On the 14th of February…

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day: the day we celebrate our squishy emotions for other people. I’ve always enjoyed Valentine’s Day, believe it or not–granted, I’ve always been single, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get chocolate (from friends or from Mom), or cards, or even on occasion flowers. What’s not to love? But the approach of this holiday has gotten me thinking about emotions.

I am always surprised–and impressed–by people who can express their emotions. People who are okay with crying in front of others, or who can look you in the face and say, “I am so grateful to have you in my life” without being awkward, or who gasp and smile at beautiful things (a sunset, for instance) and want to share their enthusiasm with those around them. I’m even impressed when people get angry and let others see it. After all, what good does it really do to smile and pretend everything’s hunky-dory when you’re seething with rage? Of course there is something to be said for governing your emotions, and I’ll be the first to advocate for that; but it’s just as important to know how to be open about them in a healthy way.

Now I like to think I’m a pretty open person. “I have no secrets,” I often say, and it’s true. If you know me, you know basically everything there is to know about me (with a few exceptions, of course–every life has to have its veils, and I think that’s a good thing). When it comes to what I think and what I do, yes: I’m pretty open. But I am not at all open about what I feel. I’ve realized this pretty starkly in this past year, especially after moving in with a roommate who’s so beautifully open with her emotions. She doesn’t mind saying, “I love you!” or urging you to look out the car window at a beautiful scene, or even crying when she recounts a truly moving moment in her life.

Of course, in a big way this comes down to personality differences, and that’s okay. But it’s good to know where your own personality could use some toning, like a muscle. I remember making the conscious decision to start saying “I love you” to my family members when I was a junior in high school. It took months before the words would come out naturally, and a good year before I could say it without blushing or stammering or feeling a little queasy. Then I had to get over the hump of saying the same thing to my dear friends.

After all, it’s a big part of generosity to be willing to share with those around you…especially, to let them know what they mean in your life. And I don’t mean cheesiness or sentimentality, both of which tend to come across as insincere and downright annoying. But people need to know they have value; people need to know they are loved, appreciated, admired. And how will they know that unless those who love, appreciate, and admire them tell them so?

This goes for anybody, whatever their state in life, but of course (as always), I’m speaking especially to and about single people. We don’t always have those built in structures for letting the people closest to us know we care about them, or for hearing it for ourselves. But it’s so important to tell ’em anyway. As someone who likes to keep a tight lid on her feelings until she’s stopped feeling them…or at least until she’s had a few weeks to shape them into cohesive sentences, to rationalize them into something comfortable and manageable…I know this is crazy hard. We want our relationships to be natural and spontaneous, but the simple fact is we don’t always have that luxury. Now I’m not advocating for people to go running off to every friend they’ve got, sobbing about their undying love. (Even that mental image makes me squirm.) But here and there, offer a token–a gesture, a word, a note–that goes deeper than the surface level jokes and fun, that lets the other person know “I value you as a person, and I’m grateful for your presence in my life.”

It’ll take me years to master this art, but I think it’s one worth mastering. And for now there are cheesy holidays like Valentine’s Day that offer great opportunities for practice.