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Over the past few years, I’ve rekindled my romance with Valentine’s Day. Not through Hallmark sentiments or traditional date nights, but by tapping into the feeling that Valentine’s Day used to bring before it became the nightmare reminder that if I’m single, I have failed.
I make it a day defined by copious amounts of red and pink candy, drugstore chocolate (which I buy for myself) and heart-shaped pizza I eat in front of the TV. It is a day to text or hang out with pals – regardless of their relationship status – and to celebrate the splendour of snacks, friendship and whatever movie or series we are streaming.
I’d spent much of my 20s bitter over the notion that Feb. 14 was a cruel reminder of my own bad dating choices, but I went into my 30s with the intent to approach the holiday in a more positive way. Valentine’s Day means different things to different people, and while I may not be in love with a person, I am in love with my friends and the warm, fuzzy memories of nineties-era Valentine’s classroom parties – and that type of love is unstoppable. (Even if one year, your seventh-grade crush gave a teddy bear to your then-nemesis instead of you.)
Obviously, love hasn’t stopped over the course of the pandemic, but access to our loved ones has been cruelly cut off. Yes, we can text and FaceTime and Zoom (although I’ll argue that anyone who truly loves you would never ask something so terrible of you), but the lack of physical companionship has amplified our loneliness and isolation. Plus, we’ve been forced to spend time in our own heads. And with that doom cycle, we’ve also been forced to stare our habits and histories in the face, and to disprove the myths we’ve been clinging to.
I’ve been single for a long time. And while most of that stretch has been by choice, I’m not above feeling the disappointment or sadness that comes with meeting somebody you think is great and realizing too late how wrong you are. Which is the part that resonates deepest while in the throes of a pandemic Valentine’s: Not only am I by myself (although I’m technically at my parents’), I am by myself in one of the most important of ways. I have, by all social standards, done it wrong.
But the thing about social standards is that most of them are wrong. Yes, to be in a partnership can be a wonderful thing, but unless you’ve built yourself enough to be a solid partner, the fulfilment promised by having a plus one will never actually materialize. RuPaul famously asked: “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” And while I felt that sentiment in my soul the first time I heard it, it wasn’t until the solitude brought on by this COVID-19 nightmare that I began to unpack what that really meant. Maybe my singleness wasn’t a failure. Maybe I was worth loving – specifically worth loving by me, a person who has to hang out with herself every damn day, forever. Maybe the baggage I carry is a badge of honour, proof of what I’d worked through and experienced and something I should be proud of. And maybe the truth the pandemic forced me to reconcile was something I didn’t need to bury or try to escape from any more. Maybe I could accept and wear it instead of hiding behind the false veil of perfection, hoping this version will finally be enough to make some guy think I’m worth his time. Maybe we’re all equally damaged.
It becomes easier to navigate friendships and relationships and run-ins with old crushes at the gas station when you know you can sit with yourself and realize that despite all that you’ve done and all you’re still learning, you’re strong and tough and not so bad. Perhaps loving yourself can finally set you free.
So with that, I’m actually looking forward to a different type of Valentine’s Day. Not because of the holiday itself (although I plan to eat a terrifying amount of cinnamon hearts), but because it’s another day closer to taking what I’ve learned over the past few months and applying it to an existence outside of our current one.
I’m excited to keep learning how to trust myself, listen to myself and even forgive myself since I don’t think any of us are ever finished unpacking our past. And if I meet some guy at some point who I like and trust as much as I like and trust myself, then I look forward to that, too. And if not, that’s okay: Life is complicated and vast and even beautiful sometimes. Frankly, to simply be yourself while participating in it, that’s a pretty great love story, too.