Two years ago I hosted a four-course dinner party for my best friend where I made every single item from scratch. I stayed up late the night before boiling tomatoes and peeling off the flimsy pink skin to make fresh gazpacho. I planned ahead to buy rarely-used ingredients like chestnuts (for this incredibly delicious Flourless Chocolate Chestnut Truffle Torte.) I washed placemats, set up vases with fresh lavender, prepared cocktails with spirals of lime. It was a grand gesture of love and affection for a friend of over 25 years, and all the effort was received as the love it was intended to be.
This year I am in a different season of life. To be quite honest, I’m exhausted and don’t feel like I have much to give right now. I’m thankful my 5th grader opted out of personalized valentines and preferred to bring a simplified class treat that eases my to-do list. My work and family to-do lists are out of control. Do I even need to tell you about the piles of laundry I’m ignoring? I’m sure you have your own.
Obviously no one expects that kind of birthday-celebration extravagance every year. And while I don’t feel pressured to repeat that dinner party, I do feel aware of my limitations right now and all the ways I wish I could better support and care for people in my life who are grieving a diagnosis or celebrating a new baby.
Something I often do is overcomplicate or overthink the ways I can show consideration and thoughtfulness to the people I love. I have to constantly bring myself back to the ideas of “partial solutions” and “something is better than nothing,” and “done is better than perfect.” Constantly. I am a broken record on this topic. I like going big. But, it’s rarely possible.
Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal to me and my husband. We go on regular dates and try to prioritize connection even when an official “date night” isn’t possible because of sick kids or other responsibilities. But I understand that it’s often easier to ignore the pressures of pink roses and chocolate boxes when you’re in a strong relationship. When this holiday nears I think about my single friends who want to be in a relationship and single-parent friends who need to feel seen.
As I talked about recently on Tsh’s podcast, The Good List, my word of the year for 2020 is Invest. And I’ve been asking myself, “What does it look like to invest in all my relationships in a way that is realistic but meaningful?” This week I wanted to reach out to people in my life who may be experiencing loneliness—both generally and because of the way that Valentine’s Day can poke at your pain.
So, I changed my expectations of myself and engaged in some partial solutions. I’d like to challenge you to do the same by finding 30 minutes this weekend to build connection, invest in relationships, and, yes, spread some love around in the most cheesy but sincere way possible.
The key to this challenge is to not overthink it. Lower your expectations. Remind yourself that a short but thoughtful text message is better than no text message. I suggest you aim to complete a few of these things within 30 minutes. Set the bar low, but do something.
Here are 5 quick ideas for showing love to people in your life today:
1. Write a very short handwritten note on any scrap of paper to your spouse, sibling, parent, or close friend. You don’t need a perfect letterpress card, you just need a discarded piece of construction paper and a pen.
2. Follow-up with someone who you discussed getting together and actually finish scheduling the activity. Those text threads can get crazy but don’t give up.
3. Follow up with an old friend or a relationship that has some unresolved awkwardness. There’s someone who I accidentally ghosted and didn’t mean to. I recently found the email that I never replied to and felt terrible. What’s worse: writing an imperfect apology or continuing to feel guilty? I chose to write that imperfect apology email.
4. Contact someone who recently had a birthday but you missed it. Belated expressions of gratitude that someone is alive are always valuable.
5. Think of someone to whom you can send a speedy thank you note/text/email. Did your kid’s teacher take some extra time to contact you about a situation at school? Did your coworker do something tiny but helpful? Did someone lend you a onesie when your baby had a diaper blowout and you weren’t prepared?