I hate it when people say Valentine’s Day is “just a Hallmark holiday” or “just another day.” I want to celebrate it so badly. I’m 33 years old and I have been single for all but two Valentine’s Days in my lifetime…and oh boy do I want to whine about it.
I haven’t been in a real relationship in five and a half years — meaning I haven’t been anyone’s girlfriend since I’ve lived in LA. Every year since my last breakup, this holiday has been torture. Sure, sometimes I’ve pacified my disappointment with friends or fun nights out, but this year hits different. Not only because dating isn’t a thing anymore (I don’t know how anyone does it safely, to be honest), but because my solitude has helped me realize that it’s my own fault that I’m single.
The worst question you can ask a single person is “why are you single?” The reason this is so uncomfortable is because we know we’re partly to blame, but in that moment, it’s usually a question being asked of us as a kind of compliment.
So I figured I’d take a little time to explain exactly why I’m single. This list is not going to help me get a date. This list is not going to help me find the love of my life. But this list is an honest appraisal of why exactly I’m suffering this Valentine’s Day and what exactly I need to do to change it.
1. I’ve been believing in a fantasy
Growing up I loved fairy tales and romantic comedies. They were the stories of love that I believed and wanted for myself. I wanted to be saved by some prince on a steed in my most vulnerable moment. I wanted the guy who was rude to me to have that rom-com revelation where they’d finally realize I’d been “the one” the whole time. I wanted to be Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I wanted to be the musician’s muse, the groupie turned wife. I wanted to be the one he’d leave his wife for. I wanted to be the manic pixie dream girl. It wasn’t until I began therapy in 2017 that I even connected these stories to predatory, emotionally abusive, disrespectful partners and overall super toxic relationships.
I grew up believing that if a boy picked on me it meant he liked me, so if I was getting attention, even negative attention, I would convince myself that it was love, not disrespect. If someone much older than me gave me attention I believed it was because I was special and “different than other girls,” not considering that I was an easy target for a predator. If someone showered me in gifts and time and attention and said they loved me after a few days I believed it was kismet love, not narcissistic “love-bombing” manipulation. And never ever would I have believed that maybe the guy who fawned all over me when he was drunk could possibly be doing it only because he was drinking. No, alcohol brings out the truth right? He loves me, he does. And I’d stick around, keeping myself available, saying “yes I love you, too” even when my gut protested. I’d trust that if they harmed me, it was an accident or a mistake. They couldn’t possibly be a bad guy, they were once so sweet to me, right?
Years of these patterns turned into traits and behaviors that I’d expect, even romanticize, of people I’d date. I didn’t realize the hurt these behaviors caused me, instead I equated them to love. So naturally, when someone comes around and doesn’t have these traits or exhibit these behaviors, I just didn’t feel the spark I’d thought I was looking for and pass them up for someone who did.
Romantic comedies leave out necessary elements of a relationship like talking through differences, finding compromises, and having patience. They perpetuate unhealthy and irrational beliefs, like the idea that someone would change who they are for “love” and not become resentful, or that no matter what someone does or says to you, if they say they love you, you have to stay.
There aren’t many examples of healthy relationships in storytelling, and that’s often because most relationships aren’t always romantic, and certainly aren’t comedy. Until I start to get a handle on what a truly healthy relationship looks and feels like, I’m not ready for one. Until I can find stability and security attractive, I won’t be in a stable, secure relationship. It is my responsibility to let go of the fantasy of what passionate love is “supposed” to be and be willing to sort through the ugly sides of it that make secure relationships truly beautiful.
2. I’ve been whatever you want me to be
The last person I dated somewhat seriously was a narcissist abuser and I was perfect for him because I made myself perfect for him. On our first date (which I did not expect to be a date at all), he told me everything he hates about the women he’s dated. For most people, and for my inner feminist, this is a major red flag. For me, it was a challenge. It was a chance to show someone I was special. It was a double-diamond level obstacle course. And when he said he liked me and expressed interest, I knew from that moment that I was no longer allowed to be any of those things if I wanted to keep him. To me, he was the prize.
He was non-monogamous (which I have later come to realize was his way of saying “I’m going to cheat on you and gaslight you about the boundaries of this relationship and you can’t criticize it because you chose to love me and I love you more”) and I, by nature, am not. So not only was this obstacle course designed to keep me in his favor, but I also created competition with anyone else he was seeing at the time. I knew that if he was with me, he wasn’t with anyone else. So I did everything I could to stay by his side. To say yes. I was constantly available to him even when I didn’t want to be out of fear of being second-place to someone else.
This meant doing things like losing 20lbs because he preferred thin women over women with curves. It meant doing as I was told all the time, staying agreeable, offering to do massive favors for him and his family so everyone knew our relationship was real. It meant letting his friends do drugs off my body (while sober), absorbing his anger at me whenever I spoke to or spent time with other men, and it meant always making myself available for sex even when I didn’t want to do it because it showed him I was being a good partner. All the while he’d tell me every day that he loved me more than any other man ever would. That I was becoming the perfect future wife. That he was head over heels for me. And I believed, fully and truly, that he knew better than me.
I would have moments of reality. Moments when I realized what I was doing and that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I stopped telling my friends about him because they would only tell me to get out, that they were worried about me. I would see myself in stories written by women who had been abused. I would break up with him often. But every time he’d shower me with love again and I’d fall right back in. He’d say I was the only one he wanted to be with and I’d believe it, then he’d go back to someone else and say it was because he needed time away from me because I was too — something. Then the cycle would start again.
