“Que haces in los Estados Unidos, Samantha?,” the passport control worker said to me. I had just arrived in Chile, excited to begin a writing assignment for a new client. The name on his tag read “Estigio Gomez.” He was a jovial, heavyset Chilean man. I smiled, delighted that I had recently learnt the Spanish word for “writer.”
“Yo soy una escritora,” I replied.
“ Joven para un escritoro, si?” he continued. (You are young for a writer, aren’t you?) I laughed, shaking my head. He smiled. “Que escribes?” (What do you write?)
“Ummm..” I hesitated. This was where my Spanish died. How on earth did you say ‘dating column’ in Spanish?
I didn’t know. So I said it in English, hoping that either the right word would come to me or he would just understand. “I write about dating, relationships, love…” I trailed off at the look on his face. He didn’t get it.“Umm..” I said again. I hated not knowing what I was talking about. “Amor!” I shouted jubilantly. Yes, I knew something that made sense was in there somewhere.
“Ahhhh,” he replied, his face melting into satisfied comprehension.
“Las cosas del corazon,” he said, drawing out the last syllable.
“Si!” I exclaimed. That was exactly right. ‘Cosas’ meant things, ‘Corazon’ meant heart.
I wrote about “the things of the heart.”
After I passed through customs and emerged out into the hot sunny parking lot of the Santiago Airport, I started thinking about the difference between ‘things of the heart’ and the words we usually use to explain the same things.
In America, our “things of the heart’ terminology are the following: love, relationships, sex, and dating. But do these really describe all the things that go on in our hearts? And does a tendency to ascribe to one of these four indicate that the other things that go on aren’t important?
I realized that the latter was correct: by generalizing into four terms, other things, emotions, and thoughts related to our hearts are marginalized by ourselves and by society. Thus, people who can’t categorize their feelings or situation into one of these linguistic baths end up feeling bashful and unimportant.
But what’s interesting is that most people, particularly in New York where over half of the population is single aren’t in love, in relationships, having regular sex, or even dating. So does that mean that the emotions in their hearts don’t matter?
Not at all. But in order for those emotions, and for those people to gain an accepted place in society, we need to appreciate other things besides the four catch words. We need to bring words like hook-up, lust, guilt, shame, crush, same-sex partners, into the media and into the general conversation.
So heading towards this Valentine’s Day, don’t feel bad if you aren’t in a relationship, haven’t fallen in love, or don’t have a date.
Because it doesn’t mean that your heart is empty, it just means it’s busy with other things- with friendship, family, nostalgia, ambition, etc. Things that may not be spattered on the cover of Cosmo, but are nevertheless just as important.