it is not easy. It isn’t convenient and digitized like your Facebook app on your iPhone, or your 24-hour delivery pizza. (Despite its serious delicious-ness!)
This may also be why I still believe in old-fashioned romance. It also doesn’t hurt that I have some serious role models. My grandparents fell in love in one day, got engaged, and were married happily all their lives together. That’s romance.
As The New York Times says about traditional love before the digital age: “This was the old-fashioned way of falling in love: all of our attentions were on each other. We spent less time with our friends, who could not track the electronic footprints of our relationship. We didn’t have cellphones buzzing every five minutes, distracting us with nonessential chatter. Neither of us was tap-tap-tapping away, eyes downward, communicating with other people during meals. The outside world fell away.”
“St. Valentine, what have you done to us?” I may ask, along with so many others inundated by the Hallmark-sourced holiday. Quite frankly, it seems like a warpath many want to blame the outside world for rather than to look inward. This isn’t to say that no one recognizes unconditional agape love, patience, and faithfulness when they see it but that it seems easier to walk away from than it used to be. There should be more of the kind of connections here where the ‘outside world [falls] away’ and we grow to really understand each other. The kind of hope Mom gives me is one that makes me want to write a real love letter – to my family.
Do you remember the moment you had stage fright? Your knees knocked together just seconds before moving on the podium for a Philosophy debate? Who was there? Do you remember watching your sister win her Athlete of the Year award over cheering middle-schoolers? Do you remember spending weekends at football tournaments in cow-patty infested inland California areas for ‘family time’? Do you recall when you felt that surge of real romance? Do you remember your heart suddenly beginning to beat once more as you walked on that stage? I do.
Artwork Credit (above): Chuwy, Vetta
L I N K S
Vecsey, David, “Before the Web, Hearts Grew Silent.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/fashion/before-the-web-hearts-grew-silent.html?ref=modernlove
Interesting stuff you may like to read for the Day of Hearts:
On Romantic Places & Facebook as a Statistician, Wall St. Journal: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303704304579378902170592732?mod=trending_now_1
On Love/Science/Marriage Intersection, The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/01/theres-no-such-thing-as-everlasting-love-according-to-science/267199/
GQ’s tips for men on Valentine’s Day, GQ Magazine: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/girls/articles/2014-02/14/valentines-day-gifts-flowers-lingerie-guide
Marriage is now more important for men?, The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/relationships/10624555/Marriage-is-more-important-now-for-men-than-women.html