Around January 2, the red paper hearts are on display, the cards and candy are on sale, and you begin to feel the Valentine's Day pressure. Any holiday with too much hype is hard to take. The idealized pictures of happy, beautiful, loving (usually heterosexual) couples lead many of us to feel invisible and inadequate. If you're single, it can feel like one big party and you're not invited. If you're gay, it may feel like the whole world is having a celebration of heterosexuality. If you are coupled and reasonably happy, how can you measure up to the high expectations that this one day provides? As my friend Mark said, "Isn't it enough to love each other on the other 364 days during the year?" And, if you've lost a loved one, it's one more anniversary of the loss. You basically have three choices for coping with it.
Make the Holiday Your Own
Valentine's Day should be a celebration of love. Who says that love is only the romantic kind celebrated in pop ballads? Love can exist in all kinds of relationships. There are relationships between friends, parents and children, and people and their pets. The idea that each of us must go through life paired up like the animals on the ark is toxic. If you are single on Valentine's Day, it's easy to become negative or to start to believe that you don't have a partner because you are not lovable. This is not true and thinking so will cause you a lot of misery. Try to remember that you are lovable and act accordingly. For Valentine's Day, treat yourself well -- focus on what feeds your spirit and consciously decide how to spend the day.
- Pamper yourself -- take a long bath, get a haircut, pedicure or massage
- Host a small dinner for three or four
- Go out with a group of other singles
- Have an "Un-Valentine's Day" party
- Do something political -- Valentine's Day in recent years has become an opportunity to stand up for the rights of GLBT people
I Can't See You -- Ignoring the Holiday
There is no rule that Valentine's Day must be celebrated. It's often seen as a commercial holiday and is a big moneymaker for retailers and card and candy companies. You can make it your own by making it a "no buy" day. Also, by being present in each moment, you can enjoy the good things that are in your life on regular days. Approaching your current life with gratitude is another way to make any day into a great day.
- Do regular things like go to the grocery store, sweep the floor, make the bed
- Talk on the phone to friends far away
- Make it a day of service by volunteering to serve a meal in a homeless shelter
- Celebrate your pet or your family
- Read a great book
- Get some exercise
Feel Your Feelings
Valentine's Day is painful for many people, especially for those who have lost partners. Nothing will take away the pain caused when a loved one is lost. The ache is often worse when it is unacknowledged. Because Valentine's Day is often a kind of anniversary, it may be best thought of as a day for remembrance.
- Create a ritual
- Have a good cry
- Take a mental health day
- Show your love to the people who are important to you -- write letters
How Not to Cope
Avoid things that cause hangovers: too much alcohol, drugs, gambling, risky sex or doing anything that violates your values. Valentine's Day is not important enough to cause you to do anything you'll regret.
In the end, you can comfort yourself with two thoughts. First, once Valentine's Day is over, you can relax until next November, when the next bloated holiday-with-idealized-images rolls around. Second, most Valentine's Day chocolate is 50% off on February 15.
Gwen Davies, Ph.D., is the Clinical Director of Positive Impact, Inc. Positive Impact provides culturally competent mental health services to people affected by HIV. For those with limited incomes, these services are free.