In seventh grade, I dressed up in all black on Valentine’s Day. I had just gone through an absolutely gut-wrenching breakup — having to hide from your ex during recess is hard, OK? So naturally, I had to be overdramatic and revolt against the day that celebrated love, hearts, and annoyingly happy couples invading my personal space with their PDA. Yuck.
The less cynical 13-year-olds, still passing out heart-shaped chocolates that complemented their heart-adorned antennas, did not quite understand my bold act of defiance. And yes, my outfit may have been a tad excessive (I also spent the rest of my day listening to T-Swift and reblogging “forever alone” memes on Tumblr — no shame) but it managed to sum up the pressure that many of us who aren’t tied down feel every time February 14th rolls around.
Fast-forward about eight years and while I don’t purposely coordinate a somber outfit in protest (even though I’d like to), my-single-on-Valentine’s-Day mood isn’t all that different.
Last year, I truly became one of those stereotypical Valentine’s-Day-is-a-ploy-by- corporate-America-to-ruin-all-of-our-lives people. So many of my friends were in committed relationships, leaving me to feel the pre-Valentine’s Day blues all by my lonesome self. Hearts became my least favorite shape. I wanted to crush each “be mine” candy and rip up every ugly teddy bear that seemed to follow me to the drugstore checkout counter. I couldn’t help but feel single-shamed as the dreaded 14th loomed. I nearly resorted to redownloading Tumblr just so I could relive my weird, teenage phase of celebrating the anti-Valentine’s Day movement with empathetic online strangers. I felt hopeless, defeated even. If one more Valentine’s Day commercial dared get in the way of my fifth “Sex and the City” rerun of the day, I would have flung my phone at the TV (I’m not dramatic at all.)
But then, a true miracle occurred. Really, Cupid must have been working some sort of weird voodoo magic. A guy I had been casually seeing asked me on a date. Like a real date at a real off-campus restaurant with real food that wasn’t paid for in dining dollars. Some of my friends in serious relationships weren’t even receiving such special treatment. This was absolute madness.
I no longer had to fear heart-shaped candies the same way I feared, you know, snakes or people who finish their papers a whole week before they’re due. No more of the disappointment with my love life that this dumb holiday always succeeded in making me feel.
Had I not been so blindsided by the all-consuming V-Day pressure, I probably would have been at least a little freaked out by how fast things with this dude were moving. I mean, a Valentine’s Day date in college is essentially the equivalent of an engagement in adult life. But no, I didn’t acknowledge for a minute that maybe I didn’t enjoy George’s* personality or company enough to sit through a two-plus-hour meal alone with him on one of the more fun going-out nights of the year. (Keep in mind that we mature, dignified college students use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to do even more damage to our livers than is done on a regular basis.) I just cordially accepted George’s kind offer and prepared to kiss my hatred for Valentine’s Day goodbye.
But while on the date, as I glared around the restaurant observing all of the annoyingly happy couples around me, something strange happened: I no longer felt the same dying urge to chuck my spicy tuna roll at them. In fact, I harbored no envy or hard feelings toward them. None. And it wasn’t because I now was one of them, but rather because I didn’t have the same burning desire to be one of them.
As the date continued, I couldn’t help but catch myself counting down the minutes until I could leave and meet up with my friends. The date wasn’t bad — no absurd horror story to write home about. George was actually a pretty cool guy. We made fun of all the stressed out couples around us, ate some good sushi, and had what most would consider a successful first official date. Minus the mention of his beloved gambling “hobby” — he thought this was fun and flirty while I found it quite concerning — I couldn’t pick out one thing that was wrong with him or the date. Sure, our conversations had been a bit more captivating when tainted by a few vodka sodas and Mo Bamba blasting in the background of a frat party. But the truth was, I didn’t want to be on that date with him or anyone for that matter. It was clear that I was forcing something just because I felt like it was what I should do. Could it be that I actually — dare I say it — liked being single and wasn’t ready to give that up just because of a silly holiday?
Indeed, it was. It took a potential threat to my singlehood for me to realize how much I actually valued it. I ended the night as early (and politely) as possible so I could go out with my friends and embrace my new-and-improved single-is-so-fun mentality. I genuinely wanted the freedom to make regrettable decisions with my girlfriends, flirt with whomever I wished, and not feel obligated to sit through any two-plus hour meal — much less do it with another human being.
I drew two conclusions from this experience. First, ending things with a guy just because he is nice enough to take me out on Valentine’s Day is probably a personal problem I need to work on. And second and most importantly, being single doesn’t coincide with being an outcast. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, even on Valentine’s Day. I’ve vowed never again to let a stupid holiday falsely convince me that I am unhappy. I ended that Valentine’s Day alone in bed eating Domino’s and heart-shaped chocolates at 1 a.m., and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
*Name has been changed to protect innocent daters.