This is (not) what Love looks like.

“C. S. Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham said, ‘The curse of humanity is that every human relationship ends in pain.’

Love is not pretty, and it is not pink.

But my hope is that some day I will not be afraid to give love and receive love.”

Krisi Johnson, Prodigal Magazine

My beautiful mum and I on Valentines’ Day this year.

As a child, I grew up understanding the discrepancies between fairytale love stories and real life. I understood the morals behind fairytales – don’t eat an apple offered by a seemingly generous old lady; don’t get your finger pricked on a spool. I knew the drill.

But I also witnessed love that’s messy. Love that leads fights and quarrels left me wondering if I was living in an alternate reality, since Disney propagated the “happily ever after” story in almost every movie.

Five years ago, I decided to spend every Valentines’ Day as a singleton with my mum. At first, she laughed it off, thinking that I’d be out on dates soon enough. But five years have passed, and I’ve spent four February 14ths with her (I was away in Melbourne in 2010) – four eventful dinners, filled with laughter and meaningful conversation.

Each year, my single status becomes clearer to me. It doesn’t help that Singapore is a country that celebrates Valentines’ Day in every way – florists stay up all night wrapping bouquets ready for delivery, restaurants are fully booked out weeks in advance, and panicked boyfriends text their female friends asking for advice (haha). When mum and I dine out, we see couples everywhere. We sometimes laugh and (not so) secretly think the couples must think we’re a strange mother-and-daughter pair, eating, laughing and having a good time on a day meant for couples.

Each year, I am reminded of what Love really is.

Five years ago, when I made that commitment to spend Valentines’ Day with my mum, I didn’t realise how much I’d learn from it. As a naive teenager, I’d buy one rose (can’t afford a whole bunch – the mark up on flowers on this one day is insane, as you well know) and make last-minute reservations at a place mum would hardly enjoy. But over the years, I learned more about mum’s likes and dislikes. I learned that simple things go a long way. And I learned that spending time with her was the biggest luxury of all.

Over the years, I’ve come to realise Love is messy. It’s painful. And most of the time, it seems as if it’s not worth the blood, sweat, and tears. What you sacrifice might not equate with what you receive in return.

But that is precisely the definition of Love. It doesn’t bargain. It doesn’t remember wrongdoings. It overlooks shortcomings and gives more credit than one could ever deserve.

Love isn’t about flowers, expensive restaurants, gifts, and a constant stream of endearments. It isn’t even about pain, hurt, and broken hearts.

Love resides in the recesses of our hearts. It asks to reveal itself in the every day – a smile to the stranger next to you on the train, a helping hand to the elderly lady who struggles to carry her groceries on board the bus, or listening to a brokenhearted friend. It’s about encouragement and generosity, with our time, words, and perhaps cash.

The building blocks of Love come in many forms. They can look ominous – incessant arguments, or almost irreconciliable differences. They can also come in pretty packages – flowers, hugs, kisses; the perfect romance package.

But they all culminate in one thing: commitment. A commitment to loving a parent, child, partner, or friend.

This is what I’ve learned in 23 (well, 22-and-a-half) years of singlehood. And it’s okay if I spend Valentines’ Day with mum again next year. Because I will have had another year with her to look back on – a year of crazy adventures, raucous laughter, arguments over the silliest things.

May what I’ve learned give me the courage to give love and receive love when the time comes.

Happy Valentines’ Day, my friends. I hope you had a great one. (:

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