For those of you who haven’t known me or read me for a very long time, I started my blogging/writing career with a personal website I called “Confessions Of A Cynical Romantic” (Nope, the phrase “jaded elegance” didn’t pop into my head immediately, unfortunately. Like many bloggers out there, it took me a while to find a succinct and catchy phrase that truly defined me.) “Confessions” was part blog, part love/sex/advice column, and part creative writing e-zine. It didn’t really know what it wanted to be, which is why it didn’t stick around for very long, and I ditched it to start Jaded Elegance.

However, I have a soft spot for it, because it was the first time I’d put stuff out there on the internet that was creative, had a perspective, and was clearly *me*. It taught me to find my voice, as a writer and as a person.

Some people are shocked to find out that I’m a romantic. I don’t come across as the hearts and flowers and happily-ever-after kind of girl, and I’m really not. I have a few too many rough edges for that. I have trouble believing in people, trusting people, making commitments, and not seeing the world through a generally cynical lens. I’ve never been one for sickeningly sweet romantic gestures, giving and receiving compliments too often makes me uncomfortable, and I’m not naive enough to put things like sex and love in nearly the same category.

Yet, I am indeed a romantic person by nature. I take chances on people. I moved to Atlanta because I fell in love with someone I met online. I’ve started more than one long-distance relationship or friendship through little more than words and a willingness to open up. I’ve invited people into my life because I fell for them within five minutes of meeting them. I still send hand-written letters, adore the “Camelot” legends, and have a wall in my bedroom filled with pictures, ticket stubs, postcards, event adverts, bar coasters, and anything and everything else that reminds me of good times I once had with people once in my life—and those who still are. I may not be the most conventional girl around, or look at relationships the same way many people do, and it’s not always terribly simple to be me. However, it doesn’t mean I’m not a romantic or an idealist—I think I’m both, more so than many people.

So, you can see how a girl like me might have some mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. Recently, I was chatting with a friend about how I love holidays, but dislike holidays rooted in some convention or that pose some obligation as to how a person is supposed to feel and behave. (In particular, I’ve never much cared for Thanksgiving.) Valentine’s Day largely falls into that category for me, and almost as if on karmic point, a majority of my Valentine’s Day’s have involved a lot of expectation and planning that didn’t end up going well, because something happened. It’s that day where I’ve found out someone has been cheating on me, someone I loved was planning to marry someone else, and that you can’t fix a broken relationship with sex and chocolate. It’s that day I’ve gotten angry at ambitious former significant others for having to work late, or had to field phone calls from drunken emotional ex-es. It’s the day I’ve had to hear, “I love you but I just don’t see a future”, the day I’ve spent crying because I chose to be alone while the person I loved was with his wife, and the day I’ve sent irrational and impetuous e-mails to people I had feelings for because they were about to embark on relationships with others. (Yes, I did this twice. On Valentine’s Day. It worked out both times and I don’t regret it, but now that I’m older and wiser, I wouldn’t choose to have such sucky timing again.) It’s the day The Guy I Am Currently Dating showed up at my door sick and by the time he was better, the only place open for dinner was Moe’s. It’s the day we went to the Botanical Gardens and I learned I was allergic to their Valentine’s display. It’s the day there was an ice storm that trapped us inside for a week, that my ex-roommate got us pulled over by the cops and we almost got arrested, and with one ex, the day we could never celebrate because it was his birthday, and he celebrated it with his family—who couldn’t stand me much.

The best Valentine’s Day celebrations I’ve had were the ones where nothing special happened. Last year, we played trivia and ate Tex-Mex. One year, some friends and I hung out at an abandoned, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. I’ve never been one to feel sad and desperate over being single, and wanted to hit a meat-market club in order to avoid spending the day alone. In NYC, where my average relationship lasted 6 weeks, I had some great times with equally single friends. This is why I have a tradition of throwing a Valentine’s party at a venue that is one of the least romantic choices possible. This past weekend, it was a brewery and a gothic-themed club where everyone wore masques.

Valentine’s Day can evoke some negative emotions and angst about your current relationship status, no matter which of the Facebook-acceptable categories you happen to fall into.

