A Single Man’s Perspective of Valentine’s Day

Facts sometimes make me sad.  Especially when they concern my personal life.

My first kiss and last kiss are separated by little more than a year. I was fifteen when I had my first girlfriend and almost twenty-eight when I had my last one.  And while each of my relationships has lasted longer than the one before it, none of them have lasted beyond that magical three month marker, where relationships (supposedly) start to get serious.

Which brings us to Valentine’s Day. I hate that fucking holiday, especially as it’s celebrated here. I much prefer Japan’s way of celebrating the holiday, with women giving chocolate to men (giri choco to friends and coworkers, and honmei choco to lovers and guys they want to be their lovers).  And for those women who wonder why the men are getting all the chocolate, I’d like to point out that Valentine’s Day is followed, a month later, by White Day, when men reciprocate the favor (apparently with more expensive gifts, though no one complained about the chocolate that I gave them).

This brings up another sad fact: I have been single on every Valentine’s Day.  Every single one.  Sometimes I’ve spent it with friends who were also single; other times, I’ve spent it alone.  But that was my choice.  Being defiant is all one can be on that holiday when one is single.  I  had a few friends who would send me cards on February 14th, but all of them are married now, and buy cards for their husbands, instead.

Yes, relationships are hard.  So is writing novels for a living.  In both cases, the joys are worth the hardships, at least if it’s a good relationship, or a good novel.  For those of you who wish you were single again, maybe your single lives were more exciting than mine has been, but it’s not that great.  Really.  Because you can never fully share your experiences with people who aren’t there with you.  And shared experiences is how you learn about each other, and about yourself.

While in Japan, one of my friends loaned me a lovely book  called Snow in the Summer, a collection of passages from letters written by a Buddhist monk to his Western students.  In Chapter 7, he writes about friendships and relationships.  Here, he is giving advice to a female student:

Love is not enough for two people to live together; deep understanding of each other is necessary.  Love is not enough in a relationship; deep understanding and appreciation is [sic] also necessary.  See if you can accept all the bad things about him without wanting to change him and see if you can also respect him as he is now.  Dependent relationships don’t work well. (p. 89)

And then, a few pages later, comes one of the truest passages in the book:

Don’t be in a hurry to get married.  Get to know her better.  She’s a human being; like all of us she has her share of faults.  Try to understand the whole person and love her for that, not just parts of her, or your own projection of her. (p. 93)

He goes on to write that one must understand what one wants out of life, out of relationships, before we jump into them.  “Know thyself,” as Socrates would say.

And yet few people today (myself included) give enough time to introspection, to understanding ourselves, to what we want from the world, and the people, around us.  I knew what I wanted in Japan; back in the U.S., I’m not so certain.  Certainly I know myself more now than I did, but how much is still hidden from me?

To accept my flaws.  That, I think, is the key.  In order to forgive the flaws in others, one must first forgive the flaws in oneself.  I certainly am more at peace with myself than I was as a teenager, and even as I was before I went to Japan (Japan, by the way, is a great country for introspection).

That, for me, is the problem with Valentine’s Day.  It transforms love into flowers, and understanding into chocolate.  Not that there’s anything wrong with giving both to someone you love.  But love’s foundation is built on more than flowers, and relationships are built on more than love.  We praise love, but we do not understand it.  Sometimes we confuse it with sex, sometimes with gifts, sometimes with fairy tale endings, or happiness.  Sometimes we confuse it with relationships.  Relationships are built on understanding and respect.  Love grows out of those two aspects, not the other way around.

People mistake love, or heart palpitations, as the foundation for relationships.  It is not.  It is what is added to already strong relationships to make them stronger.  Relationships founded on love alone will fail, because the love has nothing to support itself with and, when tested, will crumble.  That’s not to say that an attraction can’t lead to a strong relationship, but only if the couple focuses on understanding and respecting each other, rather than ogling each other’s beauty, or worshiping certain features of each other’s character, or rating how good the other one is in bed.  Those aspects merely add to the whole, and it is the whole person that we must have the relationship with, not the parts.

And two whole people, who respect, understand, and choose each other, is what should be celebrated on Valentine’s Day.

