For most of my partnered-up adult life, Valentine’s Day was a bit like prom: lots of hype, tons of expectation, and kind of a let down once it happened. They felt extravagant or forced, like some sort of obligation I was supposed to be totally into but was only kind-of-sort-of invested in. Basically, the exact opposite of what all those cards and Sex & The City episodes told me February 14th should be like.
In contrast, my single-gal Valentine’s Days were a blast and a half. In high school I spent my freshman and sophomore years with red on my lips and hearts drawn on my fingernails (in black polish, but I digress), passing out glittery stickers and love notes to my friends between classes. My freshman year of college, my mom sent a basket of cookies and mini-muffins to my dorm, and later that evening we all went out to dinner at a janky strip-mall sushi place where the lighting was harsh and the laughter was plenty. As relationships came and went, a small part of me felt a little bit bummed that my Valentine’s Days had fallen prey to romantic involvement instead of a fun time with my single friends and family.
But wait…that’s backwards, right?
Shouldn’t the expression of love be about the fun, about the feeling and, most certainly, about doing things your own way?
This lesson, of course, is one I hadn’t learned yet.
We give a big heap of power to romantic relationships in our culture. So much power, in fact, that many times it can seem like our romantic relationships shouldn’t just dictate our overall happiness, but dictate our sense of self-worth. “Are you seeing anyone?” has become an oft-used tentpole in the basecamp of banal conversation, and way too often a single gal (or guy, because the urge to matchmake transcends gender) is viewed as ripe to be paired off. Even when we’re in relationships, the question isn’t so much about the whos and whys but the whats and whens. We’re told by pop songs, movies, TV shows, and magazines that being coupled is a means to an end, and there’s always a new end to strive toward.
We’ve all heard the cliché that “you need to love yourself before you can love others.” But it’s also true that loving yourself should never, ever, ever be about laying the groundwork for someone else to come and swoop in. Being single isn’t about not having a partner – it’s about being your own best teammate. It’s about reclaiming the word “single” and redefining it not as something negative or lacking, but as a state-of-mind you carry with you, whether you’re in a relationship or not. Just like being “taken” doesn’t mean you’re someone else’s property, being single doesn’t mean you’re up for grabs. The difference involves another person, but the common commitment should always involve the one you have to yourself.
Little disclaimer: I know couples who have been together since they were 16. My grandparents, aka living breathing heart-eye emojis, were high school sweethearts (granted, they each got married, then divorced, then found each other again later in life – so technically, they had a big old break in the middle of their romance, but still). There are a good number of couples out there who found their “person” early on in life and have created loving, open, equal partnership that’s lasted them a lifetime. And that’s beautiful.
But for most of us, that’s not the case. We experience a multitude of romantic relationships in our lives – both brief and prolonged – and therefore have a plethora of opportunities to check in and evaluate who we are when we’re going solo. Not all of us take these opportunities, but they are always there.
Without prolonged periods of time to ourselves – whether that be months or years – how can we ever develop that deep sense of self-knowledge that fuels our dreams? How can we hone the craft of fine-tuning our intuition and gut feelings so that no matter who or what comes along, we’re able to stay true to who we are at our core? By casting aside those moments, we’re sending ourselves the subconscious message that who we are alone is not enough.
Being single isn’t a relationship status, it’s a mindset. We each get to choose what that mindset means to us.
Think about it: What kind of stuff does the word “single” bring up for you? Is it along the lines of unlovable, incomplete, alone? Or rather, is it a sense of freedom, bravery, and fearless independence? The way we view our single self is ultimately how we will view our coupled self – in both our highest highs and our lowest lows. What a blessing it is to be able to experience both of these emotional extremes on our own, so that when another person comes along (if we should be open to them coming along, of course), we know for a fact that our love comes from a place of want, not need. We know that we want their love in order to enhance our life… not that we need their love in order to define it.
So, spoiler alert… I’m not single any more. And I haven’t been for a few years now. Bigger spoiler, I’m engaged. I know, I know… what kind of business do I have writing about singledom, then? Well – a lot. Because even though my fiancé most certainly has helped me open more windows and doors and sunroofs to my truest self than I can even express, he is NOT my crutch. Because I had a long (long) time before he came along to solidify my relationship with myself, so everything he has to offer is the best-ever cherry on top. Because honestly, the way I feel right now as my best self (in both my high and my lows) is almost exactly the same as when I was single. It was in that period of time that I committed over and over again to the most important relationship in my life – my relationship with myself.
These last few years have been the first time I’ve actually enjoyed Valentines Days in a long while – and it’s not because I’ve found “my person.” It’s because my Valentine’s Days have morphed back into what they were in the past: a day to celebrate love of all kinds. I wear red lipstick because I want to, I spend time with my friends because I love to, I call my mom and pass out stickers because it makes me happy. Sometimes I go out to a fancy dinner with my fiancé, sometimes we watch Friends reruns in our pajamas at 5 p.m. But no matter what, I make sure to reflect on how wonderful it feels to live my life on my own terms, and how grateful I am for that time I had sans partnership to figure out what those terms actually meant to me without the influence of someone else.
The times we have to ourselves are precious. We have our entire lives to be surrounded by other people in whatever capacity we choose, whether a lasting romance or a fleeting fling. If you’re single or recovering from a broken heart this Valentine’s Day, use this weekend to shower the people you love with love. Use this time to hone your single-gal mindset for the better. Friends and lovers will come and go. It’s a liberating feeling when you realize that the one constant in your life – yourself – is someone you’ve grown to love more than you though was possible. And that that person is not going away no matter what.