My first memory of Valentine’s Day is my late uncle picking up some flowers from my mother’s garden for his Valentine when I was about 9 years old. I didn’t know what the excitement was about. All I knew was that he was getting the flowers for a lady friend of his. Fast forward 4 years later and Valentine’s Day popped into my consciousness again when I was in Grade 8 in 1993 at Dale College. There was this tradition on Valentine’s Day where the teachers in each class would hand out chocolates, cards and whatever gifts had been received from the girls at our sister school for the boys in the class. I was barely a month into the early stages of my adaptation into an all-boys school and still recovering from my first encounter  with the girls at our sister school (another tradition for the borders involved the new boys being introduced to the girls at our sister school in nothing but speedos, covered in black shoe polish, toothpaste and shaving cream) and now I had to deal with the fact that I was amongst the guys who didn’t receive any gifts on Valentine’s Day! My association for Valentine’s Day was established – it is a day for those who have a secret admirer or are actually dating someone. They use the day to express their emotions, buy each other nice gifts and say I love you. I love you? I grew up feeling loved and knowing I was loved without ever hearing the words ‘I love you’ from my primary care givers. I concluded that the term ‘I love you’ was reserved for a significant other or a secret admirer and that I wanted to have the experience of saying that to someone of the opposite sex! That is how my curious journey with the emotion of love for women began.

At this time I started noticing how the feeling of love was portrayed on television. Women on-screen were portrayed as having no issues with expressing their love by saying those three words. The men on the other hand would stutter, fumble or just not utter that phrase and seemed to get away with the ‘me too’ response. Why was that the case? Apparently, men didn’t have feelings hence the inability to express them in words – men are all about action. Really!? I had feelings – from the emotional highs of being one of the guys who finally received a gift in class on Valentine’s Day from a secret admirer to the lows of being dumped by a girl I had ironically met at a Valentine’s Day social. How could I as a teenage boy becoming a man believe that men had no feelings when as a male I had felt the blow of heartache? I began to question the stereotype of males not having feelings because I certainly had them!  I’ve been hurt in love before and I know plenty of other men who have as well. In my experience and observation within my male social circles, men generally deploy one of two defence mechanisms when it comes to matters of the broken heart: (1.) We make a solemn vow to never be at the mercy of such a low feeling and hurtful experience at the hands of a woman that we resort to a form of relationship self-sabotage-  hurting them before they hurt us. This can be intentional or unintentional; (2.) We acknowledge the painful experience of heartbreak but we decide not to turn our back on love and continue to put our heart and soul on the line in the hope of finding it again. Thankfully, I fall into the latter category. Love is the most powerful force in the world and I believe that not enough men have displayed its power and beauty to the rest of the world but instead have chosen to suppress it.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if men overcame their fear of being led by love?  As a start it would lead to a new dawn where men do what love dictates rather than being trapped in the same old cycle of doing what the previous generation of men have been doing.

Music and my surveillance of the dating habits of guys 5 years my senior (which featured dating girls my age) had a big influence on my concept of love. 90’s R&B was amazing and it gave us plenty of opportunities to slow dance at our high school discos. There were so many R&B groups dominating the Top 40 charts singing about the romance between a man and a woman. Plenty of songs on the joys, the pain, the secret loves and sexual encounters. This was the stuff we based our deo-sprayed love letters on and we relied on to speak on our behalf when we did not have the courage to step up to a girl we liked (cues in Tevin Campbells ‘Can We Talk’)! On the other hand, there was the rise of a new genre of rap music which focused on explicit content, sex, parties, alcohol, getting high and popularised the referencing of women to female dogs. The guys my senior were living the rap music life and through what I was seeing in their dating habits, I developed the belief that the rap life was cool and earned you the hot girls and guaranteed fun. It was the life I wanted to live after high school!  You can imagine my shock when the main protagonist of this genre of rap got married, considering his lyrics about women!  I felt betrayed! At that point, I realised that as much as these rappers went on about their way of living and relating to women, it didn’t have to be mine and I should remember that it’s just entertainment. But how much damage had been done after spending all those hours listening to their music? When I turned 18, myself and some friends started hanging out with the older guys I had grown up watching in my younger years. It was an eye-opener when  we realised that some of them could not hold a conversation with women their own age (would probably explain their preference for the younger girls my age) and we decided that would not happen to us!  For all the cool things they did, maybe they were not the right role models for us. Clearly the music I listened to and the people I looked up to shaped the dating experience of my late teens which resulted in me engaging in pre-marital sex in order to fit in with the guys I was rolling with rather than doing what was right.

