I can tell something about my friends by which holidays they love, and which they loathe. There are those who go all out for Christmas and those who balk at even watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Some can’t wait to play extreme dress-up at Halloween while others go out of town to avoid the trick or treaters. So far, I haven’t heard anybody claim Boss’s Day as their favorite holiday but I’m sure there are fans out there. I make no bones about it, I’m not crazy about holidays that come with their own baggage of high expectations, especially the ones where you feel like you’re judged a failure if you don’t have someone special to share them with. By that I mean, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.
For those of us who are flying solo, no holiday presses the point of our singlehood more than Valentine’s Day. The race is on to plan something for that inescapable day that is all about people being coupled. And it starts in grade school! Pity the poor child who doesn’t get a Valentine from the classmate that he or she has a secret crush on.
I don’t mean to be the Scrooge of Valentine’s Day. I’m all for love and expressing one’s rapture over finding Mr. or Ms. Right. But what if you haven’t found him or her, or even more subversively, you aren’t even actively looking? It’s as if on that day the world shamelessly conspires to make you feel like others have hit the jackpot and you haven’t. Which is, if you’ll pardon my French, bunk.
Because the truth is, many of us don’t feel the need to be partnered. That doesn’t mean we aren’t open to it, or that we don’t fantasize about finding “the one.” I, for one, am a total romantic at heart. I still cry every time I watch You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan discovers Tom Hanks is her secret online sweetheart and says, “I wanted it to be you.” One of my favorite books is the letters of John and Abigail Adams, which shows two people in love finding ways to stay connected over the years despite great distances, sickness, setbacks, and differences over everything from how to run a farm to the role of women in our new nation.
I have been fortunate enough to be in love, so I know something about the lay of the land. I was in a relationship for almost 26 years and now I’m not. After that many years, getting back into the dating game is a bit daunting. Especially in this age of Match.com and OkCupid and Grindr and Tinder. When we have so many venues to pick and choose a mate, it makes it both easier and more difficult to find that special person.
In times gone by, when life moved at a decidedly slower pace, you could get to know someone face to face, sharing stories and laughter. You paid attention to a myriad of non-verbal cues, too. If things went well, you spoke of hopes and hurts, loves lost and happiness found. You could actually look into someone’s eyes to see how he or she felt about you. The chemistry was either there or it wasn’t. Nowadays, we base a lot on a photo and some text, and our finger slides either left or right.
I will be the first to admit that after being in a long-term relationship, I don’t wish to rush in where angels fear to tread. And yes, I’m sure that my hesitation is equal parts being choosy and feeling scared of being hurt again. But there’s something else that enters the equation. I feel lucky to have a few very close male friends that have set the bar for relationships pretty high.
If I was going to date someone, I’d want to know that he could be as interesting, challenging, respectful, and sensitive as my male friends. If not, what’s the point? Why should I lower my standards when looking for someone to share my life with? Why be okay with someone who talks only about himself when my male friends show a real curiosity about my life and are comfortable asking me questions about it? I understand that I may be setting up unfair competition for whoever may come along, but if I’ve experienced what true intimacy between men looks like and feels like, why settle for less?
For years, I had mostly women friends, and I just assumed no man was going to measure up to their openness, compassion, and ability to express their feelings. In many ways, it made it easier to look for a male romantic partner. But I realized how unfair this assumption was when I actually made friends with a few men who did measure up. That has complicated the search, and made me less willing to make exceptions just to have a date for a Saturday night. Or New Year’s Eve. Or Valentine’s Day.
I haven’t given up but I’m fine if (to paraphrase the great French writer Colette) instead of falling in love at once, I fall in love at last. And if it doesn’t happen at all, that’s OK too. One of the things that gives me joy is co-leading the Senior Youth Group at my local Unitarian Universalist church. Last Valentine’s Day I didn’t want the teens to feel the pressure of having to send a card to someone or struggle with the anticipation of waiting to receive one. So instead of having them make a card at all, I asked that they give themselves a verbal Valentine, by completing the sentence, “I love myself because … ”
The answers I received that day were moving, funny, and inspiring. If this Valentine’s Day seems to be getting you down, why not give yourself the same message? Even if you find it difficult at first to finish the sentence (it was for me), don’t give up. It’s worth the loving effort. As the sages say, you can only give love to someone else if you know how to love yourself first.