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Kaitlyn Anello was flooded with emotions this week when a Facebook notification brought up photos of her from a year ago trying on wedding dresses.

The 31-year-old from Toronto had been planning a May 2021 wedding in Niagara Falls before her engagement ended on New Year’s Eve, launching her back into singlehood for the first time in four years.

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While some couples across the country are planning modified Valentine’s Day celebrations on Sunday amid COVID-19 restrictions, Anello is just trying to forget the romantic holiday altogether.

“It’s going to be very hard,” she said. “Everything’s about love right now.”

Adjusting to single life in the midst of lockdown measures has been challenging for Anello, who still lives with her former fiancé until the lease on their apartment expires at the end of the month.

While they typically celebrated Valentine’s Day in low-key fashion – cooking dinner together and exchanging greeting cards – she’s cognizant of the social expectations surrounding the upcoming date. And she’s been feeling it more than ever.

“I think the absence of not being with him will definitely hit (on the day),” she said.

Anne Wilson, a psychology professor at Laurier University says Valentine’s Day can be tough for singles because of the connotations attached to the date.

It “valorizes” being linked to another person in a romantic relationship, she says, while “emphasizing societal stigma against singlehood.”

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“Society tends to assume that the norm is to be in relationships, and tends to be a bit negative about being single, even though a lot of single people lead very fulfilling lives,” Wilson said. “But it can add some external pressure where people feel like they should be in a relationship.”

That pressure can be dangerous, Wilson says, if it forces folks to lower their standards or accept incompatible matches.

Even those in committed, long-term relationships can find Valentine’s Day stressful, Wilson says.

Expectations for the “culturally hyped” holiday can fall flat, and disappointment is often inflamed by social media, she adds, even if we recognize that online posts don’t always represent reality.

“If we start to see lots of these perfect images that people sometimes share for Valentine’s Day, we might still end up fooling ourselves into thinking that somehow we’re not cutting it,” Wilson said.

For singles, the pandemic has added a complicating level to dating, as people are urged to limit contacts to slow the spread of the virus.

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Closures of movie theatres, bars and indoor-dining establishments in parts of the country have also added logistical obstacles to the dating scene.

Lisa Schueler, a single mother in Cambridge, Ont., who ended a five-year relationship in August, says she’s dipped her toe into the online dating pool, but cold winter weather and lockdown restrictions have impacted her ability to meet prospective matches.

“It’s been quite challenging,” she said. “And I think I’m getting to the point where I just want to give up, at least until the spring.”

Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, says Valentine’s Day tends to bring dating struggles to the forefront. And this year it can exacerbate the loneliness many are already feeling because of the pandemic.

Even groups of single friends who typically celebrate Valentine’s Day together can’t do that in person now, and that can compound concerns, he added.

“One of the things that makes (the pandemic) so nasty is it really gets in the way of our go-to strategies for dealing with negative emotions,” Joordens said. “Any time we feel sad or threatened or in danger, we want to reach out to the people we love and to connect with them.”

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Joordens and Wilson both suggest people meet with friends virtually on Valentine’s Day in places where lockdown restrictions prevent in-person interactions.

In some ways those restrictions might actually help alleviate social pressure on singles to go out and celebrate in romantic ways, Wilson added.

“The expectation that you have to find a date and go out to a nice place, that’s not happening for most people.”

Joordens says it’s important to acknowledge that happiness doesn’t have to equate to a romantic relationship, and meaningful connections can be shared with others.

Schueler, who would normally celebrate Valentine’s Day by going out to dinner with her ex, is planning on cooking a nice meal for her 14-year-old son instead.

She says having the teenager around has helped both of them lessen the isolation brought on by the pandemic, even if her son doesn’t always see it that way.

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“I think he’d rather be on his Xbox,” Schueler said with a laugh. “But he has given me something else to focus on.

“It definitely does help, but you still kinda feel alone sometimes.”

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