From time to time, my Uncle Mike likes to pass on the wisdom of one generation to another, in his own fashion.
On the subject of enduring love, for example, he and my aunt are role models of believability. They like each other. They have a good time together. And they have managed it for roughly 41 years.
So, when someone asks him the secret, he is more than willing to share the fact that his own success is modeled on his father's.
"My father would get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, 'You're no bargain.'"
This, I think, would make a hell of a Valentine.
Maybe I'm just tired of people who pick at each other's imperfections like pimples. Maybe I know too many people trying to figure out if their mate is living up to expectations. Maybe I've met too many "6's" who think they are slumming with anything less than a "10." But I think he is on to something.
If you start your day looking your own flaws in the face, you might work up a pretty good appetite of gratitude before breakfast. If you know you're no bargain in the morning, by evening you could be atwitter with appreciation for someone who actually loves you anyway.
From my own, not particularly vast, experience and my uncle's advice, it seems that this is the glue of any long-term attachment: Being Loved Anyway.
There are at least two ingredients to the sticky stuff. 1) you have to know your own worst, and 2) you have to find someone who also knows it, but doesn't think it's all that awful. Being Loved Anyway, you see, is not being regarded as perfect but being accepted as imperfect.
I don't suppose that sounds very romantic. Other people may want sonnets to their perfection and flowers for their pedestal. They may want dollies of adoration.
But frankly, adoration would make me nervous. I'd keep waiting to be discovered.
I have a friend who got involved with a man who was in awe of her. It was outrageously flattering -- for about three months. The problem was, she said, she couldn't yell at her children in front of him. The problem was, she had to keep washing her hair. She simply couldn't live up to it.
I have another friend who, as they say in the shrink trade, has difficulty getting close. He is sure that someone will find out that his heart of darkness is made of mud, rather than chocolate. But because he never lets anyone in, he never trusts anyone in love with him, since, by definition, she doesn't know him, because if she did know him, she would reject him. You get the picture.
If there is a constant in life, it must be the human fear of being unlovable. In a recent interview, Phil Donahue was asked for the fourth time what he wanted from love and sighed, finally, "Sometimes I think I invented insecurity." Baloney. Insecurity was invented by the first kid who was caught being bad and asked his mother, "Do you love me anyway?"
The kid lives in all of us. The kid who is sure she won't be loved if she is bad. This kid is the one making the decision every day between the safety of hiding and the risk of discovery and the security of Being Loved Anyway.
I suppose it cuts both ways. We can't trust our own feelings for someone else until we've been "dis-illusioned," embarrassed, hurt a time or two -- and have come out caring.
Now I don't want to make this negative. We shouldn't send all our Valentines to those who love us at our worst. Or those whose worst we love. I know people who have been loved for their weaknesses and hated for their strengths, and it was perfectly dreadful.
We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck. I also suspect that laughing together is vastly underrated.
But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness. The understanding that, so, you're no bargain, but you love and you are loved. Anyway.