If you’re single on Valentine’s Day, you may be busily scouring the Internet not so much for where to find the best champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries; but rather to find the best ways to fast-forward through February 14th, or, the top ten ways to disappear for a day, or perhaps more to the point, the top ten ways to make that couple who are going at it — hot and heavy — in the elevator disappear. Because, excuse me, they’re standing right next to you. You don’t have to be single to think: Get a room!
While couples are busy trying to live up to the pressures of this day (and often secretly disappointed that things didn’t happen as romantically as they hoped), if you are not in a relationship right now, this may be a day where a spotlight comes out of nowhere and shines on your relationship status making you feel suddenly more alone and like the one outlier to everyone else on the planet’s picture-perfect love-filled day.
Watch out: your mind is telling you stories about your heart that just aren’t true.
In the smallness of our anxious minds, Valentine’s Day reads like an SAT score of love, an encapsulated health check of our romantic vitality, a single data point supposedly reflecting the entirety of our self worth. Consistent with anxiety’s preference for worst-case scenarios: the prognosis for our love lives are not good. Our anxiety predicts misery from here to eternity.
Whoa there Romeo. Valentines’ Day is not that test. It’s not a tragedy. In fact it’s anybody’s game, wide open.
The fact is that Valentine’s Day is not some big moment of truth—it’s anything but that. It’s often a moment of greatest distortion. So you could run with anxiety’s version of your life story — all the air-tight conclusions: if I’m not in a relationship now, I’ll never be, etc, or you could make the very compassionate decision to save yourself the rewrites later and the grief now and follow the wisdom: “Don’t believe everything you think,” with the added clause: especially on Valentine’s Day. Chances are the stories your inner commentator files on February 14th have skipped the fact-checking department. Today doesn’t mean anything more than any other day. Don’t let anxiety artificially distort the significance of your relationship status today.
So this is not a day to make yourself disappear. Here are six ideas to help you step into your rightful space on the world’s stage on Valentine’s Day and beyond.
Make Room for All Feelings
There’s room in the 24 hours of this day to have a whole array of feelings — the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Try to leave the door open to whatever comes along. It will take more energy to dodge the hard feelings. If a wave of loneliness or sadness comes in, talk to it and take it in the right spirit: I feel lonely, and that’s OK; This is a normal feeling, it’s not a sign of anything bigger: It’s a sign of being alive; Feelings are temporary, this one will pass, probably by tomorrow, I won’t be feeling like this. Your sadness doesn’t mean anything permanent about your status, but if your heart can soften compassionately to your own feelings, well, that’s just a really good thing for your heart to do.
Do the Red Pen Edits: Fact Check Your Narrative
If your anxious or pessimistic narrator is peppering your life story with absolutes: I’ll never find love, I’ll always be alone. Everyone else gets what they want, I never do, take out your red pen and edit, assiduously. These sweeping statements mean much more about the nature of the human mind than the specifics of your own life. Edit in terms that make these statements more accurate by distinguishing between how you feel and what’s actually true. “I’m having a thought right now that I’ll never find love.” “My anxiety is saying to me right now, that I’ll always be alone.” “I haven’t found what I’m look for, yet.”
Separate Facts from Feelings
How we are feeling — however intensely — is often the least reliable indicator of what is really true. In other words, today is probably the worst day to assess your romantic future. Whenever any of us are feeling anxious or down, we will by definition feel inadequate, incapable, unlovable. Even celebrities. Even people you really respect. Feelings are temporary. We can feel incapable, but that feeling doesn’t magically take away our powers any more than feeling like you’ll never be able to move again when you’ve got the flu, means that you won’t. Who we are persists through the vicissitudes of mood (and of flu).
Be Prepared When Others Pop the Question
The question that causes the most dread for singles and couples alike is: what are you doing on Valentine’s Day? Days and weeks can be spent thinking about how to dodge that question or consoling yourself when you confuse having no plans with having no life. Don’t be caught off guard. Don’t hope against hope that no one asks — make a plan, even if that plan is to say proudly or legitimately — “no special plans.” If you do this without a sense of shame or defeat — if you lead the way, others may appreciate not only your willingness to be honest, but they may thank you for helping them to take the pressure off themselves.
Make Your Own Rules
Couples can feel pressured by Valentine’s Day as if there’s one right way to celebrate it, typically involving lot of hearts and the color pink. There are no rules for anyone. You decide. Dispense with the conventions, ask yourself; what would you really like to do today? Be open to any answers. And if you find on reflection that you’d like today to be a “business as usual” day, all good.
Participate! Connect with Your People!
There’s a Czech proverb which states: Don’t protect yourself by a fence, but rather by your friends. You can try to hide today, but why not connect with the people in your life — single, coupled, young, old, and participate in this groove of appreciating each other’s presence in our lives. Whether that’s with a fancy dress up dinner, or a casual pajama party at home, or something in between — find your way to connect and dive in.
In closing, this Valentine’s Day, don’t let your worries act as a bully in your mind. Keep small the fears about the meaning of this one day, but be open to seeing the expansive and vast possibilities for your life. Today is just today. Meanwhile, if your heart is ready to dream big — let it. This is a day of love, and your birthright as a human being is that you know how to do it. So let yourself go there if you like. Love is really about being alive. Re-commit today to being in life and not on the sidelines and you may quickly begin to see signs of love that beckon you — not to disappear, but to join in. Go ahead, it’s your day, too.
Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety in PA, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety (DaCapo), specializes in treating and preventing anxiety in adults, teens, and children through a new understanding of the nuts and bolts of how anxiety works. Follow her Worry Wise blog at tamarchansky.com/blog, and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.