by Dianha Ortega-Ehreth, Tiffany Lynn Tibbs and Karris Golden
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. This is the day when retailers want you to be part of a twosome and enjoy everything that they can sell: cards, flowers—especially roses—and chocolates. Your local restaurant wants to book your favorite cozy table for two. But if you’re not part of a couple, how do you celebrate this potentially annoying holiday? Well, this month, whether you have a date or you’re going solo, let’s focus on you and your relationship with yourself. In this issue, three women send Valentine’s messages to themselves at different ages. If you wrote a love letter to yourself at a younger age, what would you say?
Dianha, age 35
Dear Me at 25,
First of all, the economy is going to tank. Start a savings account. Seriously.
Now, like many young adults, you have just gone through some major transitions in your life. Some changes have been planned and some have not. The ones that have not been planned . . . well, frankly, they stink. Especially this time of year, because Valentine’s Day is a reminder of what could have been. As a hopeless romantic, you know there are few things worse than spending this day alone. But believe the 35-year-old me, that is exactly what you need right now.
Here are five reasons why spending Valentine’s Day as a single is more than okay, it can be great:
1. Who says you need to be in a relationship right now anyway? Ignoring the social pressures to have a life partner may seem almost impossible on this special day, but just keep in mind that according to the 2006 United States census, more than 50 percent of the population is single. Just as the marketing industry tries to make you feel not thin enough or not pretty enough, it can make you feel not happy enough because you’re not with someone. This is surprising since, again, singles make up the majority of the population. Singles are also more racially diverse than the overall population and younger: four in 10 are younger than 35. Singles of America, unite!
2. Take a stroll with your “ghost of relationships past.” It takes two to end a relationship (most of the time). While it may indeed be healing—and sometimes downright fun—to trash your ex, the truth is, you did spend significant time with this person for a reason. Make a list of things that you learned from this relationship—not just about the other person, but most importantly, about yourself. And if you get enough guts, write a letter of thanks to your ex for helping you figure this out. (You probably shouldn’t mail it.)
3. “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Yes, this verse is popular at weddings, but think about how it begins—with patience. Waiting for love is the best way of receiving and appreciating the spiritual gift of love. Besides, patience is a virtue.
4. Singer Whitney Houston was onto something: “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.” If God created me in God’s image and loves me for who I am, then why can’t I accept myself and my single position in life right now? Be secure in the work that God is doing through you and let the person you’re becoming be filled. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).
5. Spending Valentine’s Day by yourself is better than spending it with the wrong person for the wrong reasons. When you know beforehand that something doesn’t feel right, you know that pain and regret are ahead. Break the cycle. Use your solitude wisely. Prepare yourself for the partner God has created for you and pray that your partner is also preparing for you.
What could have been is not nearly as great as what can be. Put that on a Valentine card. Add a little red glitter and some candy hearts just for fun.
Tiffany, age 35
To my 17-year-old self,
Happy Valentine’s Day! I want you to know that I love you and your youthful exuberance. I love that you are optimistic about the world.
This Valentine was originally going to be a reverse time-capsule. I was going to tell you all that happens to you, and warn you about what to avoid and what to change. (You know, like in the movie “Back to the Future,” when Michael J. Fox warns the mad scientist Doc to wear a bullet-proof vest so the terrorists won’t hurt him!) However, once I started I realized I couldn’t do it. By heeding my warnings, by changing your actions, by avoiding the pain, you would alter the course of your life. And that would be a bad thing, because you and I end up in a very good place.
So, this letter contains no warnings. I am both sorry and happy to say that you will have to live it—all of it, the joy, the pain, the angst, and the excitement as it unfolds. But that too is a gift, and the reason I am keeping it preserved. Sometimes it takes a while (or even more than a while) to see how it works out. Sometimes the road is not straight, but very curvy. Just have faith. Keep moving forward. Know that God is looking out for you. You have a good head on your shoulders. And a good God above your head. You’ll see. I am so excited for you! Sufficed to say, it all works out. Always does.
I do marvel at you. So many things happen when you are 17. Looking back, you are faced with amazing choices. Where you go to college . . . who your friends are . . . who you date. These are, in fact, big decisions. They chart the course of your life. The beauty, though, at 17, is that you make all of these choices with the thoughtfulness they deserve, but without the heaviness that I would have now. You deliberate about your college acceptance and then dash out the door to meet your friends for ice cream and gabbing. Sadly, your best friend moves away, but your letters and phone calls continue as a lifeline of laughter. Your heart gets broken, but you continue to be hopeful about the possibility of love. You are resilient at 17.
When you’re 35, you will still ponder (or in darker times, worry desperately about) some of the same questions, just framed for a different phase of life. You will have lost some of that youthful optimism, but you’ll have traded it for experience and a broader perspective. You’ll ask yourself: How do my children fare in life? What will happen with my husband’s business? What happens to me next? Our country? Our world? But you will find that the earlier advice still applies, and perhaps you should heed it: Just have faith. Keep moving forward. Know that God is looking out for us. You have a good head on your shoulders. And a good God above your head. You, too, in time, will see.
So we will proceed together, with faith and excitement and resilience. And perhaps someday we will receive a Valentine from our 70-year-old self, laughing at the worries of our younger years and surprising us with the joys of old age and a life well-lived.
With much love,
P.S. I can’t help myself. I know the suspense is killing you/me. So, promise that you won’t change anything, but know that . . . your college choice leads to some of the best things in your life. Your best friend returns, though it is a long time coming. And that boy? You were right about him. He was (still is) the love of your life.
Karris, age 32
Dear Younger Karris,
I sometimes hear people lament, “If I only knew then what I know now.” They wish they could give themselves the wisdom age has brought them.
We all have that feeling at one time or another. I have at various times wanted to tell you to speak up, appreciate your appearance, dance, encourage more, love boldly, laugh louder, or climb higher. I have also wanted to tell you to quiet down, wear more lipstick, exercise restraint, gauge others’ feelings before revealing your own, adopt a ladylike laugh, and be careful.
Sometimes I look at your wedding picture and reflect on how young you were—just 22. There are so many things I have wanted to tell the girl in that photo. There are things I think you should have known. Perhaps wisdom would have told you that you were too young. It’s a good thing you didn’t listen.
I also reflect on pictures of you with your daughter, Zoey, shortly after she was born. You were 28 and look so tired, near your breaking point. You risked so much to bring her into your life. I have wished to tell you it was worth more than you could have imagined. I wanted to tell you Zoey would be okay, and that you would be, too.
I’m glad you keep trying to be better—to live up to gift of God’s promise. Heed advice and trust your instincts. If you knew the future, perhaps you wouldn’t be willing to risk so much and receive the abundant blessings with which God wants to bless you.
Ask for forgiveness. Accept love unconditionally, and you discard the fear of loving in return. Most of all, embody your own unique beauty, letting the lines trace insight into your eyes.
I consider you now and consider Philippians 1:3: “I thank my God every time I think of you.” Those words hold the promise of my love for you.
I wish you much love and blessings in your continued walk toward God’s grace. Continue to accept its challenge—even when its truth shakes you to the core. I hope you will always exert more energy in the pursuit of well-built memories. Don’t waste time fighting age. You will wear the effects of the years well.
This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Cafe.