Howard is a tall, slender man with snow-white hair and a slight, warm smile. By his description, he is intelligent, creative--a thinker. But one thing worries him. He isn't sure if he knows how to love.
"I had a demanding, critical mother who was a teacher," the 66-year-old real estate developer said. "I could never please her."
"Because of my childhood," Howard told his five classmates, who also weren't sure they could love, "I have had a difficult time learning to love."
Howard, his estranged wife Evelyn, 53, and two other couples who asked that their last names not be used, spent nearly 2 hours at a Valentine's Day workshop sponsored by Orange Coast College hoping to find an answer to the question: "Are you able to love?"
"As much as I love me, that's as much love as I am able to put back into the world," lecturer Marti Monroe told the participants, who met at 7:30 p.m. in a Costa Mesa High School classroom.
So, as she instructed, they made valentines for themselves and filled them with a list of the personal qualities they respected and admired about themselves--the first step, she said, to loving themselves.
"I make it my job to go around and teach everyone how to love themselves," said the marriage, family and child counselor who also teaches graduate students in her field at Cal State Fullerton.
Dressed in red and wearing heart-shaped earrings and two matching heart pendants, Monroe said she was surprised that all of the students were coupled.
"I was shocked when the class turned out to be all couples; I expected a bunch of lonely people without valentines."
But company doesn't always rule out loneliness. When asked how their partners could make them feel loved, one participant responded, "I'd just like (my love) to be accepted, and I'd like to get a little back."
"We still do things together," said Evelyn, 53, explaining why she and her husband attended the workshop together despite their separation over what he described as "problems that weren't getting better."
Two of the three men said that the lecture was their wives' idea but that they had come willingly.
Offering a reason for his limited participation in the discussions about love, Mike, a 48-year-old sales manager, said, "It's a very hard subject to talk about."
Neil, a 41-year-old attorney, agreed. He hadn't offered answers to Monroe's introspective questions about loving relationships because he didn't want to "make a fool of himself," he said.
"The questions are so simple, and you think, 'There must be a right answer to this, and I don't know what it is.' "
Despite the reticence of her male counterparts, Mary, a 48-year-old housewife, gave a simple answer for why she and her husband had come to the workshop. "It's about loving and it's Valentine's Day, and I thought, 'What a great thing to do.' "