One is the loneliest number

by Matt Doran

Everyone knows Valentine’s Day is an artificial holiday contrived by Hershey’s and Hallmark. It was invented to force those in relationships into buying more and force those not in relationships into wishing they were in one, so they could, in turn, buy more. An exchange of finite flora and cavity-inducing, quaintly packaged goods should not be evidence of amorous feelings, yet I know I will be shelling out the dough for an overpriced, ostentatious bouquet and some hackneyed Godiva offering.

But I also have an appreciation for the day, although it is born out of less-than-ideal circumstances. It is this day, that, without fail, leads me to evaluate my life.
Valentine’s Day also happens to be my ex’s (who from here on I shall refer to as Her Royal Filthiness) birthday, and so, in the five years since our relationship dissolved, I always reflect on our relationship’s demise and what it led to.

I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad in college. I was on the crew team (top 20 in the country, bitches), kicking names and taking ass, and a semester in Florence, Italy would not have sat well with the coach. I don’t regret a minute of my time in the wee hours of the morning on the Hudson River, but enjoying a sfogliatelle in the Piazza della Signoria every day would have been nice.

So, when presented with the opportunity after graduation to work abroad as an English teacher in China, I marched to the consulate on 12th Avenue and filed for a work visa. Her Royal Filthiness had another year commuting to Fordham University in the Bronx. I was rarely going to see her, so we decided to do the long distance thing for the six months I would be in Huzhou.

That lasted all of three months.

I couldn’t make outgoing phone calls, and this was before the days of Skype, so the only way for us to talk was for her to call me. When I didn’t hear from her in three weeks, I sent her friend an e-mail. I learned Her Royal Filthiness was now dating her older brother’s friend, Timmy, who has dolphin teeth (small teeth and big gums) and a receding hairline. Not only did I have to learn, via e-mail, that my four-year relationship had ended, it ended by Her Royal Filthiness cheating on me with His Royal Ghastliness. Crushing.

The two are now married, so perhaps their illicit affair was meant to be. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I have joyfully watched as she has slowly increased in size. I take comfort in her girth.

Back in China, I was painfully single and alone. It was not long after our schism that I arrived at what I consider to be the only real thing I’ve learned in my short life: Life is meant to be shared.

I lived by myself in a spacious apartment. The building I lived in was on the campus I was teaching at and reserved strictly for professors. Of the 12 floors of apartments, I was one of three tenants. I was alone.

The city I was a guest in was home to more than a million people, but save the occasional lost traveler, I was the only Westerner. I was alone with nobody to talk to.

I went to temples and pagodas, but I could not appreciate them fully because I had nobody to share them with. I rode my bicycle to remote lakes and mountains but had nobody to share the view with. I hitchhiked when my bike got a flat, but I had nobody to come home to and laugh about it with. I ate chickens’ feet, snake and turtle but dined alone. I hid from a typhoon and had nobody to cower in fear with. I suffered a heat stroke and was hospitalized (a real gem for those who haven’t experienced the joy of being sick in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language), and nobody was there to help me or offer a shoulder to cry on.

Eventually, I became desensitized to the world I occupied. Prolonged solitude had rendered me numb. All my experiences were tepid. When I landed at JFK and my mother hugged me, it felt weird. I hadn’t touched another human being in six months. Nobody should ever have to experience that level of deprivation.

Human beings are symbiotic. As much as we strive to assert our independence, we need each other. What makes us human is our need for love. We need contact. We need people to share our lives with. To live richly is to be surrounded by loved ones.

Take stock of your relationships today. Feb. 14 is not solely for declarations of love via long-stem roses. Celebrate your bromances and hug it out or have a girls’ night at Lips. Call your parents and say thank you. Appreciate those who love you.

I will be doing all these things, but I’ve also just started seeing someone, so I’ll be a chump and dutifully perform my role as a hetero male on Valentine’s Day and buy flowers, chocolates, cards and other gifts in the desperate hope she won’t realize what a schmuck I am.

Share your life. Share your experiences. Share this column.

“Read this. This guy’s a friggin’ tool. He doesn’t have any friends.” Then fist bump.

-Matt Doran is a creative writing graduate student and a sap. E-mail him at doranmatthew@hotmail.com to tell him what a sucker you think he is.

-This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.