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Valentine's Day, the Golden Rule, and a Little Bit of Grace

Happy Valentine's Day! I'm not even going to call it "Singles Awareness Day" or anything like that because, even as a single woman, I really do love Valentine's Day. Sometimes, though, it's not all it's cracked up to be, as evidenced by "that" Valentine's Day.

Picture it. Valentine's Day 2015.

It was the first (and still only) Valentine's Day that I wasn't single. As a hopeless romantic who really just loves love, I couldn't have been more excited to celebrate it with the man who had stolen my heart. Even though it was a really big deal to me, I tried to temper it a little bit, suggesting to my boyfriend that we not exchange gifts. We'd just had a big Christmas, followed my birthday in January, so I didn't see the need for more stuff. "Let's just have a nice date night together," I said. Simple enough, right?

Well, it sure sounded simple, but what I had in mind wasn't very simple afterall. It was true that I didn't want gifts. However, what I expected---but never said---was all of the big, romantic gestures. You know, the lovey-dovey Valentine's Day stuff. I just knew he was going to show up at my door with flowers and a card. We'd go to the (not romantic) basketball game we had planned to attend, and then he would whisk me off to wherever he'd made a reservation for a romantic dinner. We'd have a nice evening just being in love and making goo-goo eyes at each other. (*It's important to note here that this sounds nothing like any date I had ever had with him or anyone else I've dated. Purely a product of the Hallmark Channel and my own imagination.*)

Anyway, this date I had dreamed up was going to be so special, and I planned accordingly. I dressed up a little more than I normally would for a basketball game, did the whole hair and makeup thing to make sure I looked goooood, and waited for my guy to pick me up. I even washed a vase to have on standby for those flowers. That, my friends, turned out to be unnecessary. When he got to my house, there were no flowers in his hands. No sweet card. Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. He did bring my all-time favorite candy, those little conversation hearts, but he got the WRONG ONES. The nerve! I only like the classic flavors, not the sour version they've started making (which I may or may not have ever told him). But alas, he brought me sour hearts instead of flowers on Valentine's Day. And at that point, I was a little sour too.

I tried to hide my disappointment as I handed him the card I had carefully picked out for him. The card didn't even have a fart joke in it, so you know I was serious about giving him the perfect card to show him just how much I loved him. And, of course, I even added my own little handwritten love note to it. It was, in my mind, the kind of card he'd put in his memory box and pull out years later to reminisce about our first Valentine's Day together. He read the card and quietly said, "That was nice." He did not put it in his memory box. In fact, a month or two later (spoiler alert: we'd broken up by then), I found that card between the cushions of my sofa. He hadn't even taken it with him. Womp womp.

He also didn't seem impressed by the plate of hand-dipped chocolate strawberries I presented him while we waited to head over to the game. He instead told me that he'd never had one and wasn't sure he'd like it, completely dismissing the effort and intent of my gesture. As if I wasn't striking out already, we got into an argument on the way to campus, and I had to touch up my makeup from the tears before we even went inside the arena. The basketball game turned out to be a good break, allowing us to focus on something other than being annoyed with each other.

When the game was over, I asked where we were going to dinner. "I don't care. Where do you want to go?" Great. There was no romantic dinner reservation either. It was actually a little early for dinner anyway, so we decided to to grab a couple of drinks and an appetizer somewhere before we settled on a dinner spot. As we finished our appetizer, he said he was stuffed and wasn't sure we needed to get a full dinner afterall. Okay, fair enough. "Let's just go get dessert somewhere," I suggested (with absolutely no attitude at all, I'm sure). His pick was Applebee's. I was trying really hard to pick my battles that day, so I went with it.

When we got to Applebee's the smell of cigarette smoke inside was overwhelming, and he declared that we would not be dining there. Unable to decide on an acceptable alternative, we agreed to just go back to my house. At least, I thought we were going to my house. It turns out, I was going back to my house; he was going home. So my long-awaited and perfectly-dreamed Valentine's Day ended with me being home alone before dark, crying on the couch with my dog, and wondering why he couldn't just get it right.

So why am I telling you this? To show you that my ex is a horrible person and ruined my one shot at a romantic Valentine's Day? No, of course not. And I'm not just saying that because he might read this. No, my Valentine's Day was ruined because of my expectations, and I take full responsibility for that. I set my expectations based on what I wanted---and maybe even thought I deserved---not on what I asked for or had any reason to expect. No wonder I was disappointed.

I have never been very good at managing my expectations of the people in my life. In fact, I find myself in similar situations a lot. I tend to pour myself into people I care about. I choose to do that because I truly love to love people and want them to feel important. The problem comes in that I also expect the same thing in return. After all, there's that whole Golden Rule thing: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (That's Matthew 7:12 for those of you who are into the Good Book and still solid life advice if you're not.)

I'm not perfect by any means, but I really try to be aware of how I treat people and make an effort to be the friend I would expect others to be to me. I try my hardest to do things for people that I would appreciate too. For example, I love receiving hand-written notes or even just a quick encouraging text from a friend who knows I could use it, so I try to be intentional about doing those things for others. It means the world to me when someone gives me a gift that is really personal to me, so I try to be thoughtful in picking out meaningful gifts for the people I love. But sometimes, I feel really let down when I don't get the same in return. If I do unto others, why aren't they doing unto me?!?

Well, the more I think about it, it seems like the Golden Rule is one of those things that I haven't been getting quite right. Like maybe I've been twisting the words this whole time and completely missing the point (my bad, JC). You see, we are instructed to treat people the way we want to be treated. Full stop. It doesn't say to treat others the way you want to be treated so that they'll treat you the same way. It doesn't say, "Do unto others and they will do unto you." Nope. It doesn't come with an expectation of reciprocation at all. Apparently we're supposed to love well just because it's the right thing to do.

Looking back, I can definitely see where I went wrong that Valentine's Day (and in many other situations). But as with most things, getting it wrong is how I learn some of the best lessons life teaches me. Thankfully, I've learned that the best way I can live out the Golden Rule is not just by loving hard, but also by offering a little bit of grace. Grace when my boyfriend doesn't read my mind and bring me flowers. Grace when a friend flakes at a time when I really need them. Grace when someone just can't find any kind words to say to me. Grace when people don't do things exactly like I would. Grace because, Lord knows, I need it too.

At the end of the day, I know that no matter how much I try to love people the best way I know how, sometimes it's not going to be the right way. And sometimes, I just plain fail at being loving at all. I hope that on those days I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are serving up a big dose of the Golden Rule and, of course, a little bit of grace.