I am a single girl and have been for most of my life.
I have been madly in love several times, and once for a long time. I love being in love, of course I do! But since I have never known Being In Love to lead to a lasting, loving relationship, I’m ambivalent about those feelings. To me, the stirrings of a crush are like a drug someone slipped into my drink. I know that the high of attraction is delightful but I also know I’m probably going to lose control if the object of my affections is equally enamored of me. UH-OH!
Like many people, I have never gotten the hang of being in an LTR. I feel awkward and self-conscious. I lose myself in my partner. I feel that I can never really relax.
I have lived with boyfriends twice in my life, so I know this. I have had countless crushes. I have been on thousands of dates over the past thirty+ years. I have had short romances, long romances, friend romances, bad romances, insanely intense romances, dull romances and confusing romances. I’ve had enough passion in my life to create wonderful memories when I am a very old gal rocking on the porch reviewing my internal movie reel.
But I am a single girl and I ain’t got no Valentine this year.
What upsets me is not that I don’t have a valentine. In fact, whenever I did have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day it made me nervous. I loathe obligatory hetero-matey behavior (why is that? I have no idea; maybe that it all seems so commercial and kitschy and inimical to the nature of real romance) and am easily embarrassed by gift-giving under pressure. To me, real romance is a guy showing up with a snow blower to clear my driveway, or cooking together on a weeknight, or just being so damned happy to see each other at the airport that we go into an inappropriate clinch. THAT’s hot. Someone rubbing my feet after church and listening to my pastoral concerns, that’s hot.
Of course I do like actual gifts, too, let’s be honest! But as many women know, getting the wrong gift is super awkward. The only men I know who have an eye for my taste and style have been gay men. I’ll never forget when I was in high school and had had all sorts of sweet tokens of affection from boyfriends but nothing that really made my heart go pitter-pat until my gay friend Richard bought me a pair of lipstick red leather gloves and a set of luggage so that I’d be able go off to college in style. Oh, honey- swoon! That’s a man who was really paying attention to me, and there is nothing more romantic than that.
My daddy was a wonderful gift giver and losing him at seventeen was a shattering experience. I suppose some of my ambivalence about Valentine’s Day must come from having always received marvelous gifts from Dad, who took this enterprise very seriously and consulted with New York City’s most attentive sales clerks when choosing just the right thing for his girls. He got me my first bottle of perfume (Amour, Amour by Jean Patou — not the cheap stuff, the JEAN PATOU version that has been discontinued for many years) and my first heart locket. My parents both put on a really adorable Valentine’s Day for us kids, now that I think of it, and therein may be the origins of my sense that the day is about love, period, not just romantic love.
What upsets me — terribly — is how the larger culture treats singletons at Valentine’s Day, suggesting that we’re all angry or bitter about the holiday, that we harbor jealous resentment against happy lovers and that we must want to take to our beds and avoid the whole day.
They even try to make money off of this assumed resentment. Like this.
And there are a million articles out this time of year like this.
And this is supposed to be funny but it’s just more of the same.
Maybe it is my parents to whom I can credit my perpetual sense that it is life itself that is our lover, and that it is best not to expect one particular, flawed person to provide that sense of oooh la la for us.
Even at my most untouched and unromanced (for me, the first five years of my ministry), I was never bitter toward couples. A truly happy couple is a rarity and such people are a blessing and benefit to everyone who knows them. We should all rejoice in the goodness that healthy unions generate. I have hurt sometimes for my own loneliness, but that only ever draws me closer to the happiness and gooey-eyedness of lovers, not farther away from them. During my years of unwelcome chastity (by which I mean not just that I wasn’t involved with someone, but I felt totally cut off from any erotic energy whatsoever) I was hungry to see evidence that romantic love was still happening around me, and that people were still finding reason to get up in the morning with their hearts thumping with desire. I was happy for them. I loved doing weddings during this period of time and I did lots and lots of them. Being around all that smoochy, dance-y, champagne-sparkly enchantment was good for my heart and soul.
I advise unhappily single people who are yearning for romance to just go get some. Romance is not an experience that someone creates for you, it is an orientation. For example, some single women would never go to Paris — the quintessential romantic destination — alone. Me, I love and adore Paris as a single female traveler. Paris is, for me, the most romantic spot on Earth and my favorite city on the planet. When I am in Paris I feel that I am in love in an all-encompassing way and am completely fulfilled, understood and adored as a woman to the very follicles of every hair on my head. I have to think that there is no mere mortal who could ever compete with the actual city of Paris for my affections. I want to shake the single people who say they could “never” do this or that alone. Why ever not? Go, go! Don’t wait for some human being to make your knees go weak and your hands tremble and your loins ache. I mean, it’s nice when that happens but if you want a heart in love that no one can break, you’ve got to go DYI.
This isn’t to say, “Oh, you don’t need some man/woman” in a defensive, contrived “ooh, being single ROCKS” kind of way. Being single doesn’t rock any more than being partnered does. Being partnered can be decidedly lonely and lacking in romance. Being single can be full of hotcha hotcha. It’s all in our individual circumstances. The fact is, we need each other. We need to be appreciated, loved, adored, hugged, touched, and to have pleasurable sensual experiences. That doesn’t have to happen through sex. It can happen through worship, through the fine and performing arts, through exploration of nature, through the healing arts, through culinary experiences, through learning and teaching, through Platonic relationships, through travel. One of the most romantic experiences I have ever had was being shown around Brussels by a man in his 70’s when I was in my early 20’s. Urbain Poulet (yes, that was his name) made himself my personal tour guide for an entire day in 1989, holding my hand and escorting me to every sight he thought worth showing me of his fair city. He ordered lunch for me, took me to dinner, and spoke with such a thick Belgian accent I could barely understand him, or he me. But he was a true romantic and he was flirting not only with me but with the city itself. When he put me on the train to Paris the next morning, he kissed me on both cheeks and bid me farewell with tears in his eyes.
What was that all about? Who knows. But I have rarely had a boyfriend who has spent that amount of time wooing me with such attentive appreciation. Romance can fall into your lap all the time if you’re open to it.
I’m not going to insult your intelligence by writing ten suggestions for being single on Valentine’s Day or anything like that. I’m just going to say that I wish you love.