For instance, if you’re single, there are tons of parties that promote themselves as hook-up parties, ways to meet other singles, or just a place to go to avoid being alone. Attending these parties is a sure-fire way to make you feel less than awesome about yourself. In fact, the ancient Roman lottery system of picking a partner for the evening from a spinning wheel was probably a more entertaining one. Singles Awareness Day typically involves one of the following feelings:

* “OMG! I can’t believe I’m single and sad and alone. Even my friend, who is ugly and broke and has a bad personality, has someone to spend Valentine’s Day with. What’s wrong with me? Am I going to die alone eating chocolate? I might as well get fat, since nobody is ever going to love me. “
* “Look at these people at this club. They’re all so sad and desperate. I’m nothing like them. However, since love and relationships are generally a waste of time, I’m capitalizing on this opportunity for no-strings attached sex. It should make it easier to meet someone, because everyone has severely lowered their standards for the night.”
* “I hate my ex. If he/she wasn’t such an asshole, I wouldn’t be feeling like this. Why does everyone suck so much?”

Of course, it’s no easier if you’ve just started dating someone, or if you’ve been in a relationship for less than a year, and this is your first Valentine’s Day.

* “I really like this person, but this is a lot of pressure. I don’t know what to do that’s special enough, but not too special. I can’t even pick out a card. All these cards say “love” in them. Isn’t it way too soon to use words like “love”? Or maybe I’m with the wrong person because I don’t want the card to say “love”. PLEASE HELP ME, SOMEONE!! “
* “I’m totally not sure I know this person at all. We’ve only been together for a few weeks/months. But now we have to spend Valentine’s Day together, and I have to prove I care and am not lame, so I have to make a super-awesome romantic gesture. But, wait. Maybe I don’t want a relationship. Should we still spend Valentine’s together? Then again, being alone sucks. And you can’t break up with someone on Valentine’s Day because you don’t love them. That’s rude. Do we have to sleep together just because it’s February 14th? Can we still sleep together if we’re going to break up next week? I really wish I were hanging out with my friends and drinking.”

If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time or are living together, it probably goes something like this:

* “This is like the 8th Valentine’s Day we’ve spent together, and we’re still not engaged. I wonder if this relationship is going anywhere. Maybe we’re going to break up and I’m going to be middle-aged and alone. Maybe my mother/father/best friend is right, and we’re not right for each other. We do fight all the time, and he/she has all these annoying habits. I don’t feel like we’re soulmates, but we’ve been together for so long! I don’t know anything about relationships or life and I’m so confused. But dinner at that place was awesome. See? We have so much in common. I think this is completely meant to be. Yeah. I don’t know. Do I have to think about this now?”
* “I am totally AWESOME at buying gifts and planning romantic surprises for my significant other. Well, I thought it was. Then, I found out this other person we know was taking their partner to Aruba and made a rug on the loom they built themselves out of wood from the trees in the backyard. This holiday sucks. Am I going to have to be increasingly creative every year for the rest of my freaking life? Also, we see each other all the time. How is this day magically different because it’s February 14th?”

If you’re engaged or married, it’s not really any easier:

* “I know Valentine’s Day is supposed to be awesome and meaningful and stuff, but we have no money because we have to plan a wedding/buy a house/plan for the baby. Seriously, when did life become so serious? I remember how awesome it was when we were single. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a girls’/guys’ night out? And we already gained 30 pounds in the last year. Why do we have to eat chocolate?”
* “Well, this is inconvenient. Valentine’s Day. We’ve already exchanged every sort of cheesy present there is, and since we managed to find a babysitter, we can do whatever we want. What I mostly want to do is sleep. Is that a choice? I guess I should at least get some flowers or whatever. Does it count as quality time if we share the remote?”

If you’re divorced, separated, in a really confusing kind of undefined relationship, are doing the long-distance thing, travel on Valentine’s Day, have a blended family, are in a poly-oriented relationship, are seeing someone you’re not supposed to be seeing, or have parents who live within 15 minutes of you, Valentine’s Day is the day that you can rest assured that somebody, somewhere, is going to have negative feelings about you. The instability or unconventionality inherent in any kind of relationship for which there isn’t a Hallmark card is going to come to the surface, and in some way, you will be totally screwed. Someone will yell at you about being a dysfunctional person, ruining his/her life, not appreciating others enough, not loving your family, not loving other members of your family, not taking your relationship seriously, using someone for something, or having no idea the way love really works. “If you really loved me, you’d be here and not there.” is probably going to come up at least once. You may just want to buy a bottle of vodka, pretend your phone isn’t in service, or go somewhere that anyone you don’t want to deal with will not find you.

