My Funny Valentine

As much as I love the song “My Funny Valentine,” I think that another, “My One and Only Love” describes my feelings on a day like today. If you don’t know these songs, listen to them. They hail from an era when songwriting was an art, when lyrics meant something and their composition was a craft; sadly these skills seem to be so lacking from most of the stuff that passes for popular music these days.

Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. It never was really one of my favorite holidays, but one of my favorite memories does come from a Valentine’s Day a number of years ago. 2004, in fact. My wife and I had recently started dating — we wouldn’t be engaged for another 5 months or so — and we decided to head up to Vancouver, BC for the weekend, since the holiday fell on a Saturday that year. We packed into the car and headed north up I-5. I had gotten a nice hotel deal at the Hyatt downtown, and we had a truly memorable meal at Le Bistro de Paris, which began with escargots — something my wife had never tried — and ended with the all-time greatest of desserts: poached pears with roquefort ice cream. When the waitress told us that was on the menu, I thought, “that will either be horrible, or fantastic.” With an idea like that, you’ll either blow it, or knock it out of the park. This was a grand slam.

But for me, one memory really stands out. We had a bit of time before our dinner reservation and, being on the west coast, we could benefit from watching a live broadcast meant for prime time on the east coast. Yes, it was the weekend of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. My wife has a thing for Corgis, and I for English Springer Spaniels. I had a springer when I was in high school, and she was just the greatest dog on earth. I swear that our current dog — a Corgi — must be her reincarnation, because she’s now the greatest dog on earth. But I digress. Actually, I don’t remember much about the dog show beyond the enjoyment of sharing it with my beloved. This was our first major outing as a married couple, the first of many more to come. We hadn’t been dating for more than a month or so, and I hadn’t yet decided that I’d be spending the rest of my life with her, but I wasn’t more than a few weeks away from that realization. We were just lying on the bed, watching the dogs prance around, and it was so perfect.

That’s what it’s like to be in love. Everything is perfect. There are no problems. There are no communication issues. There are no fights. There is a sense of euphoria. There is the joy in the mere presence of your beloved. Just the smell of her hair or the touch of her hand gives you all the nutrition your soul needs and all the energy your body could ever desire.

Sadly, that kind of love just doesn’t last. It fades over time. I’d say my wife and I were pretty much in love for a good 2 years or so before life began to intervene. The pressures of my job started to bear down on me, and after a couple more years I lost that job due to political intrigue. The rest, as they say, is history. The three years that followed began to spell the downfall of our relationship. Things definitely turned for the worse over the course of the past two years or so for a variety of reasons. By the time last summer rolled around, my wife was apparently very unhappy and quite desperate. And, when the opportunity presented itself, she found relief by “falling in love” with someone else.

Notice the quotation marks. Adulterers don’t really fall in love. They don’t get to do that, even though that’s what they think they’re doing. In order to actually be in love with someone, you have to have two things: trust and honesty. These are two things that adultery prevents, because it requires deceit and dishonesty. The lies are endless, directed equally at the world, the self, and the adulterous partner.

Okay, now remember that I wrote about a change in focus? I’m not about to let this post turn into a rant on adultery, I just lay that last paragraph out there as a preface to something that has, for me, been a transformational realization. Not only do I still love my wife, but the process of going through this crisis has taught me how to be in love with her again. That’s not to say that I’m actively in love with her, because it takes two to make that happen, but I know that I can be in love with her again, and I’m pretty sure that, once we begin to reconcile, this will happen. You only get that gift of falling in love once, so the chances are pretty much that already over for us. It happened 8 years ago. But you can create love through your actions. I’m doing it every single day. Every opportunity I have to interact with my wife in some form is an opportunity to create love.

Of course she’s pushing back against that. She doesn’t want to be in love with me right now. She wants to be in love with … that other guy. But there’s a problem, remember? Adulterers don’t get to fall in love. So what do they get? A form of narcissism that basically is infatuation. Or, if you like, being in love with the idea of being in love. They might have physical intimacy and the semblance of emotional intimacy, but in fact there is not enough trust for emotional intimacy to truly manifest. Emotionally and physiologically the whole system of an adulterous affair is unstable and dysregulated, its shelf life is very limited, and is not likely to span more than a few heady months before it comes spinning to its dizzying and messy conclusion.

Right now I’m in the pushback phase. I’ve seen it before, but she has begun to dig her heels in over the past 6 weeks or so: “separating” and now apparently planning on moving in with the adulterer. (You know, the whole Camp Chickenshit thing.) So anything I do at this point is likely to provoke a reaction. She left on Friday and did not return, as would be the norm, on Monday. Nope. She called in “sick” to her various clients because today, Tuesday the 14th is, in fact Valentine’s Day. (How much do you want to bet me that she will not be sick when she comes home tomorrow?) I’ll spare you the mundane details of my sparse communications with her in her absence this time. I’ll just get down to the nitty gritty.

I bought her a Valentine’s Day gift. I went up to a local independent bookstore looking for inspiration. I suspected I’d find it there. My thoughts revolved around finding some gifts relating to that trip to Vancouver and the Westminster Dog Show that was on TV that weekend. I poked around the travel books and found a few things: a Moleskine notebook with maps of Vancouver inside, plus a couple of travel guides, but none of these seemed really appropriate. So I headed up to the pet section. I’d seen a book up there a couple of months ago that had piqued my interest, so I wanted to see if it was still there. And there it was, on the bottom shelf: a hardcover photo essay entitled Dogs Make Us Human: A Global Family AlbumI found it touching the first time I’d seen it, and this time it pretty much brought tears to my eyes. It was perfect, and I know she’d love it. So I got that, plus a card. Nothing romantic, because that would be a bit much for my situation. At the cashier, I asked them to gift wrap the book, since they really do a nice job, and noticed a little rubber stamp on the counter that she’d also like. So I got that too.

Now here’s the thing: the card is from me. I wrote a short message in it, thanking her for having the counseling session with me, and telling her that I hoped she felt understood. Plus, the obligatory “Happy Valentine’s Day.” But the book is coming from the dog. Yup, the tag (which looks like a bookmark, by the way — those guys are clever!) says that it’s from the dog. Of course, the dog came from me as a gift, so the line of causation is pretty clear, but I guess I just need to be a bit less direct, given her behavior. I do think that this gift is going to pack a bit of a punch. My counselor got the point across to her that I was still in love with her, and so she will equate any gifts I give, no matter how small or indirect, will speak of that love.

And that’s bound to be, well, annoying, I guess. It’s got to be annoying to have someone rewrite your story. That’s what I’m doing, bit by bit, little by little. Surely enough, I’m melting the ice away from her heart. It’s a slow but inexorable process. Eventually, there will be no ice left, the affair will be history, and we will be reconciling.

As for the songs mentioned at the top of this post, please listen to them, if you haven’t yet. I’ll also offer one further version of “My One and Only Love,” a rendition by one of the great jazz saxophonists of the last 30 years, the late Michael Brecker. This one has an extra bit of sentimentality attached to it, because it reminds me of the first woman with whom I’d ever fallen in love. I was young, it didn’t work out for lots of reasons, but I remember coming home from a few days at Lake Tahoe with her and some mutual friends realizing that it was, in fact over. I put this song on and cried my eyes out. Funnily enough, it doesn’t have that effect on my at all anymore. I just have many, many wonderful memories of this song, this musician, his music, and all the people I shared it with, including my wife.