When I was in grade school, I used to hate getting my tests back. Not because I was a bad student , and not because I dreaded some draconian punishment if I did poorly. On the contrary, I had good grades and my parents were very permissive. No, I hated getting my tests back because I hated seeing what I had done wrong, marked up in red ink. If only I had studied more on chapter six…I knew the answer was Jefferson, not Hamilton, why did I change it? Ahhh!…Why am I so stupid? Looking at my mistakes, in black, white, and red, was agonizing.
So, Valentine’s Day. Time’s up, pencils down. Did you pass? Do you have a woman on your arm this weekend? Are flowers being sent to your apartment this Saturday? It feels like a test. If I had only spent a little more time staying in shape…I knew I should have waited to call. Why is Valentine’s Day so dreaded? Not because we’re single – we’re just as single on February 13th as we are on February 14th – but because we are forced to confront our singleness. Like looking at a graded test, we are forced to see our failures.
It hurts, not because we are alone, but because we wonder why we are alone. For some of us, the answer comes easily – perhaps a divorce, perhaps a messy break-up, or perhaps just single-minded dedication to career or school – and we can just shrug off Valentine’s Day. But for the rest of us, those who put in the time and energy, the mental and emotional investment, and still came up short, when we wonder why we are alone, and the answer is not so easy. I have tried my best, so why am I still single? Is something wrong with me? Valentine’s Day asks us a question for which there is no dignified answer. No wonder people hate it.
So, what do you do, come Saturday? Try to forget, somehow? Go to a singles’ night at the local bar, go dancing with fellow single friends, or do some other socially-acceptable substitute activity? Yes! Enjoy a nice Saturday night. But what if you can’t enjoy yourself? What if you feel that you’re only doing these things to avoid thinking about the terrible question of Valentine’s Day? Go anyways. But before you head out, make a note to yourself – I am going to set aside some time tomorrow to think about this.
Then, Sunday afternoon, find a nice quiet place, perhaps a window desk at the local library, with only a pen and paper. No TV, no internet, no music. Just you and your thoughts. Let’s be realistic here – there will be no magical epiphanies or beams of light shining upon you from the heavens. But you are going to spend one or two hours staring at a sheet of paper, thinking about yourself and your life, and when was the last time that happened? Start with the basic question – why am I still single – but turn it around. Why do I care so much? Can I be happy with myself even though I am single?
If you can be happy with yourself even though you are single, then you shouldn’t care so much Valentine’s Day. After all, you can confront your singleness, and still be happy. Looking into the mirror on Valentine’s day shouldn’t bother you at all. But no, Valentine’s Day does bother us – we can’t be happy for ourselves if we are single. And this is a real problem, because what we are saying is we need someone else to love us in order for us to love ourselves. In other words, we need someone else to validate us.
Again, this is a problem. If you look to relationships not as a meeting of equals, but as a lifeline to save yourself from failure, things will not go smoothly for you. You might find someone with a Messiah complex, but do you really want your relationship to be one of the-savior-and-the-saved? Life isn’t meant to work that way. You need balance. Don’t look to other people for validation; self-worth must come from other sources.
Find a way to be proud of yourself in an honest way. You might find that you need to do some heavy lifting – become more mature, more responsible, more generous, more kind – do it. But become someone who doesn’t depend on their relationship status for happiness. How? You’d laugh if I said I knew how. Besides, giving you a good recipe doesn’t make you a good cook. It could take years. But at the end of those years, you want to be able to say this. Let’s call it the Single’s Creed:
I’m not perfect, I’ve got issues. I know dating someone doesn’t solve those issues. I won’t seek relationships to ignore my problems. My self-worth doesn’t depend on my relationship status. When I enter a relationship, it is for what I can give, not what I can get. Finding someone will make me happy, but I can be happy without finding someone.
Next year, you might be single, you might not. Who knows? But perhaps, next year you will care a little bit less. Perhaps next year Valentine’s Day will feel a little less like a test of your value as a human being. And perhaps eventually, if you find yourself single on Valentine’s Day, it won’t bother you at all.