I think people need mirrors.
Not the glass things that show us our wrinkles, but people we love and respect and would do anything for who give us a vision of the person we are becoming.
But you have to pick your mirror carefully. It has to be someone who is fundamentally decent, and someone you respect for all their good qualities, and understand where the not so desirable qualities come from so you can work with them.
I have known people who have lived alone for too long a time and whose blind spots about themselves (and yes, we all have them) are made worse by not having a mirror to look into. I had one friend who got married for the first time very late in life, and watching her become more tolerant of other people’s foibles and failings was a genuinely heartwarming thing. In return, her beloved became more aware that his actions had consequences for the people around him–together, these two people brought out the best of each other.
That’s what a good mirror–be it roommate, lover, sibling, best friend–can do for you.
Make you better.
So, 34 years ago today I had a fever and called in sick for work. I had just started dating this REALLY awesome guy–bright blue eyes, deep voice, 5’10 and 120 soaking wet. I was crazy about him. I was so crazy about him that in spite of feeling like hell, I made his favorite cookie–shortbread–and drove from Sacramento to Auburn (which isn’t a short distance with a fever of 103) to give him his cookies at work. I almost got fired–but it was worth it.
The next day he broke up with me because when you’re nineteen years old that kind of wild eyed fanatacism is TERRIFYING.
Eventually I learned to tone down the wilding emotional wellspring that was my obnoxiousness, and he learned that showing your feelings wasn’t bad. We got back together, we moved in together, we got married, we had kids, and this morning we were talking about random things, like we do.
I told him that a colleague had given me a stunning compliment–she’d said that my sense of humor was sideways, sly, it snuck into the most painful scenes in my stories and caught the reader unaware.
I was so pleased–I love this sense of humor. I think my Mate is really good at it.
He gave me a sort of odd look. “So, did, uhm, you get that from me?” He sounded doubtful.
“No,” I said, thinking about it. “I think I’ve always had that sense of humor. But I think my humor has gotten more humane because of you. When I was much younger, I had a mean Scottish sense of humor–an Ed and Peg Bundy sense of humor. It’s… not kind, and I don’t think I would have liked the person with that eye for laughter if I hadn’t met you.”
He said, “I wouldn’t have found nearly so many things funny if I hadn’t met you.”
And I realized that this 34 experiment in finding my mirror–the person who brought out the best in me, who helped me control my temper and my wilding (sometimes) and who reminded me how to look at the world with kindness–has been somewhat successful.
I know that Valentine’s Day can seem like a made up holiday, a hokey reminder that sometimes our emotions are expected to be performance art and we can be judged harshly if our performance is hindered by things like human failings, or awkwardness, or fevers.
But this year it reminded me that the person I married is one of the best people I know, and I should kiss him way more often.
Happy eat chocolate if you want to and indulge in your favorite book day.
May we all be fortunate enough to be able to kiss our best mirror, at least once in our lives. Being our best selves–bringing that out in someone else–is well worth the work of self-polishing that goes into it.