Surviving Valentine’s Day solo
By Lori Gottlieb Uh-oh. Just when you thought you’d gotten through New Year’s Eve unscathed, here comes another doozie of a holiday for singles: Valentine’s Day. For the uncoupled, the dreaded fourteenth day of February can be a pink-ribbon-and-teddy-bear-wrapped reminder (as if we needed one!) that we’ll be getting the entire bed to ourselves that night (again). Add to that the mall windows filled with heart-shaped balloons and the bombardment of ads from florists to jewelers, and Valentine’s Day can make you feel like you’re the only one who forgot to board Noah’s ark.
Well, take heart (so to speak): You are not alone. In fact, there are millions of other singles out there, each with his or her own strategy for getting through what might seem like the most unromantic day of the year—and maybe even having some fun. Here, some tactics to consider:
Denial: Denial may not be the smartest coping mechanism during the rest of the year (“Just because I found lipstick on his collar doesn’t mean he’s cheating, right?”), but on Valentine’s Day, it helps my single friends Gil and Heather. Gil says that by making fun of the holiday — “It’s a Hallmark invention” or “It’s a Pagan ritual” — he convinces himself that the day doesn’t have much true meaning. My friend Heather takes denial a step further. “They say loving yourself first is an important step to finding someone,” she explained. “It sounds cheesy, but one year friends and I got together for dinner to celebrate ourselves. We talked about the accomplishments we’d enjoyed since the last Valentine’s Day. Even if they were small things like new places we’d been, new foods we’d tried—anything that acknowledged that we’d grown in some way.” The result? “It was inspiring to take time to see what we have instead of what we’re missing. But I realize this also could be considered denial!”
Cruise for dates: Instead of pining away for a Valentine, my friend Marcelo decided to go out and find one. “One Valentine’s Day when I was single and lonely,” he said, “I went to the local Rite Aid to buy some sundries. I started talking to a cute girl who was also shopping. I figured, hey, she must be single if she’s shopping alone on Valentine’s Day. I asked her if she wanted to have dinner, since neither of us seemed to be busy that night, and she said yes.” Although it didn’t lead to a relationship, they had a nice time and wound up going out on a couple more dates. “Point is,” Marcelo said, “if you go out on Valentine’s Day and see a single person doing something incredibly mundane, then there is a good chance that person doesn’t have a significant other. The odds are markedly improved that if you ask the person for coffee or a drink, the answer will be yes.”
Pursue the impossible: A few years ago, when my friend Gil was hopelessly enamored of a neighbor whom he knew didn’t return his affection, he decided to ask her out anyway: “I got her this giant rose, in a box, wrapped in thebiggest bow ever made, and invited her for dinner,” he said. And, it turns out, she accepted his offer. “Nothing ever came of that or many other gestures,” he admitted, sheepishly. But at least he got to spend the holiday with the woman of his dreams.
Help others: Sure, it’s easy to focus inward on our own romantic emptiness, but my friend Heather thinks reaching out should apply to Valentine’s Day as well. “On Thanksgiving, people go out of their way to make sure everyone has somewhere to go,” she said. “Why don’t we do that on Valentine’s Day, when we really need it? I want soup kitchens to hand out free pieces of pumpkin pie to single people on Valentine’s Day.” Well, perhaps not that exact idea, but giving those who’d appreciate it: Why not volunteer to do something nice for other people so that they feel loved—even if you don’t?
Revel: Two years ago, Bonnie decided to start a tradition of hosting a party attended only by her single friends. Not only is it a great opportunity to meet someone, but embracing the day feels empowering. My single friend Amy said that although she’d like to be coupled with the right person on Valentine’s Day, after spending the holiday with Mr. Wrong a few years ago, now she revels in being single rather than being with just anyone. “We had a very uncomfortable expensive romantic dinner,” she said of the guy she’d been dating. They broke up a week later. “I was so unhappy that Valentine’s Day, I remember thinking that it’s better to be single and happy than with someone just for the sake of being with someone,” she said.
Wear it on your sleeve: “I always wore red on Valentine’s Day to show that I was embracing the holiday even though I was single,” said my friend Carolyn, who has since met and married her Valentine. “I thought that might save me from any ‘poor, pitiful single you’ comments and prevent anyone from tiptoeing around me that day fearing that I was feeling blue.” And it worked, Carolyn said: “How can anyone surmise that you’re feeling blue if you’re decked out in red?”
Be your own valentine: Another friend took matters into her own hands. “I always bought myself something absolutely lovely, like a thick cashmere sweater or a great beaded bracelet,” she said. “I have always been of the mindset that I love me and deserve to proclaim it to myself on February 14th, rather than to feel bad that someone else hasn’t quite realized yet how terrific I am.”
The bottom line? Whatever strategy you choose, remember that Valentine’s Day isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway. Even if you have a Valentine (and especially if you’ve been together long enough that you’ve stopped closing the bathroom door), celebrating romance on a specific day each year tends to lose its luster. So just because you’re single doesn’t mean you’re missing much. Oh, wait, that must be my denial kicking in.
Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the co-author of I Love You, Nice to Meet You: A Guy and A Girl Give the Lowdown on Coupling Up. Her site is http://www.lorigottlieb.com.