What does it mean to me to be an introvert, middle-aged and single on Valentine's Day? Much the same as it feels to be the above on any other day of the year to be honest! I'm not one for labels!
Maybe a few years ago when I still had a functional womb, I had a few wistful wonderings. What about my unborn children and grandchildren I will never meet?
I would have liked my mum to know what it would have been like to have had grandchildren and great-grandchildren to gather round her as she grows older. I know how blessed they would all have been to know her. How her wisdom and good sense would have made them stop and think when they were making life's tough decisions. How her dependable faithfulness would have lightened their lives whenever they talked with her. I know they would have met love in her company, because I do. That mother/daughter relationship, my best and most trustworthy friend, to me is something of more enduring influence in my life than the intense but too often briefly burning flames of romance and passion.
I know many who have lost children they adored, others who have never met the beloved little one they were waiting for, or who have endured the heartache of not bearing the children they lovingly planned. Compared to their acute pain, my musings are just what-ifs and maybes. I constantly remind myself just how fortunate I am.
Now, this side of menopausal, I am at peace with my inner singleton. Not just given the conclusion that this is a dark world into which to bring brave new lives. No – because I still love this quirky, unbelievably beautiful, precious and fragile world. I hope if I had met my Valentine, we would have been able to share wonder and hope with our children, gathered them close to watch the Sparrows in the hedge, the sunlight bouncing off frosty fields, to recognise the music of the chittering outrageous Dunnock, to love and value the comical antics of Magpie and Squirrel and become champions for those who can't stand up so easily for themselves. To help them know their indoor from their outdoor voices, to treat others with loving respect, courtesy, compassion and empathy as a given, whoever they meet.
I have met my Valentine in a way.
He's been hidden in my heart all my life.
I've had the privilege of introducing him to family, friends, readers, the world beyond my heart.
He is Bram the kindly, tender wildlife-whispering marshman in my books. Bram embodies everything I would have loved in a partner, and to me he is as real as flesh and blood. Not without faults, not without weaknesses, but a beautiful soul, that is my Bram. Thirza in my books is the personification of my genes and ancestry, myself embracing the other. In some ways Bram is her temperamental opposite yet her soulmate on life's journey. They are both aspects of my own spirit. That is my Valentine coupling in the realm of imagination. It is my joy to be able to share them with the wider world through words that offer their reality robed in fiction and fantasy.
Sometimes it's lonely to be uncoupled.
I am the shadow that walks unlinked.
But I rarely if ever feel lonely unless I glimpse myself as others do. If we glimpsed ourselves constantly that way, I suspect it would often end in tears (or giggles!) even though Burns averred it would be a gift to see ourselves as others see us! I try to focus my love and caring where I can to wide circles of friends, family and strangers. My relationships as a singleton are the kind that don't really need one day a year to trumpet them. They are beautiful background noise that lullabies and strengthens.
The worst mauling you will ever get from me is a nip from my inner pedant, my geeky nerdish knowledge of relatively useless facts and words. But I will always endeavour with my peaceful Enneagram Type 9 empathy to make sure you don't feel bested, belittled or patronised, even though I sometimes can't resist my Enneagram wing 1 impulse to challenge you subtly when I think you're factually wrong, or if you're ungenerous with somebody you perceive as different or lesser that you.
It's sometimes unnerving to have to think through things when my compass is instinctual rather than reasoning and the ability to ask for help is never the first option for me. I do learn a lot, though, that way. Not always as quickly and seamlessly as I'd like. Mistakes are powerful teachers, even if we squirm at the embarrassment of making them. I mask and move through that embarrassment by laughter, getting safely alongside those who, left to their own devices, might have turned those blunderings against me. Even at school, nobody could bully me for long. My smile and self-deprecating gentleness gave the bullies no way to get a satisfying grip or a rise out of my reactions. In the long years since the schoolyard, my learning curve has risen by fits and starts, as I strive to find ways of being bold enough, courageous enough to speak out and stand up for every underdog with whom I can readily identify.
Often I'm flooded with a momentary feeling of being alone in a confusing, frighteningly hard world of people. Some days I feel my creativity is simply "peopled" out of me. A profoundly introverted soul who has made a living of challenging my introversion, I often find myself "all peopled out."
A woman once startled me by saying, after a presentation I had done:
“Where do you get all your self-confidence?”
The fact I remember her words shows how hilariously far that lady was from comprehending my true inclination to hermithood!
No. It's a weak excuse to say my creativity is "peopled" out of me. It's an aspect of writer's block that has been much discussed in literature about creativity, including Julia Cameron in her excellent "The Artist's Way". I can and do regularly overcome it. What is true, for me, though, is that doing the people thing takes an enormous amount of energy out of me. My first thought in almost every situation where I am meeting other people, even if I know them well, is 'where is the endgame here? When can I escape and be by myself again?' Nobody ever guesses, so I tend to find myself even more "peopled"!
In my youth, I did most of my writing at the dead of night, when people were kept at bay by sleep. More recently, chronic autoimmune illness means I'm denied the luxury of burning the midnight candle without consequences. I am mystified by those who feel bereft when they can't be chattering with people. My own deep heart-joy is when I am alone, preferably with nature, or when I am writing, with books, music or learning some new thing that stimulates my thoughts and my ability to weave these new insights into my words.
So is my ideal Valentine really myself?
The old song says: "People who need people are the luckiest people in the world." I do need people, very much so, but maybe not in indigestibly mammoth portions!
It doesn't always come easily to love myself, essential as that is. I have struggled with this in the past as so many of us do, not least those walking through life as a faith journey. As I mature into middle age, I find myself less and less able to gulp down platitudes and alienating ways of seeing others, or to tick the box of unbending doctrines like some nodding dog. It makes me feel diminished to try to shrink this messy marvellous world and cram it into a straitjacket with sharp unyielding seams. The upside to that so-called disillusionment is that it leaves healthy room for new perspectives that may prove nearer to the truth. The truth of love is even more important to me, as vital as breathing. It leaves more sweet space for supporting and valuing other people without tumbling over the tripwires of bigotry.
So these are my introverted middle-aged singleton's reflections on the day dedicated by history and card shops to Valentine. On social media, people are either embracing the heart and flower memes that abound at this time of year, or angrily rejecting them as smacking of stereotypes and shallowness. Meanwhile this unique oddball's here trying to spread the ripples of a calm pool of love in which anyone and everyone can bathe without drowning. That's me and maybe one of my missions in life. To help people see they are all special, truly loved in ways they haven't even dreamed, but yearn to discover.
In the end, writing this, I see more clearly just how much I am loved too as the earth caresses me in its cloak of serendipity and shadowy sunshine. That reassurance will last so much longer than a bunch of wilted roses on this day that celebrates the ways of the heart.