Is it possible to have a happy Valentine’s Day? Absolutely. This year, Valentine’s Day is on a Thursday. Do whatever you did last Thursday, only with the person or persons that are important to you. February 14th is only a day of obligation, unrealistic expectations, and catalyst of quarter-life/mid-life crises because we all decide to collectively buy into it. There are alternatives, whatever that means to you.

For me, it means having Thai food, which I really like and we don’t do very often. Maybe we will exchange small and not overly-romantic gifts. Maybe we will watch a movie from Redbox, or catch up on Shameless. The Guy I Am Currently Dating will probably leave after Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are done mocking things, because it’s Thursday, and work happens the next day. If we make it through the evening without fighting over anything or anyone getting sick, I’m going to call it a win. :P

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

I’m happy to report I’m feeling much better in general (although it’s raining, and that seems to activate the dizzy button in my head), and the anxiety and depression I was feeling was simply the fallout from me messing with my medication. Even though I returned to taking it as prescribed, the up-and-down rollercoaster effect the entire week had on my body, mind, and spirit was just a bit too much for me to handle without having something of a nervous breakdown when my roommate was kind of an ass and my toilet broke. (these things have since been fixed.)

Fortunately, I’d had an appointment to go and see my doctor on Tuesday, which was how I began my Valentine’s celebration. The Guy I Am Currently Dating came to pick me up and drove me to the doctor’s office. As always, she spent a long time with me talking about my issues, and agreed that a majority of my issues were related to the vestibular disorder I’d been diagnosed as having, and the health-related anxiety and predisposition to panic attacks. She gave me instructions not to mess with my medications until the next time I saw her, and she assured me that my heart, lungs, and other vital organs were perfectly fine.

She also reassured me that feelings of anger and depression and low self-esteem were natural, and almost everyone who’s been told that they’re facing a long recovery process and need to learn to live with something that there is no cure goes through that, whether the illness is life threatening or not. She pointed out to me that, in certain ways, my extensive medical knowledge, gained from a lifetime of reading and exposure to the field, and friendships with people with actual medical knowledge, was actually enhancing my symptoms. Apparently, highly intelligent and highly intuitive people are more likely to suffer from anxiety issues, simply from thinking too much, and believing whatever they’ve read about applies to them. For instance, medical residents routinely come down with a number of illnesses, all induced by hypochondria. Studying a brain tumour leads you to imagine every little thing in your head is a symptom of a brain tumour, since you are aware of many things that are symptoms. Certain personality types are prone to suffering symptoms after reading about them; oddly, the same personality type that excels at method acting, and can bring on not only the feelings of but physical signs of certain ailments. In the end, she told me to take my pills, eat right, exercise, stop stressing about weight loss because it would happen slowly on this medication, and to realise my problems were a simple vestibular disorder that happens to cause some weird things to happen, much like the struggles of chronic migraine suffers. She told me to talk to a psychologist specialising in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, stay off any other drugs anyone might wish to prescribe me, and go to the vestibular rehab sessions. Mostly, she told me the only “cure” for my problem was time and a willingness to keep on moving past the obstacles, and eventually, things like depression would pass as I retrieved my self-confidence. All that was very good to hear, and I left feeling pretty awesome about things, actually.

Tuesday evening was a low-key Valentine’s Day…it was Tuesday, and both The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I had a ton of work. So, we exchanged cards and gifts, and went to play trivia! It was one of our best trivia nights ever…we were in 1st all the way down to the tie-breaker. We tied the tie-breaker, but the other team handed it in first, so we still came in 2nd. ARRRRGH. We’re trying our best for that 5th place spot, and the tournament is in two weeks. Of course, plenty of other teams are trying to get in the top 5 as well. There’s really no incentive, other than we’ve been in the top 5 for the past 4 tournaments, and we get a plaque. I like getting plaques. It reminds me of being 12 years old and getting an award for something that’s really awesome when you’re 12.

The Guy I Am Currently Dating bought me a stuffed blue M&M. I love it. No flowers or balloons or chocolates, but I love my M&M. Everytime I go to NYC, I bring back an M&M for him from the M&M Store. Last time, I got him the pillow shaped red one for the bed…and he got me the blue. The colours of the M&Ms correlate to different emotions. Blue is happy and energetic.

I got some other lovely Valentine’s gifts from friends and family in my life, including a beautiful book called “The Art Of The Moment”, DVDs of “Phantom”, “Chess”, and “Les Mis” from Royal Albert Hall, a few copies of a book written by an aspiring author friend (one of which was immediately passed along to The Guy I Am Currently Dating), and a poem. Not to mention, there were of course some Facebook greetings, which always spread the love. Naturally, I bought myself a Valentine’s gift, too, long before the holiday. I’d pre-ordered the latest DVD in the Twilight series, and it arrived on the 15th, so…that’s what we’ll be watching this Friday.

