By Associate Editor Natalie Gates
Whatever your idea of Valentine’s Day—an extravagant excuse moulded by the capitalist system to persuade you to indulge, a celebration of romantic relationships, a series of events targeted towards making single people feel less-than adequate, a simple reminder to let your loved ones know you care, or just another Tuesday—we at The Nav simply want to acknowledge love’s existence—in all its crazy forms. While the world may seem like a dark and scary place, there is love at the centre of us all. Kind of like the design of our paper this issue…Whoa, so meta…
Brian and Sarah
Ten years ago, I was a bitterly cynical 17-year-old, who thought relationships meant giving up, and love was a joke. I had watched the tumultuous marriage of my parents crash and burn, and I was determined to never have my heartbroken. I took pride in my independence and felt people blinded by “love” were weak. I was dead-set on graduating and leaving Kelowna.
Walking through my high school hallways, navigating through groups of hockey jocks and box-blonde teens, there was only one boy who caught my eye—Brian Timmer. He was the guy who didn’t realize just how cool he was. He seemed to be the epicenter of laughter. We’d steal glances when passing each other’s lockers, and he’d drive past me on my walk home from school. In the library he’d grab a table near mine, usually surrounded by friends, and he’d smile at me from time to time.
We were introduced once, despite knowing full well who the other was. Brian was dating a girl I’d gone to school with for the previous six years, and she was, to put it far nicer than deserved, horrendous. A pep-squad member and smiley, happy-go-lucky bully, she made my high school years hell. When I found out she was dating the guy I had been ogling, I was dumbfounded. The pairing just didn’t make sense. But, I was a strong, independent young lady, destined for world travel and large, glorious built-in bookshelves, right?
Brian graduated in 2007, and, ultimately, moved to the Caribbean to teach scuba diving. I graduated the following year, and moved to Perth, Western Australia. We moved back to Kelowna within months of each other in 2010. Both out with friends one night, I passed him on my way to the ATM. I mustered my courage, of both the organic and liquid variety, and approached him. “Brian Timmer.” The words fell from my mouth with such a strange combination of nervousness and excited conviction. I could feel the heat of my rum drink turn into the all-too-familiar heat of embarrassment. This anxious self-doubt was met with his loud, confident, perfect, if not slightly slurred, pronunciation of my full name. This was followed by some quick mental footwork on his part, and asking me to coffee “next Tuesday at 4:15 when [he] got off work at the restaurant across the street.”
He introduced me as his girlfriend on our second date, and, two months in, we decided we needed to get out of our small hometown. In December of 2010, we purchased one-way tickets to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and bid farewell to our very nervous, somewhat disapproving, all-in-all confused parents. We lived on the cheapest of cheap foods—oatmeal and pinto beans—and barely scraped by. We were paid under the table, often working 15-hour days, wading through endless immigration paperwork, while also getting to know each other. Turns out, despite many arguments and the struggle to make ends meet, we make a good team.
We moved back to Kelowna in the summer of 2011, and Nanaimo in the fall. I eventually started school at VIU, Brian followed suit, and we welcomed the best-cat-in-the-world to our household, (Bill Murray).
In March of last year, Brian and I went to Roatán, Honduras for a scuba diving trip. On the beach where I did my first ever dive in the Caribbean, Brian asked me to marry him.
On October 10, 2018, after eight years of dating (and eleven years of major crushing), I get to marry my best friend on a beach in Mexico, close to what was our first home together.
Molly and Jonathan
I began working at the Nav in 2013. Drew McLachlan was the Associate Editor—Natalie’s job now. Soon I was meeting Drew’s friends. I met Tyler and Kieran (hey, guys), and kept hearing about this “guy” named Jon: “remember that time when Jon…”, “Jon always did that…” etc. My curiosity grew.
If my upstairs neighbours hadn’t moved in with Kieran, I may not have used their porch, and Tyler may not have brought Jonathan to my party that night. But he did.
I was single, so was he—timing is important.
He was graduating the following weekend from UBC with a BA, and I had just been offered Managing Editor here. Tyler looked from me to Jon and instinctively introduced us.
He brought his parents’ homemade blackberry wine to the party, check.
He spoke French to me once he found out my minor was Modern Languages, check.
He mentioned his theatre degree, check.
It all made sense. So we pretended not to care too much, and flirted like idiots.
