Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Valentine’s Day

Thoughts for Valentine’s Day: What Love Is…and Is Not

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I keep meaning to write this, every single Valentine’s Day. And then I never do. So I guess today’s the day…enjoy?

In my writing, I’ve tried to show what I believe love is.

In the Elfyverse (so far comprised of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE; more to come), it’s care, compassion, support, loyalty, friendship, and many other things that lead to intense romantic feelings for the young Bruno and Sarah. Bruno had a good marriage modeled for him by his late parents; Sarah’s parents did not give her good models, but her grandmother at least gave her someone to love who was worth the time.

Mind, even with that, love is a work-in-progress for the two of them. And I think that’s something we all deal with, as we go. It’s not like being in love waves a magic wand over you and says, “Now, everything will be wonderful.”

Instead, what love does is to make any problems that befall you far more bearable to deal with. Because you’re not alone anymore. You are supported. You are appreciated. And you are understood. (Or it’s not the love you’ve been looking for…but more on that, anon.)

Problems come to everyone, you see. And it’s how you communicate that helps you deal with them. Or not.

Bruno and Sarah, despite their tender ages, both know that. And they’ve made the commitment to stand by each other, to love one another, to appreciate each other’s differences as well as each other’s things in common…they’ve done what they need to do, in order to forge a strong bond between them.

But that’s not my only take when it comes to love. Far, far from it.

In CHANGING FACES, my stand-alone LGBTQ-friendly fantasy romance, Allen and Elaine’s plight is different. They know they love each other, and they can communicate well…except for one issue, that being Elaine’s gender-fluid nature. Allen knows Elaine considers herself bisexual (and monogamous! She’s not about to sleep with anyone but Allen, regardless of what her outer self looks like.) But he doesn’t know that Elaine considers her gender to be fluid, especially as Elaine likes the pronoun “she” and is a feminist scholar. And when he finally finds out, both he and Elaine don’t know how to handle it. But eventually, they find a way. (I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler for you, but if you are a long-time reader of romances, you know most of ’em go for happily-ever-afters. So why can’t mine?)

What I was trying to get at, in CHANGING FACES, was that love can conquer anything. But that you have to be willing to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to tell your partner, “Hey, I’m like this. Can you deal with it?” And if you’re really ambitious, you can be even more vulnerable and admit, “I’m not so sure I can always deal with it. But I appreciate that you have my back while I try.”

These are hard things to do. They’re very adult things.

So, while Bruno and Sarah are young adults and are finding their way — fortunately! — through a meaningful and deep love, Allen and Elaine are older and yet still have some of the same issues going on. I did that on purpose, because I think no matter what your age is, you’re going to have issues. And it’s how you deal with them that matters.

Either way, though, they show what love is. Commitment. Shared sacrifice. Honesty. Communication. Vulnerability. Loyalty. The willingness to laugh at yourself when needed, or with your partner as needed. The ability to say to yourself, “I don’t have to be perfect every day,” and of course that your partner doesn’t have to be perfect either, in order to be loved for who you are. To keep trying to communicate, even when it’s hard. To keep doing whatever you can, as long as you can, as often as you can, to let your partner know that you care, you appreciate them, you want them in your life, and you are going to do whatever you can to facilitate that so long as they feel the same way.

As I’ve heard it said, a romantic commitment takes 110% from each partner. I think that makes sense. (Though if you are a mathematician and are pointing out that it can’t be more than 100%, that’s OK, too. Just so long as you give your all, and your partner gives his/her all, that’s what matters. Not the number we put to it.)

Before I go, I want to talk about what love decidedly is not.

It’s not about gifts. It’s not about wealth, or fancy cars, or how big the bouquet of flowers is on any given day. It’s not about fancy restaurants (though I’m all for them, when possible); it’s not about what you can get from your partner.

Instead, it’s about what you give.

I hope most of you realize by this point that love is a two-way street, one you both want to be on at the same time and in the same place. And that anything else is not worth the price.

But if you’re doing all the giving in your relationship, and your partner is doing all the taking, that is not a love-relationship I’d want to have.

Anyway, I hope this has helped you figure out what’s worth it in a relationship, and what isn’t. And why I still think love matters more than anything…even though aside from the love of friends and family (predominantly agape love), I haven’t had it in over fifteen years.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 14, 2020 at 10:33 pm

What Love Is — and Is Not

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Folks, as my new romantic fantasy novel CHANGING FACES is out as an e-book, perhaps this would be a good time to discuss what love is — and what love decidedly isn’t.

