February 14, 2007

A Valentine from Richard 6.0

Belatedly, in my 50s, I find that I have all the problems of a gifted child. Transitions and big moments are hard for me. Holidays, vacations, house moves, big purchases — I’m liable to ruin them by sulking or retreating or throwing a tantrum. I don’t know what’s expected of me, and I get angry at those who expect something. When a good time is ending, I’m likely to say something that ruins it, perhaps because I don’t know how to say I’m sad it’s ending.

Valentine’s Day has often been a bad day for me, and thus for those who’ve loved me. I have a big romantic streak but I’ve mostly hidden it, out of embarrassment. I never quite believed that I was supposed to murmur endearments, declare my devotion in impassioned phrases, let myself be swept off my feet; stranger still, I never quite believed that others wanted that from me. (“It never entered my mind,” as Sinatra is singing while I type this.) Only in the past few years have I learned to show my romantic self, and I’ve loved it. And I’ve learned that the best thing to do on a special occasion may be precisely the clichéd, corny thing I always looked down. Buy the flowers, buy the candy, light the candles, dim the lights. You don’t have to feel bad because you’re not chartering a jet to fly her to Paris. Or because you’re not as above it all as you thought.

The saving grace amid my ignorance and immaturity has been that I’m able to learn, and to teach myself when no one else will. There’s a saying, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson,” one of the many adages, mottos, and slogans with which I cement the rough-hewn stones of my personality.

So I keep fixing the bugs and glitches. I calculate that I’ve gone through at least five versions of the Richard software and have just launched the sixth:

1.0: childhood (a naïve, enthusiastic startup)
2.0: adolescence (a huge flop – almost sank the company)
3.0: first marriage (brought me back a long way)
4.0: bachelorhood (this version didn’t stay on the market long, but earned big profits)
5.0: second marriage (I thought this would be a perennial)
6.0: ?

Whoever gets version 6.0 is going to get the benefit of a lot of trial and error, late-night sessions and working breakfasts. But during the upgrade, I don’t have a valentine.

I’m planning to spend it like any other day. Wednesdays are my busiest evenings, come to think of it: group therapy and tai chi. The tai chi attendance will be light, and those of us who make it will throw each other bouquets of wry half-smiles.

Who will be my next valentine? And when? A year from now, five years, ten? I can handle any of those answers. I have good things to learn from being alone, giving myself time for reading, writing, solo walks, and long, recklessly confessional emails. Evenings and weekends of stepping out the door without a plan, but with a smile.

There are special pleasures, though, in observing forms. So I need to ask someone to be my valentine.

Reader, how about you?

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