It's been four years since I've had someone to snuggle in with to watch It's a Wonderful Life, buy flannel pajamas for, and decorate a tree with. And I'm not gonna lie -- the holidays kinda suck without it. Everything about this time of year is about sharing moments with the one (or ones) you love. I don't care if every ad screams "Buy this now!" The frenzy of finding the perfect gift is really all about the joy of seeing someone you love happy. There is honestly nothing better than that.
I'm not one to wallow in self-pity for too long, so I've gotten pretty good at finding other ways to share at the holidays. Every year I organize a Secret Santa program wherever I work. It started 10 years ago by choosing "Dear Santa" letters at the post office -- something I think many cities offer. If you've never anonymously gotten a gift for a child in need, I highly recommend it. Next to love, it's the best feeling there is. Here in New York, both The Coalition for the Homeless and New York Cares have kids (toddlers to teens) that won't have a Christmas unless someone answers their letter.
I've also started giving cards and small treats for my neighbors and coworkers. I know they appreciate the gesture, but as most people who volunteer will tell you, I think I'm the one who gets the most out of it. Giving feels good.
Still, it's an empty feeling to walk around the city, filled with "perfect" gifts, and realizing you have no special person to buy them for. When you truly love someone, all you want is to make them happy. At the holidays, and every day in between. I remember how great that feels.
Seth Adam Smith's recent piece "Marriage Isn't For You" got a lot of attention, and deservedly so. It was a beautifully written piece about love and his devotion to his wife (with a brilliantly clever headline). But it also made a lot of people question the selflessness of his position.
A true marriage, Smith writes, "is never about you." Instead, "It's about the person you love -- their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams." A few of the comments I saw out there were fair: "Don't my wants and needs matter too?" "What about my happiness?" "Shouldn't I be first sometimes?"
Of course -- and yes, to all those questions. But in my opinion, Smith isn't denying himself happiness, instead he's acknowledging a powerful (and beautiful) spiritual principle that is counter-intuitive to our immediate gratification, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society. Put into action, it works beautifully.
"I feel so strongly that our relationships are greatly improved when we take the focus off of ourselves and focus on the happiness of someone else," Smith explained further in an interview on goodmorningamerica.com. "It's a beautiful paradox that blesses us."
Which explains my love of giving to friends and strangers.
True unconditional love is loving someone for who they are, on good days and bad -- not what they do FOR us. Or what we get from it. Though sadly, modern media, "He got it at Jared"-type advertising, and movies try daily to convince us otherwise.
"He must really love her," was something my last boyfriend used to say whenever he saw a big rock on any girl's finger. I found it odd, and a little sad. Anyone (with money) can throw down a chunk of cash on Christmas or any other special occasion. But what about the 364 days in between?
What about when I'm exhausted and anxious about flying and have a mini-meltdown in the airport because I can't find my pashmina for our 6:00 a.m. cross-country flight? Or when I'm fed up waiting over an hour for a table at this week's hotspot and mouth off to the dude with the headset? Not some of my finest moments. But can you love me then? Enough to look past the reactive behavior to see the fear or exhaustion behind it? That's a real gift.
"Nothing your partner does is personal. Your partner is dealing with her own garbage. If you don't take it personally, it will be easy for you to have a wonderful relationship with your partner," says Don Miguel Ruiz in his beautiful book, The Mastery of Love.
In it, Ruiz talks about the mistake we tend to make looking for our "missing piece." For that other half to make us whole. To make us happy.
"The real mission you have in life is to make yourself happy..." he explains. And to find the person who can enjoy that life with us.
Obviously, this only works when BOTH people are devoted to that kind of love. Otherwise you end up with a far too common scenario: where one person gives and the other takes. Which is the recipe for romantic disaster. But when both people in a relationship focus on giving, instead of receiving -- both people feel loved, and fulfilled. It's a perfect circle.
All of this is easier said than done, no doubt. Especially when the "garbage" that person is dishing out comes in the form of anger, lies, or disappearing acts. But if you are lucky enough to have found someone you truly love, and can look past the surface (not ignore it) for the deeper cause -- that's like having Christmas every day of the year.
Love really is an amazing gift. It's cliché because it's true. And if you have it for the holidays, you already have a lot. Those of us without it are happy remind you of that -- just ask us. So please don't forget to share it with others who have less. Like a candle that can light an infinite amount of other candles, it can brighten an entire room. And it costs nothing. Definitely a lot less than a Le Vian chocolate diamond. Whatever that actually is.