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'Love Party' becomes a tradition

Santa Rosa nurse Gina Williams, with her husband Joe, has been throwing Valentine's Day parties since 2006, as an affirmation of love in its many forms.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / PD
Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 8:53 p.m.

Gina Williams spent seven years in a relationship that hit a dead end.

Facts

CREATING CONNECTIONS

Santa Rosa therapist Dr. Jennifer Holland Brown suggests re-imagining Valentine's Day as a day dedicated to making meaningful connections of all kinds with other people.
She offers these tips for creating connection on Valentine's Day:
Communicate with your loved ones.
Avoid making assumptions about what you think they might be wanting.
Ask for what you want; don't be afraid to ask for time and attention in lieu of material things.
Be generous with your time and attention to others.
Expand your definitions of love and connection.
Find ways to honor yourself regardless of your relationship status.

The Santa Rosa nurse, who works in the E.R. at Sutter Hospital, found herself in her own emotional emergency — pushing 30 with no prospects for the committed love and family life she craved.

But when Valentine's Day came around, Williams refused to sit it out just because she was single.

So she threw a “love party” and invited all her true friends, the ones who had steadfastly supported her as she picked up the pieces of her life and started putting it back together better than before.

“It was a last-minute freak-out,” she remembers. “I thought, 'Oh my gosh. I'm by myself and have nothing to do on Valentine's Day.' ”

That first impromptu party some six years ago has become an annual tradition, a chance, as she sees it, to celebrate love in its many forms, from love for family and friendsto love for the earth, humanity and the less fortunate. She carries it on even though she now has husband Joe Williams to share it with, and a baby on the way.

Williams did what Santa Rosa therapist Jennifer Holland Brown recommends that anyone who is single or unhappy with love do. She “reimagined” Valentine's Day, creating new rituals that aren't dependent on unrealistic or unattainable expectations of romance.

“We have been socialized in this culture to believe that in order to participate fully in Valentine's Day, we must collectively open our wallets and buy our significant others whatever is being most effectively marketed at the time,” she wrote in a weblog.

The day, Brown stressed in an interview, has gotten out of hand, pushing many people toward depression and dread every February when the hearts, mushy cards and jewelry commercials materialize.

“We don't have a very good sense of friendly and platonic love,” she said. “Everything we see on TV is about romantic fantasies that carry us away to our perfect somebody.”

Many people, she said, “experience Valentine's Day as a personal failure.”

Williams, now 34, confessed that she always had a weakness for the holiday with its joyous symbols of hearts and flowers. She said she didn't want to have it ruined just because she didn't have a special someone.

“I wanted to put the focus back on love whether you're with somebody or not,” said Williams, who invites friends both coupled and single. “There are so many different ways to extend love. Friends and family, loving animals and people you don't even know and who need charity... But it can get lost because romantic love gets a hold on love and ruins it for a lot of people.”

Williams has more decorations for Valentine's Day than Christmas. In January she starts creating a pink and red fantasy of heart pillows, garlands, wreaths, homemade cards, candy hearts and candles. Each year she picks a cause to spotlight, like the year guests indulged in fondue made from Fair Trade chocolate. She provides information about the chosen charity and a no-pressure chance to donate.

The party was part of the healing process from a toxic relationship with a guy who avoided commitment and apparently was two-timing her. Williams vowed to make her life not about finding a guy but finding herself.

She started doing the things she had put off, like climbing Half Dome and seeing “The Nutcracker,” said her close friend Katie Donaghy.

It was then, when she was living fully and independently, that she met Joe Williams, a lanky “good guy” making pies at a Santa Rosa pizzeria. Donaghy, a regular, spotted him as a possible match and brought Gina there for her 31st birthday. One thing eventually led to another.

The couple wed under an oak with a big heart tacked to the bark. Joe Williams now works at Quivira Winery and the couple will welcome their first baby this summer.

There is a lesson to take away from Gina's determination to reclaim Valentine's Day, her friend Katie Donaghy said.

“Don't just wait for an outside source to make you happy,” she said. “Don't wait until everything is settled to go on with your life. Just go out and live.”

And don't give up on love, wherever you find it.

You can reach staff writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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