(Time lapse—Facebook friends, texting daily.) He takes me to the beach on our second date, and points to an island off the coast.
“That’s Round Island”, he says.
Wait. Like, the Round Island that Drew McLachlan based his 2014 Portal Magazine submission on, that I edited? Wait. That’s you in the story.
Turns out, we’ve been to the same parties in high school, had mutual friends, yet we never met. We know the same areas, same stories, same people.
Almost two years later, we continue to find connections, we continue to go to that beach, and drink that wine.
Here’s to you, babe, avec tout mon cœur.
I learned to love myself, to like myself, and to enjoy being on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I love people—but people won’t cure loneliness. Self-acceptance is the key to healthy relationships. Now that I’m 30, I no longer feel the pressure to be in a relationship.
For years, I looked for acceptance and belonging from others, trying to fit in somewhere. I felt like there was something wrong with me, as couples popped up around me and I remained disinterested in the idea. I’ve learned I can connect deeply on an intellectual and spiritual level with those around me, without being romantically attached. It is my loophole.
Knowing that others crave acceptance and a place of belonging, I started a tradition of singles-only Valentine’s Day parties. My roommate and I invite anyone who is on their own, provide snacks and games, and spend the evening laughing and deepening friendships. Rather than moping about and fretting over why we’re still single, we celebrate what makes each of us indispensable in our corner of humanity.
There’s nothing wrong or deficient in a single person. On this holiday that is so couples-oriented, I see you, you can sit with me.
Natalie and Colby
In my third grade class photo, a black-haired, blue-eyed boy named Colby, wearing an obnoxiously large smile, stands beside my eight-year-old, scruffy-haired self. During a field trip to the beach that same year, I have this strange urge to hug this boy, but I don’t tell anyone, of course. He is busy fawning over a dark-haired beauty, as well as an older woman in the fourth grade, anyway. He soon changes schools on the other end of town, and we don’t see each other until grade eight, when everyone merges for middle school.
We “flirt” a bit in computer class, and get reacquainted through our mutual friends. At a MuchMusic Dance, our friends pressure us to dance together, and I notice how safe I feel as we grind to Beyonce’s “Halo”. It’s like everywhere I look now, I’m surrounded by his embrace. We are dubbed “a couple”.
That was a Thursday night. After a mini-panic attack about how I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, I broke up with him the following Monday with the words, “We’re over. Friends?”
We stay friendly, but not overly so, both experiencing our own crushes over the next two years.
Something changes in grade 10 as I begin to notice Colby had gotten a little taller. He texted me over the summer and now he’s talking to me a bit more. That urge to hug him has creeped into the back of my mind, again. Despite the complex social politics that whispers through the hallways, I realize I like him. My friends and I go to watch the local hockey games and I notice Colby wears my favourite number, 16.
Colby’s womanizing friend Jarid had just moved back to town, and he has the hots for my best friend (also named Natalie). He uses the foursome dynamic to make a move on her, and so we all start hanging out more. One slushy November afternoon at Starbucks, Jarid and Natalie dash outside to leave us alone. Colby’s confident, wide laughing smile disappears, his braces now hiding behind a nervous pouty-lipped grin.
I can almost feel what’s coming, but I try not to jinx it. After an awkward silence, Colby puts down his glazed doughnut, leans back in his chair, and says, “So, do you wanna go out with me?”
I blush, my own braces gleaming. “Sure.”
Six years later, after two (soon to be three) graduations, two break-ups, time spent living together and time spent living towns apart; after countless joy rides, brunches, adventures, and laughs, it’s crazy to think about how much we’ve both changed since that day. I’m lucky to have a friend to grow and change with, continuously inspiring each other, exploring together and finding our place in this crazy world.
It’s hard to picture a better day than driving around in his Mustang, beach towels on my lap—or in the truck, dog in the back—Springsteen on the radio, ice cream in hand. No real destination, but enjoying a hell of a ride.
Catherine and Riley
If I hadn’t ditched all responsibility in favour of going out that night last January, I don’t think I would have met Riley any time soon—if at all. The orchestrator of this spread, Natalie, had asked me to hang out with her and her boyfriend, Colby. She mentioned that their friend, who was studying in Campbell River, had come down to visit for the weekend.
Despite the mile-long workload I had to tackle, uncharacteristically, I thought, “Meh, one night out can’t hurt.”
