Did you ever send a valentine and feel a twinge of fear that you wouldn’t receive one in return? I remember making valentines in my elementary school classroom in the 1940s. Today, teachers tell children to make them for every single student so no one feels hurt when the valentines are distributed. Back then, the process was more Darwinian. I gave a few and hoped to receive some valentines in return, but it didn’t always work out that way. I had to take an emotional risk that I would be overlooked completely by the girls that I wanted to like me.

As I grew older, I took more risks with my heart. I began to approach girls at dances and ask them to dance with me. Sometimes the answer was no. I had to make the long walk back to male friends, hiding my shame and embarrassment, pretending I didn’t really care. Perhaps it’s better these days: Everyone in the elementary school class gives and receives the same number of valentines, and the practices about dating and dances are different.

 

I wonder, though, how much human nature has changed? Do our socialization practices today help children to avoid pain over the course of their lives? What are we teaching them about romance, relationships, and risk?

Taking risks and experiencing heartbreak from an early age inoculated my generation for the vicissitudes of life and the inevitable heartbreaks we would face as we grew up. As an adult, do you feel your youthful experiences of romance and Valentine’s Day prepared you for the challenges of romantic relationships down the road? Do you wish you had acted differently when it comes to romance and risk? What, if anything, would you change?

As I think about romance and risk and Valentine’s Day, I can’t help thinking about the figure of romantic love, St. Valentine, who inspired the holiday. Martyred for his faith in 270 A.D., tortured and beheaded, St. Valentine represented bravery and strength. In fact, the word “valentine” comes from a Latin word meaning strength. Think about the story of your romantic relationships. How have the themes of courage, strength—and risk—played out in your story? Are you satisfied with the story you have lived up to this point? What if you could interact differently with these archetypal energies, gaining insights and energy to write and live according to a new, more satisfying story?

Courage and strength might inspire you to take a risk and ask for what you desire and deserve. As the saying goes, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Working differently with the archetypal energy of risk might allow you to more easily accept the losses that go with taking risks (such as losing faith, which happens when we are rejected). You might set the intention to encounter and dialogue with a symbolic representation of the energy of risk taking while doing a shamanic journey, such as a journey to the Lower World. You might go to sleep at night and set the intention to meet with the representation of an energy such as courage or risk and learn from it while you are dreaming. Then, in the morning, you can remember the dream and use the dialoguing technique to gain even more insights through a conversation with the symbol you encountered. (I describe all of these practices in detail in my book Change Your Story, Change Your Life.) These exercises can be combined with journaling for better understanding your current story and the story you wish to have replace it.

This Valentine’s Day, think about taking some time to identify your story of romantic love and replace it with a better one. Whether you have a romantic partner or not, you do not have to settle for your current story of romantic relationships. Take strength from the heartaches you have experienced to write a better story going forward.