However, an experience in Grade 8 had managed to etch itself in my mind. An Old Dalian came to talk to the new boys and he gave us those little blue bibles which contained the New Testament books plus two books from the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Psalms. As they handed out the Bibles he stressed the importance of at least reading the Book of Proverbs if for one reason or another we were not able to read the entire Bible. He made a point about the Book of Proverbs containing all the wisdom one needs to lead a successful life and stated that successful leaders proclaimed the Book of Proverbs as the cause for their success. I was intrigued and as a result, by the end of the year I had read the book of Proverbs a number of times. There were many verses in the Book of Proverbs that had a real impact on my life. The following proverb shaped the idea of the man I wanted to be – ‘many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?’ If they ever did find a faithful man, I wanted that to be me! I honestly wanted to save myself for marriage but I did not have the strength of character to do what I believed in, especially when I was surrounded by people who believed or behaved otherwise. I have learnt that it is more important to do what you believe in especially when it is the right thing to do rather than cower and submit to what is popular because doing so compromises your integrity. I also learnt that had I read that entire Bible especially the gospels – the books that introduce us to Jesus, His life and His death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life – I would have met the One who gives me the ability to be the man who proclaims his steadfast love and becomes a faithful man.

By the time I was 20 years old, I was asking myself questions such as: Is being cool really worth it when you have people coming up to you and telling you stories about what they did with you at a particular party which you know for certain you did not attend? Or did I just not remember? Why would I proclaim a girl I was interested in as the most beautiful girl in the world but as soon as I started dating her, would see another and lust after that one- would it ever end? What is love and would I ever find it?

I found my answer to this question when I met the woman who gave me the courage to be the man I had always wanted to be from the very first moment I met her. I did not run any game on her – I was authentic. I was only 20 and had expected to only meet someone that I would seriously commit myself to 5 to 6 years after high school. I was in Johannesburg, loving what the city had to offer and having the time of my life at WITS! I knew that in order to have this lady in my life, I would have to leave the life I had created for myself behind which mainly consisted of rugby, booze, parties and girls. I had a decision to make: Walk away and pick things up again in 5yrs or put my heart & soul on the line and discover what my journey of love with this incredible woman would lead to. The following question gave me some much-needed clarity – what if this was my only opportunity at love and if I let it go, would she still be available to be with me and not be with someone else?  I am grateful I chose to put my heart & soul on the line because by making that decision I was effectively choosing my wife and the mother of my two sons.

What did I discover when I awakened to love? The importance of friendship in a romantic relationship and genuinely enjoying each other’s company. I discovered my best friend and till today enjoy the endless chats and laughs that cause your stomach to hurt and eyes to tear up. I discovered that shared values make it easier to build a romantic relationship and life together. Shared values serve as a vital anchor in marriage and raising children because both of you will be singing from the same hymn book and aligned in thought, word and deed. I discovered that authenticity and being vulnerable enough to let the other person see you for who you really are fosters a deep connection and a sense of security and belonging because you know that the person just knows YOU (the good, the bad, the ugly & the weird) and gets you! I discovered that for a relationship to last, you have to choose to commit to it every day, grow with it and your partner because not all days or seasons of the relationship are pleasurable. A fundamental lesson I encountered was that what is good for me individually is not always good for the relationship. Selfishness does not have room in a relationship. I discovered that the needs of our relationship come before my own and this taught me to assess how my actions affect her and our relationship. I discovered the importance of guarding and protecting our relationship by not speaking negatively about her or our relationship to my friends and other females. 

I am a human being with a complicated condition but this is part of my story on my journey with love. What about yourself are you discovering in your daily wrestle with love? How has the music you listened to and the people you looked up to shaped your dating experience? What was the biggest spiritual impact on your dating experience?

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