When I met the trio at the bus stop, two things struck me: his green plaid shirt (which I would later find out is a staple in his wardrobe), and his easygoing smile. He shook my hand and we headed off to the pub.
As I gained more liquid courage, I tried to act casual, but our easy connection and banter had me trying to convince myself that this was no big deal. But, it wasn’t every day I met a guy I got along with so well.
The next day, I sat in the front seat of his SUV as he drove me home from Nat’s apartment, watching the eagle feather on the rear-view mirror dangle with Notorious B.I.G. blaring from the speakers.
Later that night, heart pounding, I sent him a text thanking him for the ride, after asking Natalie for his number under false pretence of “just wanting to be nice”. A month later, we had our first date.
That misty February morning, we decided to go for a hike. After an hour of climbing what should have been a simple 30 minute trail, we sat down on a log, and split an orange, both laughing and chatting about everything and nothing. It didn’t feel like a first date, more like I was catching up with someone I’d known for years.
Later that day, we found our way to the Nanaimo River, where Riley spread out a blanket for a picnic. With the river rushing behind us, I brought up our one connecting subject: Natalie. As we warmed up to each other, we lay down and talked about our families, and my love of history, listening to the water sweeping by.
Riley soon finished his schooling and moved back to Squamish for work. Since then, it’s been a non-stop back and forth on the ferry.
The long distance sucks, but it makes me appreciate time spent together on weekends; all the anticipation and planning are worth it. As we head towards our first year together, I am forever thankful for my careless abandon that night—and for a Cupid named Natalie.
It was my first day as a transfer student at a new university. As I passed him in the hallway, there was a flicker, an exchange of mutual desire.
Then, I walked into my classroom and there he was. Standing at the front of the class. Oh shit.
What began as an erotic fascination turned into a productive, passionate, intellectual relationship. He taught me about Michel Foucault, and bell hooks, and Paulo Freire–about power structures, feminism, and freedom. I could feel his fascination with me, but he never expressed it as anything more than pride in a student who was becoming more capable and empowered every day.
I had hoped my desire would just go away—but instead, we kept growing closer. I became his research assistant. We discussed critical theory over beer. We went to conferences and would stay up late into the night, going to see bands downtown and ending up eating nachos smothered in fake cheese at Denny’s at 5 am. When I finally told him how I felt about him, he stammered, froze; these kinds of relationship between student and teacher are criminalized, taboo, unprofessional. I told myself, perhaps that’s why I’m so into it; I’d always had a fetish for the untouchable.
But we were shockingly civilized; we kept that student/professor boundary up until after I finished school. By then there was no question of our mutual desire; it had been simmering (almost) under the surface for 18 months.
It’s been almost five years since that first day I met him, and we are in an incredibly healthy, sexy, relationship. Sometimes love and connection strikes us in the most unlikely of places.
The only thing I can commit to is being noncommittal. When Valentine’s Day rolls around, the world is awash in symbols of commitment: fancy dates, plush stuffies, lush floral arrangements, shiny jewellery, the works. It makes me antsy, and I just don’t get it; I don’t want any of that, so why should anyone else?
Last year on Valentine’s Day, I was involved in a sort-of relationship, and I unexpectedly received a stuffed koala named Howard. I smiled in spite of myself. I felt all giddy and light; I felt loved, it was a happy time. After the happiness passed, there was a nagging feeling in my gut, it came from the fact that I hadn’t gotten her anything in return.
She said she was cool with it, but I knew what that meant. So I started planning this crazy romantic idea in my head; I was going to get her flowers, write sappy poetry on a card, buy her some chocolates, and take her out on a romantic picnic. Of course, I didn’t commit to the idea, so none of that materialized. I could have done any one of those things, I could have put in just a touch of effort to say “HEY, I LIKE YOUR FACE AND I WANT YOU IN MY LIFE,” instead I said, “Oh, you like me? That’s cool, thanks, I guess.”
Valentine’s Day really isn’t about the dates you go on, or the things you buy, it’s about being with the person you’re with, and showing them that you love them, showing them how much you appreciate them just for being there, and showing them that you want them there for the long term.
Unsurprisingly, I’m single for Valentine’s this year. For me, it’ll pass with little fanfare, just another quirky holiday, like Groundhog Day. I’ve seen my metaphorical shadow, and I predict at least six more weeks of commitment issues, but when spring finally does come, I think I’ll be ready, maybe.