While yes, I could blame him — say he’s a dirt-bag sex-addict piece of shit egomaniac — and I wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But what good is blaming him if I am unwilling to look at the manipulative, dishonest, and insecure behavior I engaged in to keep him? As much as he was a monster to me in so many ways, my unwillingness to walk away turned me into the worst versions of myself. I have to look at my part in that relationship because it reflects the shadow parts of myself that I am capable of weaponizing, and I have to let those weapons dull.
When I got out of that relationship, I had to rekindle my own love for myself as I am, not as the person who was exactly what he wanted. I needed to start spending time with myself, listening to the music I actually liked, eating the food I actually wanted to eat, spending time with the people I really wanted to see, and I had to learn what love actually meant to me. Connecting with myself and what my needs are, and also with what I actually, honestly, have to offer — not just what I’d be willing to give up — to a partner, was paramount for me to close that relationship once and for all.
But even now, when I meet someone and they tell me about their exes and why it didn’t work out, I still find myself taking involuntary mental notes. Oh, she had mood swings? She didn’t know much about music? She wanted to move too fast and wanted to get married within the next five years? It’s hard work not to judge myself. Until I can be honest about who I am and not be afraid to be myself in a relationship, even if that means letting go of someone who likes me but doesn’t want to be with someone who wants what I want, I’m not ready for a healthy relationship.
3. I’ve been mistaking sex for love
This one is easier to explain because we’ve all definitely been here.
I want sex to lead to love. I mean it. When I was in my 20’s, casual hookups after a night out were fun and free and dangerous but that made it even hotter. Sure, I’d experienced a lot of sexual trauma that led to my leaning heavily into promiscuity, but being a slut was fun most of the time. Except, even then, I would develop crushes, start talking about the person to my friends as being “actually really sweet,” start seeing next-day texts as courtship, and start seeing late night booty calls as dates. I couldn’t tell the difference between whether someone was just trying to bang or wanted to get to know me intimately and seek an actual relationship.
What made this worse was often their inability to admit that I was just a warm body to them. They’d say things like “I can’t wait to see you again” and tell me about places they wanted to go to dinner next time. They’d make drunken future plans, talk about taking trips together, engage in fantasy of a romantic connection and I’d play right into it, too. I’d not just fall for it, I’d believe it. And no matter what behavior they’d display afterward, I would believe that the soft-focus pre- or post-coital dreamworld we’d created was the real thing, not their spotty texts or the fact that I’d never seen them during the day or met their friends.
So in my reflection I have to ask myself, have I done the same thing?
Which brings me to my last point:
4. I am wildly embarrassed to admit that I’m not chill.
I had a friend tell me a few years ago that I need to stop telling people I’m dating that I’m laid-back.
“You’re not chill. You’re needy.”
I was livid. What an insult! No no no, I’m very chill, right? I’m the “go with the flow” girl. I’m the “no rush” girl. I’m the “I don’t need a label” girl. I’m just looking for something casual.
And the lie detector says: that’s a lie.
I hate that word. “Needy.” I thought it meant that I was clingy, that I needed someone to fully commit to me or else I’d make their life a living hell. But when I thought about it… those things were kind of true.
I’ve been a needy, not-chill, emotional woman my entire life acting as if I’m super laid back and it hasn’t worked for me — not once. Parading around this totally unbothered, super-cool-about-whatever persona has attracted only people who are looking for something casual. Then, when they turn out to actually be super chill and laid back and don’t want to commit, I drive myself insane wondering what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t change them or keep their interest. It wasn’t me, it was the lie I’d been telling them, and myself.
I have SO much shame around having needs and wanting a secure monogamous relationship, especially in LA. Everyone I meet is looking for the validation of being desirable but unwilling to commit to a real relationship and I pretend I’m looking for the same, then I wonder why I never find what I actually desire. What is the harm in saying “I am 33 and I want to have kids in the next 5 years so I’m looking for someone who wants the same?” Why am I so terrified of telling someone who just wants to hook up that I can’t give them my energy anymore because I am looking for something more serious?
It’s because I fear I’m never going to actually find it.
So instead, I linger in these situationships. I give my time and energy to people who don’t want what I want in the long term because in the moment it feels good to feel liked. I lie and say I’m not as interested as I am because being vulnerable means it’s very likely that I’ll get hurt, and I fear that that hurt could actually mean that I’m somehow completely unlovable. Until I’m able to stand firm in what I want, to believe I actually deserve it, and not take it personally when the object of my desire would rather pass on me than change into the partner of my dreams, I’m going to be single.
The only thing worse than being single on Valentine’s Day in a pandemic when my only connection to the world is carefully curated Instagram posts of romantic moments everyone I’ve ever dated has had with their now fiancées, is ending up in the same old cycle of toxic, dishonest situationships.
Listen, I am not to blame for the abuse I’ve endured. The abuser is to blame for that. But it is my responsibility to no longer let those patterns define how I move on from here. Single guys in LA who want to hook up and hang out but not commit are not to blame for my singleness. I am responsible to ask for what I want and not to settle for less. And all these happy glowing couples on social media are not to blame for my absolute fucking misery today. I am responsible for loving myself enough to know that the inner work I’m doing is saving me from ending up in an unsatisfying, unhealthy perpetuation of the same old patterns that have kept me single so long.
So no, I did not receive flowers or chocolates today and yes I’m bummed out about it. But I do believe that being single today does not mean that I am unlovable. It means I have work to do to be able to believe that I am worthy of love and to be the kind of partner I wish to some day have. The more I’m willing to commit to myself first, the more likely it is that this Valentine’s Day will be the last I’ll spend in mourning over my singleness. Wish me luck.