Let me tell you about the most perfect Valentine's Day I've ever had.
When I was in my early 20s and working my way through my Master's program by waiting tables, I fell hard for a fellow waiter named Josh. We dated for nearly a year, and as Valentine's Day approached, my confusion about what would happen took over. I had never felt like I knew where I stood with him, so I was really clueless about what I should feel or expect.
And then when the night came, we went out for a pretty low-key dinner, but something was off. After dinner, he suggested we go have a drink at a bar that because it sat at the very top of a hotel, you could see all of downtown Dallas lit up. It was beautiful but he didn't seem to want to stay long. We got back in the elevator and he hit a floor number saying, "Let's go see what the inside looks like, just for fun."
We walked down a long hallway for a bit before he broke out in a run. He was much taller than me, so he quickly outpaced me and turned a corner. By the time I turned the same corner, he was gone. I walked on, cautiously, looking at each door. Out of a dark, cracked door, he grabbed me and pulled me into a room. I was caught off guard and it took me a moment to adjust to the darkness. He wrapped his arms around me and walked me forward.
A love song I had told him reminded me of "us" was playing. Candles flickered around the room, and by their light, I could see rose petals and candies scattered on the bed in a heart shape. By now I realized, he'd gotten this room for us and clumsily surprised me. He had gifts, too. A silver necklace and an ice cream maker. (Hey, I'm a foodie, what can I say.) It was a set up so perfect, it seemed plucked from the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel. We spent the night barely sleeping, if you catch my drift, and by the time the sun came up, I was wrapped in what felt like a fuzzy, pink cloud of perfect love.
That afternoon, dropping me at my apartment, he broke up with me.
I asked why, what had I done? He said he'd known he'd wanted to break up for a few weeks, but he thought I "deserved a good Valentine's Day." I did, but this was more about his guilt than my worthiness. By the evening, I heard from a friend he was cozied up to another coworker. I was 95% shocked.
But honestly, there had always been a little voice in the back of my head that told me he didn't love me as he said he did. He told me he would hate to be married to a therapist. He told me I was redundant. He told me about his goals that I could never be a part of. He would answer questions but never ask them back to me. There were insulting compliments, emotional distance, disregard for my schedule, my space, and my body.
Early on, he had unprotected sex with me that I didn't realize was unprotected, and would never have agreed to. (Sparing the details, trust me, it's possible.) When I realized and freaked out, he didn't bother to address my feelings. Instead, he leaned on his Assembly of God teachings and in a detached but judgmental voice, told me that I was too evil for him to be around and that he hated himself for letting me tempt him into sex at all. He dressed and wordlessly left while my mind madly scrambled through crisis management options. Eventually, my solution was just to get on the pill and apologize until he came back.
See, I thought that because the night was "perfect", he understood me and valued me. I think women in particular are good at connecting dots that way. "If they do ___ that means they feel ___ about me." Sometimes that's true, but sometimes it's really bad logic. More often, it's better to think, "They do ____ because that makes them feel ____." He was a self-centered man who knew some details about me that allowed him to look like Romeo. And that was a look he liked.
Among the many, many lessons in this story, I want you to hear how empty "perfect" gestures can be. I want you to know that a narcissist can also love bomb you on the way out. I want you to look beneath the surface of "romance". And I want you to take another look at someone with a "guarded" heart.
You see, these days, we like to believe that some people are guarded when they start having feelings because someone in their past treated them badly. But those people ALSO, at some point, treated them exactly how they always wanted to be treated and it made them unable to trust even happy feelings. They've been taught that they can't trust any of their feelings, and that even the dream in their heart can be a weapon used agaist them.
I would love to tell you that I never accepted bad treatment again, and that I went on to have fulfilling relationships that never hurt me, took advantage of me, or let me wonder where I stood. But I can tell you that not even this "perfect" Valentine's, or any of the other disappointments that followed, have taken away my ability to love, regardless of the day. I hope you can say that too.