St. Valentine’s Day is not a holiday for single people, except maybe to feel sorry for them, because, you know, they don’t have anyone.
I’m not going to offer you a sing-song cheerleading bit about how great it is to be single. The truth is: it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it is lonely, but when you come to understand the difference between loneliness and solitude and appreciate the latter, it makes a huge difference. There are those who derive their sense of self-worth, not from some intrinsic well, but from the validation of others. There are those who need validation to breathe. I refuse to be one, tempting as it can be. When used well, solitude brings wellness.
On Valentine’s Day several years ago, my church held an event to promote marriage equality. It was uncomfortable for the few of us who are singles. We were left to awkwardly witness the exchange of vows of the partnered. We stood around conspicuously, wishing we were invisible. If I hadn’t been so proud of my denomination’s efforts for social justice, I might never have darkened the ramp and walked through the doors again.
“You okay?” a friend asked as I was leaving that day.
“Yeah,” I said halfheartedly. “That was great.”
The event made the national news. When people of faith align loudly with certain brands of justice, it’s rather a big deal. Gay couples should have a right to foolishly tether themselves to one another the same as the rest of us. Okay, I concede: there are some great marriages, even some I envy. There. I said it.
It’s funny, but as I get older, I see more seasoned couples who publicly show the kind of tenderness and care that most of us who were once married thought we were signing on for. When my I-wish-they-were-my-parents steal kisses, I smile. When elderly couples come before the congregation as they sometimes do to announce their many long, happy years of marriage—I applaud along with everyone else, even as I wonder how many of those years were really happy.
I once made an offhand comment to one such couple about how charming it was to be in their company. They are probably in their late sixties and they finish one another’s sentences. They smile readily. They smile the sort of smiles that make others smile, too.
“Well, it hasn’t always been like this,” the wife snorted.
The husband looked at her with alarm.
“I can’t tell you how many times we almost divorced,” she said flatly.
“…but we made it, honey,” her husband said, forcing a smile.
In the words of legendary folk singer Greg Brown, who is reported to have a fondness for redheads, and whom I kissed when I was in my twenties:
“My friends are gettin’ older,
so I guess I must be, too.
Without their loving kindness,
I don’t know what I’d do.
Oh the wine bottle’s half empty–
the money’s all spent.
And we’re a cross between our parents
and hippies in a tent. “
I am old enough to have a thirteen-year-old son who just happens to be learning about sex and sexuality right now at church. Yes, I go to a church that celebrates gay marriage and believes that youth should have accurate information about sex, sexuality, sexual decision-making, media representations of gender, and birth control. There really are churches like that. For those of you who are on the anti-religion bandwagon—ya might want to take a second look.
My son brings home condoms from church because, ya know, at thirteen he might need them. (NOT.) Largely this is about trying to increase a kid’s comfort with condoms well before the need arises. (…and no, sexuality education and access to condoms does NOT make him or any of his peers more likely to have sex.) He is already quite familiar with—and fond of—condoms, especially the water balloon feature. (…condoms bulging with water, tied off, and stuffed under a brother’s pillow, yeah. He thought that was funny. I didn’t, although I’m laughing now, because, well—sometimes you have to laugh or you’ll just cry. Besides, laughter is good for you.)
What was NOT especially funny was the flushing of the condom experiments down the toilet and the resulting backup of what I think can be termed epic proportions. In the end we had a visit from a crotchety old plumber and his strapping young assistant. They brought a big, stinky machine to snake out the drain and they snaked their way through the roof vent. The metal snake flailed merrily (and noisily) from the top of our little blue house until that one neighbor I always mention came by to report that the plumbers were barking up the wrong pipe. $375 and a big mess later and the line is clear. There is still repair work to be done—but we have functional plumbing again. It’s a glamorous life.
I whined about it, too. I whined to one incredible person who sent me flowers with a note, “Every Day You Take Your Light Out Into The World.” God, my life is awesome. I haven’t time for feeling sorry over Valentine’s Day, but I have to do it anyway. Really, I do.
I’m old enough to have a son who makes water balloons out of condoms. I’ve borne witness to a lot of lives by now. I have seen people leave relationships they found unsatisfactory to find other relationships that they also found unsatisfactory. I believe that happiness is worth chasing, but increasingly, I don’t believe it is to be found in running, especially from what one deems merely unsatisfactory. Walking out on misery is generally a good decision, but if a life is unsatisfactory, it shouldn’t be pinned on one’s romantic situation by default, not without a thorough emotional and psychological inventory. Also, I’m quite sure that happiness isn’t to be found in the affections of a lover, enjoyable as the affections of a lover may be.
A few years ago at a gathering of single women, a friend shared her distress and fear that after her divorce she would never find someone else.
“Honey,” I said, “once the fellas find out you are single, they’ll be beating down your door.” She is a gorgeous woman; bright, accomplished, and sassy.
Several of the older women who were present had a different take on things. They witnessed this interaction and later chided me. One woman told me, “Well, when I was your age and divorced, that was what I was thinking, too, ‘find another man.’ Most of us [older, wiser ladies] think, Another man? Are you effing kidding me? Why would I do that again? We want to do our own thing, find meaning in our own lives.”
They wanted autonomy, economic and otherwise. Romance? Bah. It isn’t worth the trouble.
(They are awfully fun to laugh with, too. Wrinkles, be damned.)
Consider Chopper Papa’s advice for the ladies this Valentine’s Day: get your dude the perfect gift. Feed ‘em and f*ck ‘em.
Your guy deserves it after the hard work he did to deliver the perfect Valentine’s Day experience, assuming he isn’t the sort to roll down the window and purchase a bundle of wilted roses on the way home during his evening commute. Feed ‘em and f*ck ‘em. Um, yeah.
For the single ladies the most redeeming aspect of Valentine’s Day is often the discount chocolate on February 15th. Dark. With almonds. We can celebrate autonomy, celebrate having rid ourselves of someone who drained the happiness out of life, someone who, in the end, brought out the worst and not the best in us. Also, we didn’t settle.
If you are lucky or smart enough to have a great partner who brings you real chocolates—not the chalky discount-store kind—but hand-made artisan chocolates that melt orgasmically in your mouth—then, good for you! (I concede, I am a little jealous.) If you aren’t, I’ll meet you at the chocolate shop on Wednesday for the clearance sale. You’ll be in good company!
If you buy yourself cheap chocolate on February 15th, you’re not a loser. You aren’t pathetic. (We really do have the best parties.) I won’t tell you that you need to find yourself a man or a woman, as the case may be. I won’t ask you if you have given up, or if you think you have “aged out.” I won’t ask you why. I won’t give you unsolicited advice about how to hook a partner. Being single does not mean there is something wrong with you.
Being single is sometimes awkward, sure. Occasionally it is even lonely. Admittedly, sometimes I even tell myself that for some handsome and ethical fella, I might even be persuaded to fall in love, or at least into bed (with the promise of proper condom disposal), but in reality, I am far too busy with overflowing toilets, laundry, and my crazy, full, glamorous-less, meaningful life.
Here’s to you, Solitary Valentines! Always look on the bright side of life.