I’m my own girlfriend
The bittersweet joy of being alone on Valentine’s Day
By Stacey Warde
For Valentine’s I was given a broken heart of the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
I sat alone in a fine restaurant overlooking the bay. I had just finished a rich bowl of potato-leek soup, fresh-baked bread, and a berry margarita.
Life felt good except for the fact that I was eating alone at the end of a long Valentine’s Day.
Then, I started thinking how ridiculous I was sitting by myself, eating out and spending money I couldn’t afford. I was feeling sad that I didn’t have anyone to share my time and food with, sad that I’d soon be going home alone.
The host and the manager had asked me where my date was when I entered the restaurant so awkwardly alone, past tables of lovers true and false proclaiming their love, devotion and horniness—all the things I wanted in a lover.
“I’m my own girlfriend tonight,” I said. They laughed and helped me to a table near the bar. Yes, it’s funny, I thought, but true—and a little sad.
A prim couple I’d seen the day before in another trendy restaurant sat at the bar. Few kisses and little warmth passed between them. What did they have? What kept them together?
The kitchen staff worked feverishly, cleaning pots and pans, scrubbing surfaces, polishing glasses and silver, and emptying cases, while the chef and managers sat at a seafood bar nearby and enjoyed fine glasses of wine and conversation.
It was closing time.
I had come, after working late, because I thought it would be a good idea—maybe I’d meet the woman of my dreams, maybe I’d get lucky. A friend who cuts my hair thought it would be a good idea, too. “You should take yourself out tonight,” she said. “A lot of single women may be out looking for love.”
I sure was. And I was certain that by being my own girlfriend, taking myself to dinner, I’d find love.
The management talked over the evening’s challenges, the full house, and the desperate men pleading over the phone for last-minute reservations for the sweethearts they had just remembered.
“You’ll make my life so much better if you could just squeeze us in,” they pleaded.
Nope. Sorry, too late, loser.
So, how was my life any better, I wondered, with me sitting alone, pretending to be my own girlfriend, wishing the hostess at the bar would show more leg and eventually come home with me?
How was I any different for forgetting, for waiting until the last minute, for feeling this fine separation between what I want and what I have?
The staff, lovely in its efficient manner and workplace intimacy, must have known how pathetic I felt. Thus, the question that led to my delicious humiliation: “You won’t be offended, will you?” They were all looking my way. What the hell were they talking about?
“Just say no,” the hostess teased. I was feeling so desperate for something I’d do anything she told me.
“No, of course not,” I answered back.
The machine was already in gear. Behind the bar, the commotion wasn’t about cleaning but about fixing something. The flourish of a rich berry sauce was spread around something dark.
They were fixing me dessert.
I pretended to be more interested in my newly purchased, “A Dictionary of Symbols.” I didn’t realize a symbol was unfolding before my very eyes, the symbol of what I needed to know most about myself.
The restaurant staff was winding down a busy evening full of dreamy-eyed lovers with gifts from special someones. In the corners, secrets were being told and history was being made.
“My boyfriend will be asleep when I get home,” the hostess lamented.
“After 38 years of marriage you get used to that,” her boss intoned.
The woman I really wanted to be with, the one I’d come here with frequently of late, wasn’t with me tonight. She was with her boyfriend. I’d relished her laughter, her bawdiness, her ability to connect with me through her pains and losses, through her dreams and her fire, her natural predisposition to be a lover.
I've always wanted a lover, a woman who can bare her soul and leg at the same time. So, without her, I chose to be my own girlfriend, chose to eat alone in a fine restaurant on Valentine’s Day, chose to risk making a fool of myself.
And soon, the hostess was advancing toward my table, with plate in hand, somewhat awkward in her approach, but determined to deliver the symbol of my own brokenness, which of course was also full of the rich potential for sweet redemption. She set the plate down with a somewhat evil grin.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said.
Why would I mind this gift from the kitchen, this huge piece of the most delicious chocolate—cut in half with jagged edges, forming the shape of a broken heart?
Even if I was simply the butt of a late-night joke, I could appreciate the beauty of knowing the truth about myself, about the sad hostess and the seasoned lover at the bar, about the lovers true and false telling secrets in the corners of the restaurant, about anyone who’s ever loved:
Love breaks us all.
Even when we think we don’t have it, love humbles us. It reshapes our world into something mysterious and wonderful. Its expansiveness sometimes feels too large even for our own hearts, breaking us when we are unwilling to be stretched and twisted into a deeper loving. Even when we’re alone, love changes us because once we’ve tasted it we can never completely forget its savor—the very sap of life. Its richness—the dark and fruitful mystery of our own brokenness—remains, whether we are alone and feeling broken or whispering our deepest devotions into lovers’ ears.
I searched frantically in my new book for “broken heart.” What possible meaning was in this moment of decadent truth? What did it symbolize? I had to find something. Yet, the gesture, sign, message—whatever you want to call it—was so loud and clear.
“Broken heart” isn’t in the “Dictionary of Symbols.”
It didn’t need to be. I was getting the message, but I was having a hard time dealing with it. The sweet rich chocolate broken heart pained me and made me smile at the same time. It was bittersweet being my own girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. §
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. This story has appeared in New Times and in the online publication, “Contrary Magazine” (www.contrarymagazine.com).