Even though I’ve been unwillingly single for most of mine, I’ve never hated Valentine’s Day. I’m pretty sure it’s because my birthday is the next week, and I’ve never tried to reverse the childhood idea that all of the flowers, balloons, and chocolates are to celebrate me. But as I got older, I realized that most single people found Valentine’s Day annoying, or depressing. The day, and the marketing leading up to it, were reminders of what they didn’t have, and what many of them wanted.
A few years ago, I was getting ready for a trip overseas, and I needed to do a couple of errands downtown. On Valentine’s Day. Though I’d never have said it out loud, the engagement ring commercials I seemed to see every time I turned around were wearing on me. I was ready for Valentine’s Day to be over, even if we skipped straight to Easter baskets. My palms began to sweat just thinking about finding a parking place and dealing with crowds of couples. I might not hate Valentine’s Day, but I also don’t make dinner reservations, or try to see a movie that night. That evening, I thought, is for the couples. I’d never ventured inside.
I found a spot in the crowded parking garage and went about my business. I’d worn my red high heels to celebrate the day, and they clicked purposefully on the sidewalk. When I left my car, I’d vowed to get my errands done as quickly as I could so that I could get home and relax, far from romantic expectations or the question: “Why is a nice girl like you single?” But once I was walking through the balmy air, warmer than usual for February, the sun filtering through the trees, I slowed my steps. Couples walked down the street, hand in hand, and I smiled at them, feeling that I belonged here, too, downtown, on Valentine’s Day.
One of my stops was to buy some yoga pants, the kind that would make me actually want to go to yoga. I braced myself for a crowd of last minute shoppers, this place always seemed to be hopping, but the store was empty. It was just me and several employees, looking bored. They perked up as I walked in.
“What can I help you find?” The saleswoman looked so eager to please, I was tempted to ask her if she had a Valentine’s date somewhere in the back. Instead, she walked me through all the different types of athletic pants, why they had been designed, what they were made of. She brought me piles of colors and patterns to try on, and when I mumbled about my muffin top, she said, “It’s winter, give yourself a break. I think you look great.” When I tried on a pair of pants that made me feel strong and sexy, I thought this might count as the best date I’d ever been on.
This feeling connected with the work I’d been doing in therapy lately, mingled with Brene Brown’s words from her TED Talk about vulnerability and shame (which I’d watched countless times) echoing in my ears, reminding me that I was “worthy of love and belonging.” How could I forget, as I was feeling healthy and ready for a relationship with a wonderful person, that I was already in one with myself?
I have a tendency to say what I’m thinking to strangers, which is how I started talking about being single on Valentine’s Day with the guy who was ringing up my perfect yoga pants.
“I don’t have anybody,” he said. “After work I’m just going home and playing video games.” He said it matter of factly, trying to appear casual, but his eyes looked sad.
I gave him a warm look. “You have yourself, and you are somebody,” I said. “If you don’t treat yourself like a person, how can you expect anyone else to?”
“You know what?” he said. “You’re right.”
After that year, it’s no longer enough for me to let Valentine’s Day pass without sorrow. I got a taste of what it felt like to celebrate it, to allow myself into the club. I loved being one of the Valentines.
These days, I take advantage of the sales on filet mignon, and sear one just for me, with buttery mushrooms on top. I buy the frivolous bottle of rosé sparkling wine, pouring myself an effervescent flute. Sometimes, I’ll pick up a bouquet of tulips and watch them open, slowly, to the light.
I’m not afraid to go out into the world on Valentine’s evening and enter into it. I belong there, not by virtue of being in a couple, but because I am a person. I’m doing my best to remember that I’m very good company, even if I’m the only one there to enjoy it. As I go, I hope that other people see me walking, head held high, and feel the permission to do it, too. I hope that they hear the rhythm of my red high heels, worn just for the delight of it: you are lovely, just as you are, the taps seem to say. Won’t you be my Valentine?
Cara Strickland writes about food and drink, mental health, faith and being single from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys hot tea, good wine, and deep conversations. She will always want to play with your dog. Connect with her on Twitter @anxiouscook or at www.carastrickland.com.