Just when you feel like you survived being single through the holiday season, Valentine’s Day shows up. Hearing peers and colleagues speak about their Valentine’s Day plans and being asked about your own can trigger all sorts of feelings. For some, it can feel like February 14th is Prom Night for grown-ups, and there you are without a date. Sure, you’re looking better now than you did back in your high school days of awkward braces and shoulder pads, but adolescence doesn’t have a monopoly on the experience of feeling inadequate and excluded.
In the movies the leading lady ends up with a prom date at the last minute (and somehow has the perfect dress and a gorgeous updo done in minutes, but I digress), but hoping for that fantasy to be your reality may set you up for disappointment. So here are some helpful tips for getting through Valentine’s Day…sans Ben & Jerry’s.
1. Take a day off from Facebook and Instagram, or at least minimize your use. Though the logical part of you knows you are not the only one in the world who is single, the images you see on social media can make you feel like you are and that there is something wrong with you. Seeing the volume of romantic status updates and pictures of friends’ festivities and gifts will probably intensify your self-pity and keep you spinning a negative narrative about yourself.
2. Take a pledge of self-respect: “I will avoid making impulsive decisions in order to not be alone on Valentine’s Day.” (If you’re not sure if it’s a good idea, bounce it off a wise friend who knows you and your shenanigans well.) Respect others’ feelings the same way you want yours to be respected. Think twice before calling up that ex who is still in love with you; steer clear of that guy you keep running back to….you know the guy I’m talking about—that one who is perpetually confused about how he feels about you, and you’re hoping one day he’ll finally see how amazing you are.
3. Instead of feeling like a charity case, look into charity work and get out of your head. One of the downsides of being in the dumps is that it silences the part of you that has the capacity to give to others. Go volunteer at a homeless shelter, give out balloons at a hospital, the list goes on. Look up local organizations in your area and see if they are holding any events or could benefit from your time. You may find yourself getting so wrapped up in fulfillment and gratitude that you forget it’s Valentine’s Day.
4. Give yourself a reality check about what did or didn’t happen in your past relationships. Wearing Valentine’s Day goggles conjures up vivid nostalgia for past loves, and while it’s great to look back and smile at old memories, be cautious of revisionist history or distorted versions in your head. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value in reflecting on your relationship history; there is, and your experiences can be your best lessons for the future. But just be aware that—for better, for worse—your flow of consciousness may be influenced by the holiday of love around you.
5. Remember that Valentine’s Day is just a day. It has its roots in history, but in today’s day and age it is basically a holiday to spend money…..even though supposedly it’s the thought that counts. Your relationship status on Valentine’s Day is as much a statement as you allow it to be. You can let the day be one where you beat yourself up for not having a relationship, or you can make it like any other day of your life: A day where you strive to love yourself unconditionally, open yourself up to change, and be willing to focus not just on the love you hope to get, but on the love that you can give.
Rachel Hercman, LCSW is an individual/couple psychotherapist, writer, and lecturer specializing in relationship issues, sexual functioning, and women’s wellness. She is based in New York City and is on staff at the Medical Center for Female Sexuality.