From looking at my Facebook feed, I see there was some sort of big holiday last weekend. I saw lots of pictures of friends with their spouses, their children, their parents, other friends, even their dogs. Sadly no cat pictures, I guess cats are not cuddly enough for Valentine’s Day. I was pleased to see that the day is becoming more inclusive, and that we can now interpret it more broadly than lover, partner, or spouse. It’s nice to no longer be left out of a holiday because you’re single, or because your partner feels that it’s a made up holiday/corporate plot. But this year I missed it altogether. No chocolates for the kids, no cards, certainly no presents. I did send my husband a perfunctory text, but it was hardly more than a begrudging acknowledgement. I’m not sure why it passed this year with so little thought on my part. It would be easy to say that it was because I was on the last day of a grueling 4 day road trip that included over 26 hours of driving, or maybe because we were so far out in the middle of nowhere that my internet coverage was too sketchy to post the cute picture with my particular valentine. But neither of those were the reason. I think the real reason I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day was because I was too busy falling in love. With my teenager.
It happened so slowly I almost missed it. My son and I were on a long road trip to visit a college he is considering. It was a 13 hour drive each way, with some additional time added on for looking around and visiting museums and bookstores. I’m usually game for a road trip but this was long even by my standards, and spending that much time alone with your teenager, wow. Since I have gotten into the habit of only seeing him at meals and occasional drives to this appointment or that, because our routine has become only glancing conversations unless a therapist was present it felt even more daunting. What do you talk about for that long? Recovery was off the table, we are all so run down by recovery. It’s always there like the elephant in the room, we decided to banish it for the weekend. That left us with a pretty big void. At home we are so often adversaries struggling for power or trying to fix things, trying not to let someone else in, trying to avoid being hurt, trying not to hurt while still being honest. Was that what our drive was going to be like? It felt like we would be walking through a 13 hour minefield. And at the start that’s what it was. It was first date awkward, trying to come up with a subject that would be compelling to both parties but not touchy. We started out with music taking tentative steps around a safe subject then let the rest just take off from there.
I was surprised that just letting the conversation rise and lull at its own rhythm was easier than I thought. It seemed since we had such a large space to fill, nothing felt rushed or urgent. Nothing was too trivial, nothing was too important to let lie there for a while and come back to it. My first steps to falling in love again centered on the recognition of what an easy traveling companion he is. We don’t always agree on everything, but he was willing to go out of his comfort zone a bit to make things easier for me. He put up with my music requests without complaint, didn’t requests stops or breaks, and he seemed comfortable. This was the way we used to be, how he was as a baby and toddler; a challenge but delightful all the same. He joked about the last minute-subpar accommodations. He decided I may be the one person in my family that doesn’t plan everything out and will just let stuff flow. He told me sometimes he likes it and sometimes it’s annoying. I thought for a moment things were going back to the way they were, but I stopped myself. Nothing will ever be the same because everything is always changing. Good, bad, who am I to judge? I decided to let myself be swept away in the now.
Let me tell you, the now was pretty incredible. Small talk out of the way during those initial 13 hours, our first dinner out was a gab fest. I discovered an almost-adult who had thought about the problems of the world with more depth and imagination than most of the already-adults I know. I found in him a self-awareness that I wish I could manage, and an honesty tinged with enough humor to pull us through to dessert. I’m pretty sure our individual theories on social mobility and the best way to initiate social interactions in groups vs one on one were not interesting to the couple in the booth behind us eating their blackberry cobbler, but to us they were fascinating. His description of his decision making process for how he will decide where he goes next fall left me longing for those skills in the decisions I’m making right now. At 50! From the looks on our fellow diners’ faces as we left the restaurant it was clear that our discussion was out of the ordinary, we were both amused by the confusion and the odd looks, even wondered briefly if we had cobbler or ice cream on our face.
This falling in love process continued, everything seemed to add to it and it became larger than life. When he said he would rather go to the bookstore instead of Chinatown, when we both headed to the poetry section independently, when I looked over and he was skipping the postcards to read an esoteric book on poetry and the end of print culture. That’s when I knew. He was letting me in on this part of his journey. I know I can’t be in on the whole thing, like I was when he was two, but I was in on this part. It felt like a warm breeze in the early evening. Comfortable and right.
In our early years my husband and I talked about the difference between loving someone and being in love. I remember long earnest conversations about it. I remember having conversations in the last few years with my son about how you know that you are in love and what it means. I’ve had conversations about how you fall out of love. I hope to have conversations with my daughter on these same things in due time. I wish I had a magic answer for all the questions I have, a viable argument as to how you know, a perfect quote to explain it all. I know this new love I began to feel was different from the mothering love I feel for him, different from the nurturing and care and worry and responsibility. It’s different from the romantic love that I feel for my husband and the partnership and journey we are walking together. Maybe love is the wrong word for it, maybe it’s just a deeper knowing illuminated by listening without judgment and feeling without thought of the consequences. But it feels like love, it felt like falling in love, and it’s exciting to imagine where it will take us.