Image Description [Collage of a heart consisting of red and pink flower petals
As I have previously written certain days like Mother’s Day or Christmas can be difficult to get through, for a whole host of different reasons. Valentine’s Day may seem more of a manufactured event, an excuse for card makers and restaurants to cash in. However a day focused on celebrating couples, in a very visible way, is a struggle for so many.
The well of loneliness.
As a number of pieces of research have highlighted loneliness is at almost epidemic proportions in the UK. Many older people will go from week to week without any meaningful interactions with anyone. Next time you feel frustrated as someone chats to the bus driver, or as they pay for their shopping, try to remember that the brief conversation may be the only time they speak to another person that day.
Younger people are reporting being increasingly lonely too, as work, commuting and housing costs leave little left over for socialising. Whilst the internet can be a valuable tool for reaching out, whatever your age, part of the issue with Valentines is its very visible nature. The idea is often to have big, public gestures such as flowers delivered to the workspace, the romantic meal in a restaurant. This can leave those struggling with loneliness feeling like everyone else is paired off, and living a rom- com dream.
One blog post cannot hope to tackle the complex web of reasons that mean as we are ever more connected electronically, so many people feel isolated and alone. Understanding that the point of Valentines is partially visibility can help It may sound trite, but it’s not that everyone else is living the dream, but that for one day anyone in a couple who doesn’t make a visible statement of coupledom is assumed to be doing it wrong. These public demonstrations tell us nothing of the actual happiness or otherwise of the people participating. Appreciating this may help you feel less like you are the only person without a partner on Valentine’s day.
The visibility aspect can also be an issue for couples, highlighted by an incident from my own life. My partner was having to work double shifts to pay for university, so I did not expect to see them on Valentine’s Day. It was a wonderful surprise therefore when they dashed into the common room, bunch of flowers in hand, on their lunch break. However someone else was less happy, they were spending the day with their partner, and had received far more expensive gifts earlier, but in private. They made their dissatisfaction clear, because to them the public aspect of the day was what mattered. This isnt about judgement, but about asking yourself what you expect from Valentines, why, and how that might fit with a partners needs and expectations. If you want to snuggle on the sofa watching a film, and they want a visible display like a meal out, you might both end up having a bad evening without awareness and communication.
If you are single, and have the ability and income, one great idea for Valentines, and especially if you are struggling with being single at this time, is to organise something with other, single friends. Remind yourself that not everyone has a partner, and that fun and friendship are not limited to couples.
If you are recovering from a break up, Valentines can be especially hard. Setting aside specific time for self care on the day can help. Remind yourself that you matter by pampering or treating yourself, you don’t need someone to buy those chocolates because you are getting them for yourself!
Getting off the escalator.
The relationship escalator is a great metaphor first developed by polyamorous writers and theorists who questioned some of the traditional concepts around relationships. Our culture, movies, book and songs, have promoted the idea that a relationship must move in a steady incline from first date through to the ultimate goal of marriage. This prompts the question “Where is this relationship going?” as if not being on the up escalator means a relationship is failing. The metaphor of the relationship escalator carries within in the idea that the movement from one stage to another is inevitable, and irresistible.
Occasions like Valentine’s Day can be built up into having more meaning than they actually carry if you are unconsciously on the relationship escalator. “It’s our first Valentines” may seem like a significant milestone, without you actually considering if you want it to be, or whether your partner sees it as such. Again the important thing here is communication. If you both see these things in a similar light, then go for it. However if one of you is coming from a different place with regard to how relationships should develop it may cause conflict. Days like Valentine’s day have no more meaning that we give them, however often that meaning is unconscious, and partners are expected to be mind readers.
It’s complicated is more than a facebook box to tick for an increasing number of people. Non monogamies, from open relationships to poly are being explored by more and more people. How then to approach Valentines day when you are not a conventional couple?
Firstly its important to remember that simply because you do one thing non traditionally doesn’t mean everyone is happy with dumping every convention. As this post discusses, non monogamous people still have baggage, because everyone has baggage. There is no rule book which says simply because you are not monogamous you cannot want a card and flowers on Valentines day. However, as with so much within poly the secret is being open and honest about how you feel, and listening without judgement to how the others involved feel. Does a primary partner believe Valentines should be spent with them? Is a new partner hoping to have a romantic evening together? Only if you are willing to be open about what Valentines means to all involved can these different, equally valid needs be negotiated.
It is what it is.
Surviving Valentines will mean different things to different people. For some its about a drama free day, for others it will be sadness at a relationship that has ended, or a reminder of what they hope for the future. The secret to getting through is in fact no secret, its working out what meaning the day has to you, and if needed those around you. Understanding that means you can start to see the root of any emotional response you may have, and remove it from the myths that surround the day, and instead use the knowledge to better understand yourself.