First, love is about caring more for the other person than it is about yourself. It means when you get up in the morning, your first coherent thought should be something along the lines of, “How are you, honey?” or doing something nice for your partner if you can.

Love is about many other good things, mind. Sacrifice. Shared goals and dreams. A willingness to share your mind, spirit and heart with another worthy person, and the belief that in so doing, you will become expanded by the experience rather than diminished.

I like to think that Allen and Elaine’s story in CHANGING FACES speaks to all of that, and that it has a moral and message (for those of us who need such)…but is a ripping good romance otherwise (for those of us who just want that). (See, I split the middle that way.)

What is love most decidedly not about? Materialism. Giving someone stuff is not about love; it’s about self-aggrandizement and/or the need for your partner to accumulate stuff.

Granted, a small, well-chosen, thoughtful gift can work wonders…but do you know why that is? It’s because it means you spent enough time, energy, and thought on giving just the right gift.

It’s the time, energy, and thought that you put into it, in other words, that makes that gift work. Not the gift itself.

Now, is that a chicken or the egg sort of question? I don’t know.

But what I do know is, the best gift you can possibly give to someone on Valentine’s Day or any day is the gifts of your time and attention. Giving those gifts is exceptionally meaningful; you make memories that way, good ones, and thus your life becomes enriched in the process.

(Break for naked self-promotion. You can look away if you must; I won’t get angry if you do.)

Anyway, if you want to know my further thoughts about love, and this blog isn’t enough, please do go find a copy of CHANGING FACES and start reading. (It’s only ninety-nine cents for a week or so. And it might make you think, or care, or start wondering how you, too, can find a good person to share your life with…isn’t that a win/win?)

(End naked self-promo, already in progress…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2017 at 5:00 am

Romance, “Changing Faces,” and Valentine’s Day

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Folks, as most of you know, Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches. V-Day is one of those times that men mostly hate, some women (such as myself) mostly hate as well, and most people in relationships can also dread because the social significance of the day is murky, at best.

See, we’re told over and over again to get our loved ones things. Lots and lots of things, whether it’s jewelry, Pajamagrams, teddy bears, or, if you have enough money to do so, a new car…all of those things are going to be hawked to you, or anyone in a relationship, as needed and necessary for V-Day.

The meaning of what love is, much less what Valentine’s Day should be about — the celebration of love, and those who dare to keep loving despite the longest of odds — seems to get more lost by the day.

I’d rather talk about what true love is.

True love is caring. Sacrifice for your partner, if needed (and sometimes, it will be needed, in one form or another). Compassion. Paying attention to what matters to you, and trying to alleviate the worst of what brings you down…that is what love is about.

Love is unselfish, too. It’s all about the other person, caring more for them than you do about your own self, and about making that other person happy.

Yeah, you should get something out of it. You should be happier, wiser, kinder, a better person, and certainly if your lover is not asexual, you should have a happy romantic life ahead of you for as long as you two are together on the face of this Earth…what you get, if you are smart, is a better and more meaningful life, all because you dared to care about someone else more than yourself, and threw out what society assumes is “normal” behavior.

So, how does my new novel, CHANGING FACES, come into this conversation? (Other than the fact that it’s a love story, that is?)

First, read the blurb, as that may help:

Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.

When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.

He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.

Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.

Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.

You see, Allen loves Elaine more than he loves himself. He’s confused by her, because she’s trans, because she has gender-fluidity in her makeup, all that…but he loves her. Passionately. And he’ll do anything to stay with her…even become trans himself (albeit through the auspices of two meddling angels), if that is what it takes.

Why does Allen do this? Well, when you’re in love, you care more about the other person than you care about yourself. You want that other person to feel better, and be her best self…you want, in essence, to help that other person become whatever that person needs to be in order to feel good about herself, because doing anything less weakens your love and regard for your partner.

Note that you should never, never, never become less than you are, with someone you love. (I have to point this out, because I know it’s something I wish had been explained to me before I married young. Instead, I had to find out the hard way, and it took years before I found my late husband and realized what true love really was about. But I digress.)

Instead, you should become more yourself. More creative, if that’s what you are. Kinder. More compassionate. More aware of the world and what’s around you. More willing to fight suffering, even if all you can do is give someone a handkerchief when she’s crying and wish you could do more…

You should care, in other words.

