Who loves ya, baby?

The year was 1975(ish), and Telly Savalas was a sucker-ingesting, bald-headed badass solving crimes on the TV show Kojak. Cringe or laugh if you must, but while the show was a little beyond my elementary school-aged interests, the thing that sticks in my memory is a) the lollipop; b) the bald head; and c) his catch phrase: “Who loves ya, baby?” He was kind of cool, in a really old guy with no hair sort of way. The deal with the lollipops was a mystery that I didn’t care to ponder as I worried about the more important issues like my chores and the potential that one day – gasp! – I might be that age. Ewwwww.

Now that I am actually that age, I presume Kojak was kicking a smoking habit or something (I never bothered to check). That phrase, though, was a little smoldery, a little sexy, a little threatening: Swagger before swagger was swag-alicious. And the bald headedness is something, I admit freely, I still find attractive. Today is Valentine’s Day, the day of chocolates and pink/red/white decorations. While it is not my favorite day, it is at least a very delicious day. Grab your goody of choice and let’s ponder this whole love gig.

Of course we all celebrate different types of love, and a life well lived is one that includes any or all of them in whatever combination brings meaning to you. Today I haven’t been thinking about love, but rather about the concept of a best friend: a person who is your go-to, the yin to your yang, the one around whom you are most able to be yourself, but who is also not yourself. I would argue vehemently that you should be your own best friend; but after that, it would probably be good to have a backup best friend outside of yourself who will tell you when you have cheese dripping down your chin, chives in your braces (thanks, Kristen), or that your butt does in fact look big in those jeans (thanks, Mark). A best friend, according to the recent quips and snarks, is one who will pick you up when you’re down and who will also slap you upside the head when you’re being a stark-raving idiot. If this is the definition, my best friend is three people, and I’m grateful for that.

I understand that too many people find Valentine’s Day a depressing reminder of whatever relationship status they’re in. I don’t look at it that way, never have. I still look at it as a day in which I can choose to let other people know I love them, or not. In other words, it’s like any other day, but with heart-shaped snacks associated with it. Why should one wait for a particular day to let people know they love them? Like, “Oh, I really love that person but it’s not February 14. I guess I better not tell them.” Love unspoken and unshared is like getting someone a gift and not giving it to them.

Of course, love has risk attached to it. It’s love, after all. Hearts get bruised and broken every day ad infinitum, but our capacity for love is one of the most wonderful aspects of being human. Love doesn’t have to be romantic love – some of the strongest loves are those between friends, family, or the friends who are the family of the heart. It’s far more risky to health and happiness to hold love as a miser would hold money. I’m not advocating free love or whoopy-noopy ideologies about relationships; I’m just suggesting that the most important types of love aren’t always the romantic ones.

It’s way too easy to compare ourselves to some other glamorized version of love and find ourselves wanting. This day in particular strikes some people pretty deeply. I won’t try to quip that away, but I will gently remind you that more people love you than you might think. If you answered the question embedded in the title, I hope that you remembered to count yourself among the people who love you best.

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