Will You Be My Valentine?

In 1929, Cole Porter asked a musical question, “What is this thing called Love?“.

I think I could guarantee he was far from the first and definitely not the last to ask that question.  A question that in my book is impossible to answer and always rhetorical. 

This is our 3rd Valentine’s Day in the time of Covid and its accompanying sagas of vaccinations, variants and variables.  It makes that question more relevant and difficult than ever before.

When I was in elementary school it was easy.   I went to the five and dime store (‘member those) bought sheets of valentines with small white envelopes.  Covering all my bases, hedging my bets, whatever you want to call it, I left a Valentine on everyone’s desk, including the goody two-shoers and snitches.  In my dreams, everyone loved me.  NOT!

No matter how I counted, I never got more than 10 or 12 cards out of a class of 25.  The Florida recount for Gore vs. Bush was chicken feed. My life, my breath hung on that count.  

Back then, I knew what love was.  It was those crazy little pieces of colored paper in small white envelopes.  It sounds crazy.  It is crazy.  However, I believe the lack of love, the need of it, the any and the all of it, makes the world go ‘round or stops it dead.

Loves begins in the womb.

Alice Miller, a German psychologist, 1923-2010, wrote many brilliant books:  The Drama of the Gifted Child, For Your Own Good, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware, among others. All of her books take on the challenge of nature vs. nurture. Her major premise is the damage, some intentional, most unintentional, that is done by parents and families.  Many villains of the world, past and present, were in many cases born with inherited characteristics predetermining them to a life of crime and violence: nature. However, most were created by families: nurture. Miller makes a fascinating case about Adolph Hitler and the abusive violence of his father and its lasting effect on his developing personality.  More often, parental unconsciousness knows not what it does when it holds a child accountable to adult standards.  

Think about it.  It has to be very confusing to a child… so small… next to an adult… so big… smacking him or her saying, “I am doing this for your own good” and clinching that confusing message with an “I LOVE YOU”.  From that point on, the child’s idea of love is askew.  

Love is pain.  Love is punishment.  

In the romantic world of the adult, breaking hearts is a rite of passage. In a child’s world, love that is pain and punishment is tragic and can follow you everywhere if you let it.

This is all too familiar to me.  I realize I have made a career from my childhood love experiences.  Much that I have written or performed has its roots in this confusion.

Child rearing has run the gamut from spare the rod, spoil the child, to unparalleled permissiveness.  All in the name of love.

However, recent movies shine a light on changing attitudes. 

Belfast, The Tender Bar and C’mon, C’mon, each in its own way, continue the struggle to define a no less complex but much kinder version of love in the time of childhood.  This is good.

The conundrum for me is how do I take my childhood experiences and make it lovingly compatible with the so called adult I call me.  ‘Tis a puzzlement!

I will continue to explore Mr. Porter’s question, what is this thing called love.

Though I realize love is not about definitions.  It’s not about rules and regulations.  It is not about achievement, approval or accommodation.  Real love has no requirements. 

It is unconditional.

For an opinionated, over-righteous, ancient personality (no names), is this maybe asking too much???

Can I just go back to counting Valentines, please?

Intellectually I know that love is not about loving another person.

How can I love another person if I don’t love me, zits, warts, et al?

Simple answer.  I can’t.

Like a dream it came to me.

At least 100 years ago (some days it just feels like that), I was rehearsing with my friend, musical director/composer, Robert Bendorf (another unknown genius).  Once again I was in a confusion of love – the pain and punishment kind.  What a surprise! 

Poor Bob.  I remember whining to him about the same ‘ole, same ‘ole. 

“So tell me, Bob, what should I do?  He says he loves me.  I say I love him.  And then we do and say the most unloving things to each other.  It’s crazy.  In or out of a relationship why can’t we just love one another.  Love just is.  Isn’t it?”

He came back the next day with the gift of this song. I wish I could say it was Valentine’s Day.  It wasn’t.

But it is my Valentine to you.
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️