No matter how hard it is, no matter how difficult it seems, so long as you and your partner both care, and try, and communicate, and are willing to keep caring and trying and communicating, you have a shot.

(But see what I said before about the limitations of love, especially if you’re with someone who doesn’t care about you…that is the type of person who is only about materialism or what you can do for him/her, and should be avoided at all costs.)

Anyway, I think anyone — straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, gender-fluid, or Martian — should enjoy CHANGING FACES if you enjoy romance at all. It has a fantasy element (how not, me being me?), is quirky (again, me being me, you have to expect that), and it has music and musicians and all sorts of good stuff…but the main thing to remember is, it’s about love. Communication. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Honesty. And hard work.

Because without compassion, self-sacrifice, honesty, communication, and hard work, love isn’t worth very much. But with them? It’s priceless.

Guaranteed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2017 at 5:51 am

Advice for Valentine’s Day, 2016 Version

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Folks, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. And I wanted to write a few words, just in case you haven’t read my two previous blogs on the subject (which, for the record, are here and here).

Too many people get caught up in conspicuous consumption on Valentine’s Day, because commercials and books and movies and nearly every possible thing says, “You must buy a whole lot of unnecessary things, or your partner won’t know you love them!” Even if you walk into a grocery store, there will be reminders that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so have you bought your cake/roses/card/fill-in-the-blank yet? (The most inventive one I’ve seen around here was over at Festival Foods in Mount Pleasant, where they’re offering a Valentine’s Day dinner, catered, that you can pick up for something like $42. That might actually be useful, and didn’t bother me…but I can see where it might bother someone who feels pressured to do something for Valentine’s Day.)

The thing is, as I’ve said before, Valentine’s Day is not for conspicuous consumption. It is for love. But somehow, in our consumer-driven society, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the only way to love someone is to buy him or her a whole lot of stuff…and that’s just not right.

Let me give you a few examples.

The best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had was in 2003. Why was it so good? Well, Michael was with me, then, and the two of us had a great and quiet dinner at home, watched some of his favorite “Danger Mouse” videos (Michael loved them, and I enjoyed ’em, too — mostly because I liked seeing how he reacted to them), and then retired to “none of your business land.”

Note that this didn’t cost us anything. We already had the “Danger Mouse” videos. We already had the food. We already had anything else we needed in the house…we didn’t need roses, or wine, or fancy chocolates, or even sushi (something Michael and I both enjoyed, and I continue to appreciate), because we had each other and that’s what counted.

And my second favorite Valentine’s Day was in 2004. Michael and I had just moved from San Francisco to Iowa, and were living in a motel. The move had been stressful and we were close to flat broke, and finding work was a challenge that we hadn’t expected.

So, what did Michael do? This time, we went to a scenic overlook outside Davenport on I-80 with a couple of sub sandwiches, some soda, and sat and talked. It was the middle of winter, but I didn’t feel cold…and I don’t think he did, either. We felt the world was full of possibilities, because we were with each another…and I was touched that Michael remembered I liked spicy-hot peppers on my sub (something he wouldn’t touch because of long-term stomach distress).

You see, if a guy remembers what you like, that is sexy to a woman. Michael knew that.

Now, what did I do for these Valentine’s Day outings? (Maybe you’re asking this, and it’s a valid question.) Mostly, I was there and fully in the moment…yes, I’d asked Michael what he wanted on both days, and I’d actually tried to cook for him in 2003, but he wasn’t having it. (Mostly, Michael cooked for us, because he enjoyed it. And besides, he said I’d done too much for people as it was, over the years; now it was time someone did something for me.) I did suggest the “Danger Mouse” videos in 2003, and I probably suggested going out for subs in 2004…but for the most part, Michael made those outings happen.

So, to sum up…the important thing about Valentine’s Day, or any day, is for your partner to know that he or she is loved. Spending large amounts of money on a Pajamagram or a Vermont teddy bear or fancy chocolates (much though I enjoy that) is not necessary. Showing you care, that you pay attention, that you know what your partner likes…listening to him/her speak and asking intelligent questions (or giving intelligent answers)…being fully in that moment with him/her, with your cell phones/tablets off and your attention undivided…well, those are by far the best gifts you can give.

Don’t let the “must spend big money NOW!” narrative of the commercials blind you to this, OK?