It’s not that I don’t thoroughly enjoy drinking alcohol (the pinker the beverage, the better) or pithy, empowering messages of sisterhood (you should see my RBG T-shirt collection!), or spending long nights and brunches with my girlfriends. I love any chance for ladies to celebrate ladies.
But to me, Galentine’s Day has come to crystallize the worst part of being single on Valentine’s Day — namely, the pressure to act like I’m always super-happy to be single.
While not exclusive to single women, there’s an unspoken onus on us at Galentine’s and Valentine’s Day parties — to smile a little harder, boast a little more about our sex lives and crack a few more self-deprecating jokes. The slight headache of assuring everyone I’m content being single grows to a full-blown migraine around Feb. 14.
One of the more irritating parts about being single is having to prove to everyone else that I am, in fact, okay with being single. Sure, we’ve got “Sex and the City” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on our side, but there is a long and robust history of single adults, especially women, being depicted as pathetic, unattractive, neurotic and unhinged. The self-actualized single woman is up against centuries of insane, lonely, stigmatized single women in movies such as “Fatal Attraction” and “Single White Female,” and literature, such as Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” and William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily.”
The urge to push back against this stereotype often gives women little room to say that sometimes being single is wonderful, freeing, character-building and sexy — and that sometimes it’s lonely, depressing and simply sucks. Lest we be branded as bitter spinsters, single women often feel safer dwelling on the former, rarely talking about the latter.
This concern of mine is regularly confirmed when people who are partnered grow uncomfortable at hearing me talk about wanting to be in a relationship or having trouble finding one. I’ve often wondered why couples so consistently try to change the subject or pivot with “Don’t worry! You’ll find the right one when you least expect it.” Singles should be able to express frustration or unhappiness with our singleness while still reveling in it, and certainly without such mixed emotions being seen as a cry for help.
However, when I’m around couples, I often feel pressured to seem extra happy and extra empowered, in case they start worrying the only difference between me and Miss Havisham is a faded, smelly wedding dress.
That point becomes especially acute around Valentine’s Day. When I am with people who are in romantic relationships, they often rush to downplay how little they do to celebrate with lines like: “We barely acknowledge it”; “I doubt we’ll even go out”; “It’s really just silly having the pressure to do something.”
The smug couple doth protest too much, methinks.
Don’t get me wrong; I will take false niceties over obvious condescension or, worse, unsolicited counsel about what I am doing “wrong” with my dating life. However, when people rush to gloss over the romanticness of Valentine’s Day, it suggests they truly believe single people are always one wedding invitation away from falling into an emotional breakdown.
Singles are not, in fact, Cathy cartoons, running around with tears streaming from our eyes and our hands frantically tearing at the sky wondering why we don’t get to pay for overpriced four-course meals at schmaltzy candlelit dinners. Trust me, we don’t need to be handled with kid gloves on Valentine’s Day — or any other day of the year.
Valentine’s Day can be hard, but not because it’s more emotional or isolating than any of the other 364 days of the year. I feel no more or less lonely on Valentine’s Day than on any other day of the year; no more or less eager to have someone with whom I can rent an Airbnb in the Catskills for a long weekend; no more or less grateful I don’t have to spend the holidays listening politely to someone’s parent spout political opinions I find abhorrent.
Rather, Valentine’s Day is hard because it reminds me that singles are welcomed — but only if they promise to be happy, or at least appear to be.