What Job Searching and Girl Hunting Have In Common

Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougival, 1882
Okay, so girl hunting sounds like I’m going out with my club at night, knocking innocent women unconscious, and bringing them back to my lair.  Or I’m going out to a bar looking for a cheap thrill.  Neither of those images is even close to what I mean, but no other combination of words seem to work, so I’ll leave it as is.  Or maybe I should title this entry, “What Job Hunting and Girl Searching Have In Common.”  No wait, now I sound like a pervert. :-/

ANYWAY, there are more similarities between the two, at least in my case, than you’d think.  In jobs, I tend to settle for part-time work in which I am overqualified.  In girlfriends (DON’T GO THERE), I tend to settle for women whom I am overqualified for [and no, I’m not talking about THAT.  You people and your sick minds 😉 ]. Since I tend to settle for jobs that I’m overqualified for, or any job that I can get, I don’t tend to work long at them.  I have not been at any job for more than two years, unless you count the Mark Twain House, where I worked for slightly over two years, but slightly less than two years in any one position (I give up).  And for legal reasons, I must state that all of the opinions expressed in this blog are my own opinions and do not necessarily express the views and opinions of the Mark Twain House or its workers, except for this one: Mark Twain is a golden god.  No wait.  That’s from Almost Famous.  Even in Japan, where I spent three years of my life, that time was split between two different companies.

I fare worse with women.  My “record” for dating someone is two months, and during those two months, I saw her twice.  Seriously.  She even broke up with me by email.  To my cell phone.  While I was watching Azumi.  For the second time.  Of course, it’s the quality of the time spent with someone, not its length, that counts (as Before Sunrise proves–click here for my review of that movie and its sequel, Before Sunset).  In that case, my track record is even worse.  Not that I didn’t have some blissful moments with my exes [again with the dirty minds ;-)], but in the end, none of the relationships were quality ones, ones I wish hadn’t ended.  What I usually wished was that the person I had dated had been the person I hoped her to be, rather than the person she actually was.

Dream jobs and dream girls seem much the same to me, too.  Always just out of reach, always requiring much planning and/or gumption to get.  Crushes tend to be like jobs we think we want to have: when we don’t get them, it allows us to fantasize even more about how great they are.  Also, job hunting and dating can get stuck in similar ruts.  In job hunting, one can get stuck in the seasonal, part-time, retail rut, while in dating, one can get stuck in the type of girls that one dates (I said type!).  Those who like retail and are looking for part-time work, of course, are fine with ruts, as are those who end up marrying their high school sweethearts (don’t go there).

free public domain image man with glass writing at desk clerk thank you card paying bills dot is pen ink drawing

With online dating and personal ads, even methods of finding jobs and girlfriends are the same.  You can find both through networking, both through print ads, both through online ads, both through search engines.  Jobs sites include descriptions of the jobs; dating sites include descriptions of the people.  Both include qualifications (1-2 years customer service experience a MUST; SWF looking for SWM 18-39), both include preferences (college graduate preferred; looking for someone over 6’2″, nonsmoker), both annoy you with their restrictions.  Yet the best way to find one, both a job and a girlfriend, is through other people.  Networking results in the most job hires; networking results in the most relationships.  Picking up a woman at a bar, on the other hand, is akin to answering a “help wanted” sign–and perhaps less satisfying (though I can’t speak from personal experience on this).

Job searches and dating also share one other thing in common: I’m bad at both.  But might it be the same failing?  Might my failure at both have the same root cause?  Perhaps.  Perhaps I lack the knowledge necessary to know when to keep fighting for what I want, and when to let go (I always let go when rejected), and that goes for both job hunting and girl searching, or job searching and girl hunting, or career chasing and girl grabbing (well, maybe not that).

So, which one will I prove more successful at?  As far as jobs are concerned, sooner or later, everyone gets one (we are told).  Whether it will be the right job for me remains to be seen.  At least I know that my writing career awaits.  So even if I get a full-time job that’s a disappointment, if it can sustain me financially–and allows me to continue writing on the side–I can deal with it for a few years.

As for a girlfriend, well, having one is the means to an end, and perhaps I’ve been too focused on the end.  There’s no need to date someone because, in the future, we’re going to get married.  That kind of thinking eliminated too many choices for me in high school.  Rather, I should date someone because I like them now.  Or, to quote what one of my friends said about her then boyfriend (now fiance): “I don’t know if he’s the one, but he’s the one right now.”

Living in the present, while the artist lives in the future.  And yet, I’m learning.

NOTE: The same friend whom I quoted above is also the one who convinced me not to delete this post after hearing the gist of what it was about, so be sure to thank her in your comments, if you like what you’ve read, and curse her, if you hate it. 😉