Valentine’s Day, for all its lovely sentiment, is perhaps one of the most divisive holidays of the year. Everyone can enjoy New Year’s; every American can enjoy President’s Day (thankfully coming up very soon) and Independence Day; we each have a birthday. But Valentine’s Day is a “holiday for lovers”, and many single people can end up with FOMO – fear of missing out.
When I was younger, I used to darkly refer to Valentine’s Day as like “having a track meet outside a hospital for paraplegics.” Valentine’s Day for single gay men can be a difficult holiday for guys who are single and want partners (as opposed to those who don’t want partners), because it starkly draws that contrast between having a partner, and not having a partner, in a very public, almost obnoxious way. It’s especially hard for gay men who want partners and feel left out, because as gay men, we grow up for years with SO much feeling of being left out of heterosexual privileges that Valentine’s Day can be just one more thing on that list.
How, then, do we cope with that, if we are single? I call it “coping with hope” (which is a title that I admit I affectionately “rip off” from the annual HIV mental health conference I used to co-chair with the UCLA/Pacific AIDS Education and Training Center, which referred to coping with the hope that HIV could be eradicated). “Coping with hope” means that a single person on Valentine’s Day is having to cope with the frustration of not having a partner, and the hope of finding one, all at the same time.
Coping with any situation involves understanding a situation as clear-eyed and realistically as possible, with no illusions, denial, or distortions. Coping is also realistically recognizing our strengths and weaknesses. Coping means borrowing from AA’s “serenity prayer” that asks for the “serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” (my article on that is here). In the situation of wanting a partner, dancing deftly among this serenity/courage balance is tricky.
Why Still Single?
It’s a time to realistically assess why you do not have a partner, when you say you want one. Are you being too picky? Are you emphasizing the wrong things (such as focusing on sex too much, when you’re looking for love? I address this in my article about foolishly emphasizing “cash, connections, and c–k”). Are you devoting enough time and energy to being what I call “interested, and interesting” in attracting a partner? Are you unconsciously avoiding relationships because of fear of repeating your parents’ dysfunctional marriage, having to share, giving up some “independence,” or facing responsibility to another? Are you doing a reasonable amount (key word “reasonable”) to be attractive to others? Are you doing something (such as cognitive therapy) about any social anxiety or shyness issues? (That’s a HUGE issue I work with clients on in my practice; I think it’s a rare person who DOESN’T struggle with social anxiety, at least at times, and yet this can delay or kill certain life goals). These are all important questions to ask yourself, but sometimes, it’s just a matter of patience. (I used to use Diana Ross’ song, “You Can’t Hurry Love” as a theme for this. )
The magic of all the stars aligning just right to create partnerships is an alchemy that no one as yet can fully figure out. There are so many variables, and “rules” (such as not sleeping with someone on the first date) were made to be broken (I readily admit that I met my husband in a dance club, and slept with him on the first night (a Sunday, no less) — breaking lots and lots of rules, there — and we’ve been together for 9 years (as of 2011), living together for 7, and married for almost 3. Like I said, rules were made to be broken. But I also remember that I was “putting myself out there”, not so much to find a partner, as to be an active member of the community and see friends in a general gay “gathering place”, after many years of being single as a gay male adult). While I think finding a partner takes a certain serendipity that can be frustratingly elusive, I also think we can influence the variables by being as vibrant, caring, and active a single person as possible, in our work and play, and as cliche as it sounds, loving ourselves first (can I get an “amen” up in here?).
Other Ways to Celebrate
In the meantime, don’t let the intent of Valentine’s Day elude you because you don’t have a partner. There are still relationships to celebrate, with friends, perhaps parents, siblings, nieces/nephews, even children in your life. It’s also about expressing affection — perhaps through the traditional paper Valentine card, and perhaps via an e-card, email, or text. Ask yourself: Who is important to you in your life that you can express affection to on this day that is devoted to expressing affection to loved ones?
If all this is very hard, and you are truly hurting, then perhaps it’s time to get help for that. Having a good Valentine’s Day by this time next year means becoming self-empowered (my favorite word in my psychotherapy/coaching practice) to do it. And coping with the hope that we can achieve many of our life goals, including having a partner, over time. But I think it takes work. Every client I’ve ever seen, after many years of doing psychotherapy with gay men, who has gone from working with me as a single person to having a partner, has had to “stack the deck” in his favor by working on it, in various ways, to increase the odds that a suitable relationship emerges in his life.
If Valentine’s Day is about expressing affection, let me start by expressing my affection for all who take the time to read this. It is my honor and privilege to help people, via my practice, blog, podcast, etc., and I truly value you and appreciate the opportunity to share with you, not only formal skills of counseling, but also my affection for helping out guys in the community. So, no red hearts or cupids — but perhaps just a big thank you and an XOXO to all who need it or want it on this day. 🙂