The Day After Valentine’s Day was pretty good, too. It marked my debut with Atlanta’s Write Club Atlanta, a group of writers, actors, directors, and other artistically inclined folks who put on a show that features three pairs of performers reading 7-minute stories/poems/monologues composed on opposing subjects. As it was February, ours all had to do with things that could (but did not have to be) Valentine’s Day related. My round, “Stay Vs. Go” had me representing “Go”.

I had a million reasons not to do this sort of thing; getting on stage with bright lights, a sound system, a huge crowd, and just having been diagnosed with a vestibular disorder makes something that most people dislike by nature (public speaking) even more challenging. Add to that that I’m a self-conscious person these days, having gained 25 pounds and learning it’s a long road to losing weight on a beta-blocker, and it would seem that signing up to get up on stage in front of strangers…and then invite all my friends…would be a remarkably bad idea.

It wasn’t. In fact, my friends were very supportive and the Write Club people very kind, diverse, and funny. They’re the kind of people who not only embrace quirkiness but demand it, something I’ve missed since living in Atlanta. I’d definitely participate in their projects in the future, and will certainly return to hear other people read their works. It’s just a good, creativity-affirming time.

Also, I actually ended up winning my round (audience applause is king in these situations) although the guy who wrote about “Stay” was really funny. I actually clapped for him, until I remembered audience applause counted, so I was effectively voting against myself. Oooops. The best part was hearing praise and encouragement from other people on my way out. I met a group of people who asked if the story I’d written about was true (absolutely, 100%, and then some…I had to omit quite a bit in the name of time and because not everything is funny.) I also met a girl who told me she knew exactly who I was talking about in my story ( a humorous anecdote based on a guy I went out with a few times), because her friend met said guy at a party and almost went out with him. It’s a small, small world.

I’d post my composition here, but, it will eventually be released in podcast form…so, all in due time.

Most importantly, I conquered a potential fear. I wondered if this inner ear/dizziness problem was something that would keep me from ever getting on a stage again. While I’m not quite up for doing a musical yet, I proved to myself that the answer is “No”. I may be afraid of having a panic attack, but I can get up on stage for 10 minutes. I can go to parties and concerts and even shop at Kroger. I can start working off the extra pounds with exercise, and learning to cook for myself. Maybe I can even travel.

After the show, I went out to a nearby pub for a few drinks and conversation with a group of close friends here in Atlanta. One of them told me about a time in his life he went through a similar situation that I’ve been dealing with, albeit for different reasons, and likely around the same point in his life that I am at right now. (my friend is a bit older and wiser than myself, though just by a few years.) It made me feel, for the first time in months, I was talking to someone who understood.

Few things make you feel stronger than talking to someone who understands, who has been where you are, and survived.

All in all, I had a pretty good week, although work has been intense, I started a new project, things kept breaking, and I feel the internal need to slow down and rest, but have too much to do. Also, it has occurred to me that I may have offended a friend/acquaintance of mine, as I sent a “here’s some random “thinking of you” stuff in the mail” package to him, as I’ve been known to do. Yet, I’ve not heard from him in quite some, I don’t know. I tend to offend others unintentionally and when I’m not looking. I’d say I’m paranoid, but the fact that I’ve actually lost friends I cared about without explanation, have been kicked out of social groups, and still avoid certain places in multiple cities for fear of running into those who are openly not Alayna fans…well, I’d say I’m just a realist. ;)

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day week, as well…single or couple, married or not, children or not, long-distance or in the same house. I like Valentine’s Day because it’s a reminder that there’s so much love in the Universe, and it’s the kind we could be putting out there every day, without all the inhibitions and insecurities and judgments and limitations. I’m not just talking about romantic love and sexual attraction (though it applies to that, too), but to friendships and familial relationships and saying hi to that barista at Starbucks you have the secret crush on. I’m talking about remembering to put love and support and compassion out there as much as possible, and to have more true friends, and fewer acquaintances (my personal focus for this year, along with getting back to myself, physically and emotionally.)

I’m also incredibly happy my toilet is fixed, although the Y on my computer is not.

That being said, I kind of wanted a balloon. I love balloons. :P But I’m learning to be a little less high-maintenance. ;)