The Sum Total of Love

While I was walking to school the other day, I was listening to a Sex Nerd Sandra podcast called Love Lab. A 34-year old listener called in and told Sandra he had been alone for every single one of the past 34 Valentines Days. He was sick of it; more accurately, he was bitter and discouraged. You could hear it in his gruff but slightly shaky voice, the raw emotion of what felt like an eternity of lonely Valentines.

Of course, this youngish man’s plight made me think of my past 29 Valentines, from the Mickey Mouse cut out cards to the over-the-top-bouquets to the binge drinking of $2 long island ice teas.

When I was little, like all little kids, I loved Valentine’s Day because it meant candy, lots and lots of delicious, fructose-corn-syrup-enriched candy. In true Midwestern style, everyone gave everyone else a valentine in my rural little elementary school; not because we had to, not because the school made us, but because we were in Wisconsin and that is what you did. Valentine’s Day meant spreading the love via sugar.

As I grew up, I remember the significance of Valentine’s Day becoming apparent to me with my first crush in middle school. There were usually school dances during which I danced with one of my very platonic and eventually gay male friends. And for the most part, I was fine with this, as the idea of actually touching my crush made me dry heave.

In high school, I vividly remember my Dad bringing home my mom and I carnations from the gas station one Valentine’s Day. They were hideous and cheap and died in about 2 days, but for a stoic 250 pound man, this simple gesture was one of sheer love.

In college, if Valentine’s Day fell on a Thursday through Sunday, I drank through it. If it fell on a Monday through Wednesday, I only drank through half of it. Needless to say I don’t have a lot of distinct memories from these Valentine’s Days.

Then came “adulthood.” During the past 7 years on Valentine’s Day I have, in no particular order, been broken up with on the phone, lost my virginity in a terribly clichéd and lovely way, cut off my hair into a shaggy Justin Bieber style cut and then partied like a rock star, cried through the day on the pull out couch of my parents’ retirement condo in Florida, gone on a completely average and forgettable second date, waited for someone to call, made dinner for a broken hearted friend, and found out I had been accepted to grad school, which immediately led to drinking like an undergrad. My Valentine’s Days have been a hodgepodge of lovely, terrible, mediocre and drunk.

But the thing that strikes me the most about reflecting back is looking forward; I have another 50, or if I’m being optimistic, 60 years of Valentine’s Days. I have 50 more days of possible love, heartbreak, solace, excitement, disappointment, resentment, jealousy, apathy, and most likely uncertainty. I have 50 more days of potential.

What the love lab caller hasn’t yet realized is his life, his joy, his worthiness, is not a sum total of all of his Valentine’s Days, it is not how many people have loved him, how many dates he has taken to fancy Italian restaurants, how many people have slept in his bed. His life is not a sum total of romantic love.

Although his life, our lives, are love. Our lives are all the things we have loved, do love and will love, whether that be the our yet-to-be-born children, our parents or our now-gone grandparents, our childhood friends, the Green Bay Packers, our amazing jobs, our golf clubs, our Vampire Weekend album on vinyl, our in-progress medical degrees, our rock-tumbling hobby, our yearly trips to Burning Man,  our cats and/or our current or to-be-found future loves. We are all a sum total of what we love and the potential for what we have to love.

On this Valentine’s Day, let’s choose to think in sum totals instead of zero sum games, let’s feel all the love we have instead of that which we have lost or that which has not found us yet, let’s look with gratitude on this day of love that we are able as human beings to both love and lose love, heal and find love again. Let’s be grateful that, if we really think about it, love abounds even if it doesn’t feel like it in our lives today.


Rape isn’t a Women’s Issue; it is a Hyper-Masculinity Issue

Recently I wrote in the RedEye about a North Dakota study that found 30% of young men would rape if they weren’t caught…and if you didn’t call it rape. It as a scary study but one that was not to surprising to me. We try to teach young people about consent in such a mechanical disconnected way I don’t see how anyone can actually relate it to their lives.

Here is a bit from my piece:

If we want to decrease sexual assault on college campuses, we need to work with our young men to help them unyoke masculinity and sex. Rape culture isn’t a woman’s issue—it is really a hypermasculinity issue.

Beyond teaching our young men that their gender identity is not tied to the amount of sex they can coerce, we also need to change how we teach kids about sex. The University of North Dakota study also found that men who intended to use force to get sex also tended to score high on sexual callousness, meaning they were detached during sex and saw sex as a depersonalized act instead of something intimate.

In a way it makes sense. We teach sex in a disconnected, dispassionate way. We talk about reproductive organs and put condoms on bananas. We create strict lines and boundaries on chalkboards that nowhere resemble what actual sex looks like.

We don’t teach our kids how to talk to their partner during sex, how to listen to their bodies or their partners’ bodies, how to ask for sex, how to say “slow down” during sex, how to stop in the middle of sex, how to start again. We don’t teach them about the maybes of sex, the negotiations, the connection or the intimacy. We teach sex as mechanical, a matter of logistics, not what it actually is—a highly emotional, complex act between two (or three or four) people.

We need to teach our young people that sex can be this fun, healthy, silly, sexy thing. It isn’t as big as we make it to be. It isn’t unspeakable. The more we break the silence about good sex, the easier it will be to stamp out the bad.