February 14, 2006

Happy Thoughts For Us Singles on Valentine's Day

I know some people feel that marriage as an institution is dying out, but I disagree. The point was driven home to me rather forcefully not long ago by a letter I received which said: "Darling, I love you and I cannot live without you. Marry me, or I will kill myself." Well, I was a little disturbed at that, until I took another look at the envelope and saw that it was addressed to "Occupant."

-Tom Lehrer

This post is for all of you out in readerland who are alone today. To all of you who are married or in a committed relationship: Hooray, good for you, happy day, blah blah blah. But this isn't for you. Besides, you should all be out searching for the perfect diamond earrings or box of chocolate or confirming your reservations for tonight at L'Auberge Chez Francois, like the good little capitalist romantics our society wants you to be.

Sorry, that came off bitter. And the whole point of this post is to avoid the bitterness. See, American culture seems to have two default attitudes toward Valentine's Day. If you're in a relationship, you're supposed to be sweet and lovey-dovey and taking out a second mortgage to bury your sweetheart neck-deep in manufactured tokens of your affection. If you're not in a relationship, you're supposed to adopt that whole down-with-love mentality and whoop it up at some "Glad I'm Still Single" party, downing drinks and mocking all the happy loving couples you know.

But what if you don't want to do either? Just because you're not seeing someone, that doesn't mean you have to believe that love and romance is a giant fraud. Love, American style, may be in a confused and somewhat troubled state these days -- what with the rampant commercialism, the commodification of affection, the high divorce rate, the sex-besotted popular culture, and the morass that is online dating -- but that doesn't mean you have to throw up your hands and forget the whole thing. No, despite what you may have heard or seen, not all men are jerks, and not all women are crazy. No, not all the good ones are married or gay. And yes, there are still people out there who believe in old-fashioned love and romance, and not all of them are with somebody on this day.

When economists calculate the unemployment rate, they make an effort to factor our "discouraged workers." Discouraged workers are defined as those who have been out of work for so long and believe their prospects to be so bleak that they've stopped looking for work. Now surely, among the population of singles, there's a share of "discouraged lovers." For them, maybe those Down-With-Love parties are just the ticket. But for those of us in the romantic labor force who are unattached but not discouraged, bitterness won't do. It doesn't become us. We can do better.

(Incidentally, for those of you wondering why I'm not in a relationship, the above analogy should answer your question. Believe me, chicks dig a guy who makes analogies between love and economics.)

So this year, in an effort to combat the negativity among the single set on Valentine's Day, I've composed a list of 10 (mostly) positive reasons why it's okay to be single today. If a little bitterness creeps in around the edges, please forgive me; old habits die hard. I'm attempting to channel the spirit of this article:

I'm 35 and still single, I spend my days writing about dating, sometimes writing about writing about dating, and this year I realized I'm tired of The Rant. I don't feel angry at the holiday. Instead, I'm angry at the people who are angry at the holiday.

I remember in my junior high school in Oklahoma, you could have carnations delivered to your valentines—white for friends, pink for people you had a crush on, red for the person you made out with at recess. We didn't overthink the carnation system. Back then we didn't even know carnations were bad flowers...

We all have people we love, or at least people we'd like to send a white carnation … why not celebrate them? Do the expected. That can be romantic, too.

So, for all you women whose friends say, "I don't know why you're not doing better," even though "better" seems like a mirage as a parade of cold fish, playboys, emotional trainwrecks and freaks passes in and out of your love life, read on. For all you men who wish you could be this guy, but in reality are more like this guy, or this guy, this is for you.

10 Happy Thoughts for Valentine's Day

1. You're not dating any of the people quoted in this article. This, in and of itself, is reason enough to find the single life appealing.

2. You don't have to worry about whether that necklace will match her color scheme, or whether he'll think that tie is ugly or unoriginal, or whether she'll hate that box of chocolates because she's trying to lose weight, or whether he's going to spend more on your gift that you will on his, and what all of the above says about the state of your relationship. Remember, plenty of people who are in perfectly happy relationships regard Valentine's Day as a minefield.

3. On Valentine's Day, all the good restaurants are overcrowded with overdressed people trying too hard to make everything perfect. Today's a great day to hit your favorite greasy-spoon, or order in some Chinese, or make up a mess of pasta and crash on the couch. And as a singleton, you can do that with no guilt trips and no one complaining that you're not romantic enough.

4. Love gone wrong makes for much better art than love gone right. Ask Dante, or Emily Dickinson. Broken romance gave us "I Wish It Would Rain" and "If I Wanted To"; happy romance gave us "Sugar Sugar".

5. No Valentine's letdown. Remember when you were a kid and Christmas was around the corner (if you observed it), and you would count down the days and work yourself into a frenzied ball of excitement daydreaming about the wonder of it all? And remember how around New Year's, after Christmas was over and you always got more socks and less candy than you really wanted and you got bored with or broke most of your new toys and it was time to go back to school, that bummed-out feeling hit you? Well, once you're grown, the same thing happens all over again when you really wanted flowers and he got you a microwave, or you really wanted an iPod and she got you a new wallet. Unless you're single, in which case there's no risk.

6. If you're one of those "discouraged lovers" I referenced in that oh-so-romantic analogy above, here's some worthwhile advice:

If it's been long enough, you may have just stopped thinking of yourself as someone who goes on dates. There's a certain temptation, however painful, to just call it quits. Time to lose that attitude. No one else can rule you out of the game—only you can do that to yourself. And guess what? There's someone out there who has been wondering where you are and is going to be head-over-heels happy when you decide to emerge from your shell. Isn't it time you found each other?

7. Even if you don't have that significant other in your life, you're not alone in this world. Maybe you have a child, or parents, or grandparents, or aunts and uncles, or cousins, or longtime friends, that you love with all your heart and would do anything for. In the end, they matter just as much, as not more, as the person you might otherwise be splitting a shrimp cocktail with today. So what if this day has been set aside by marketers to celebrate romantic love? Love in all forms is still love, and it's always worth celebrating.

8. To that end, why not take a tip from the article I quoted above and send a white carnation to somebody special that you love, even if not romantically? I guarantee it will make that person's day, and it might even make yours. At least give a call, or pay a visit.

9. In the past, you might well have dated someone who was a mistake, someone who always put you down, someone who was controlling or manipulative, someone who didn't respect your privacy, maybe even someone who yelled at you or even hit you. You're not in that relationship any more, and that speaks well of you. It takes a lot of strength to leave a nasty or abusive relationship, and it takes a lot of strength to decide that being single is better than being in a relationship with someone who doesn't love you right. Take today to celebrate yourself and your strength. You deserve it.

10. If all of the above doesn't prove helpful, if you can't think of a good poem or song to write and you can't think of a friend or family member you love and you can't think of a bad relationship you escaped... well, I'll be your Valentine. I may not know you, or ever have met you, but I believe there's a lot of good in you, and I want the best for you, and at some level, isn't that what love is about?

Hope this helps. Remember, my single friends, you're better than the bitterness. A white carnation to all of you. Happy Valentine's Day.

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people

Thinking that love has left them dry

Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup

You never know until you try


Posted by Mediocre Fred at February 14, 2006 09:10 AM | TrackBack
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