Romance is dead. It was a devastating realization for someone who grew up on stories like the Phantom of the Opera and Wuthering Heights. I spent my childhood swishing around with stars in my eyes, writing my own love story in my head–my soulmate would see me in the opposite box at the opera, across a ballroom crowded with waltzing couples, drinking espresso at a sidewalk cafe, and instantly fall in love with my tumbling waves of raven hair, my fiery russet eyes, my almond-creme skin. He would find me irresistibly charming, witty, talented, and whisk me off to Paris, or New York, or Carpathia to love me til death and beyond. Every year, I waited for it to happen. It wasn’t an if, it was a when…
But ten years later with a string of volatile, unstable relationships behind me, I had lost faith. Romance was just another fairy tale, something reserved for novels and cinema, not something that happened to real people in everyday life and anyone who said otherwise was delusional. Those who had magical stories about meeting their partners were embellishing for presentation. There was no Heathcliff, there was no Erik, and my youthful ideas about true love were an embarrassing blip that time would eventually strike from the record. The stories I once loved now seemed pathetic. I told myself that it was all in the spirit of childhood fantasy, that I had simply grown up. So I swapped sighs for cynicism and swept it all behind me.
And then, one day, I found myself crying on 1st Avenue. It had suddenly occurred to me that I had resigned myself to a life of dull mediocrity, where things were convenient and accessible. Love songs and sonnets aren’t created from ambivalence. I had been moved to tears by a love song, one I had heard hundreds of times before—I realized that the romantic had never died, I had simply hidden her away. Romance is delicate, fragile. It can be wounded easily, and takes time and care to recover. I’ve always advocated self-invention, creating art out of life, yet I had completely ignored that particular plot point, leaving it all to chance in an often-hostile setting. But I also don’t believe in coincidences—standing that morning on the sidewalk, blinking back tears as I listened to lyrics, I knew something had been set in motion. I had opened up to the Universe, and the Universe never misses an opportunity to set things right.
If we’re being completely honest, part of me never stopped believing in love: I’ve always thrilled at vampire stories, paranormal romances—hell, I even stalked out wedding blogs. And despite a lifetime of truly disastrous events, Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. But since that fateful morning, I can fully count myself among the faithful. I love hearing about how couples met, I emotionally invest in relationships between fictional characters, and there have been many, many repeat performances of my sidewalk waterworks. It may sound sappy, naive, or radically uncool, but I believe my life is richer for it. It can be scary to open yourself up to something that might feel like nothing more than a pretty idea, but if you don’t take the risk, you’ll never see the reward. Believe me, I know what it’s like to be hurt, disillusioned, let down—it’s been worth every second of sadness to appreciate the happiness that can come from putting your trust into another human being, and watching the magic that happens when two people believe in a feeling.
This Valentine’s weekend, whether you find yourself banding together with friends, painting the town with a lover, or comfortably at home with family, consider your emotions. Where do they come from? Are they from the heart, from the core of your soul? Have you dredged whatever deep, labyrinthine recesses you hide under the surface? Or are you sitting safely in the shallows, feeling from the surface? Open up. The Universe is listening.
If you need some inspiration, I put together a Spotify playlist to serenade you. Inside, you’ll find some heartbreaking love songs, some smoldering seductions, songs for soulmates, and just-for-the-moment lovers. No matter where you are, there’s magic to be found: it turns out, love songs don’t lie.
Illustration from the Shadowscapes Tarot, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law