On Valentines’s Day, we aspire to make love look amazing. But an enduring love must be rooted in the midst of our mess, where we see each other fully and embrace each other’s brokenness. To do so isn’t settling; it’s sublime.
I acted like Rocky Balboa on my wedding day.
When my wife and I were pronounced husband and wife, we practically skipped back down the aisle to a joyous song—“Amazing Love.” Within hours we were introduced again at our reception, while the DJ played “Gonna Fly Now” from the Rocky soundtrack. Caught up in the moment, I stopped and raised my arms triumphantly, mimicking the mythical Rocky statue in Philadelphia.
It felt thrilling and victorious.
But I think somewhere inside of me I was already feeling the pressure to maintain an amazing love, to be perfect and strong and unshakeable, to be a Hallmark card—day in and day out. Somewhere inside of me, I knew I wasn’t up to the task. I knew I was weak and cracked and faulty. I knew I wasn’t even close to amazing.
When I look around on Valentine’s Day, I realize I’m not alone.
Valentine’s Day bleeds expectations of amazement and perfection.The National Retail Federation predicts we will spend $18.6 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, up from $15.7 billion in 2011 and $17.6 billion in 2012. I suppose we could chalk this up to a little romanticism and the need to connect once a year. Yet, look how we’re trying to achieve our connection:
I think when we distrust the value of what is inside of us, we invest in valuable things outside of us. We compensate for our perceived shortcomings with glitz and glamour. Deep down, we know we’re not amazing, and we’re pretty sure that is unacceptable. So we throw money at a holiday and we hope it feels amazing. And we hope to hide our cracked and crumbling selves.
Ordinary, Good Enough Love
Last October, after a week of vacation, I returned to the office, anticipating the wave of phone calls and complications that always follow an extended absence. Fourteen hours later, I arrived home, and my wife was standing in the kitchen. She must have seen the look of defeat in my eyes, because she asked me a question:
“Were you able to take care of everyone today. Did you return all the phone calls?”
“No,” I answered.
“Are some people going to be disappointed in you?”
I looked down. “Probably.”
“Are you still good enough?”
My chin came up, and I looked at her. My eyes held a question and her eyes held a smile.
And she said, “You’re good enough, Kelly. No matter how much you did or did not get done today, you are good enough.”
I hugged her and thought, “Wow. That feels amazing.”
Last week, a friend told me he was at a gala event, where every person looked beautiful and every performance was polished. And he said it made him feel a little depressed. When I asked why, he responded, “There was no room for things to be a little broken.”
Maybe that’s why the Hallmark cards and bottomless candy and saccharine perfection of Valentine’s Day is a little depressing to so many of us—it doesn’t leave us any room to be a little broken.
And we need that room, don’t we? Because we’re not amazing; we’re human. And we’re all a little broken.
We don’t need pressure to be amazing. We need permission to be broken.
This Valentine’s Day, maybe we could give each other room to be a little broken by giving each other a priceless gift: the gift of grace—the assurance we are good enough even in our brokenness.
You tripped on the ice and broke your hand and now you can’t hold the baby, but you are good enough, and I will carry your load.
You gained twenty pounds after your mother died, but you are good enough, and you will always be beautiful to me.
The kids are making horrible decisions and they might be doing drugs and you are doubting every decision you ever made as a parent, but you are good enough, and I will walk through this with you.
You lost your job and we might lose the house, but you are good enough and I’ll rent an apartment with you.
You are sick and the diagnosis is scary and we have no idea what tomorrow holds for us, but you are good enough, and I will be next to your bed through everything.
I think this is the gift we are all yearning for this Valentine’s Day. Perhaps this year, instead of a pricey dinner or a sparkling jewel, you can give your partner the freedom to be broken and beloved, all at the same time. It’s a free gift, and I think they will be amazed.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.