Valentine's Day can be isolating, regardless of your relationship status. With that in mind, this February we'd like to focus on feelings of loneliness and everything that comes along with them. We're doing a deep-dive into our own experiences with being alone—whether it's finding peace, feeling alienated, or reckoning with all those emotions at once.
There’s no doubt it’s "cool" to be anti-Valentine’s Day—it’s a holiday essentially created by Hallmark and Hershey’s in a celebration of corporate entrapment and overpriced dining experiences. But Valentine’s Day is also my birthday. And while I’d expect that to annoy me, I’m somewhat selfish as a rule, sharing my birthday with a celebration of love is actually quite... lovely.
Throughout my single years, having my birthday on Valentine’s Day was a great distraction—I’m lucky to say I’ve never felt sad on a holiday that can easily be a downer. But as Byrdie editors and writers began to explore their relationships with loneliness in the lead-up to the holiday, I began to wonder: By being permanently preoccupied on Valentine’s Day, have I missed out on reckoning with loneliness as an important experience in my development?
By being permanently preoccupied on Valentine’s Day, have I missed out on reckoning with loneliness as an important experience in my development?
There was only one way to find out—therapy. I asked Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, about her thoughts on the importance (or unimportance) of spending Valentine’s Day alone. “I think it’s so important for self growth because it sort of tells you that it’s OK,” she said. “It reminds you it’s OK to be alone, that you still have friends, family, interests, and hobbies. And it allows you to reflect on some life choices: why you are single, why you are with someone, why you chose to break up with someone.”
Meet the Expert
Sanam Hafeez is a licensed (neuro)psychologist practicing in Manhattan and Queens. Her topics of interest and contribution range from the effects of social media on brain function to ADHD, depression, and beauty and wellness and the role of psychological processes.
But I can’t remember even one year when I was alone on Valentine's Day. My parents were my Valentines, exclusively, until I was 16. At that point, my brand-new boyfriend emptied the contents of a basic heart-shaped box and filled it with tropical Starbursts, because he knew I hated those cheap chocolates shoved in consumers’ faces annually. He lasted for a while after that impressive and innovative display, but eventually went the way most high school boyfriends should.
Through my single years during and after college, my V-Day b-day was kind of cool. When most of my friends were single, throwing a birthday party on Valentine’s Day almost guaranteed a good turnout. No one wants to be alone when the general population is participating in public display of affection over a table for two, so my birthday served as an alt-celebration on a day that can kind of suck. It also served as a great excuse for me to ignore the collection of uninspired hookups I accumulated during my search for love in college, or the frustrating nature of the long-term long-distance relationship my now-husband and I endured for years before settling in NYC together.
No one wants to be alone when the general population is participating in public display of affection over a table for two, so my birthday served as an alt-celebration on a day that can kind of suck.
It was not until I was with the man I knew I’d probably marry that I decided it was time to really explore whether or not celebrating Valentine’s Day as a concept apart from my birthday was my style. And it turns out that the commercial holiday is actually quite inconvenient. One year early on I made my husband book us a table at Pastis, where we proceeded to get ripped with a prix-fixe menu—we learned kitchens want to prep for the easiest menu possible on busy nights like this one, so I never made us book a fancy table for the day-of again.
And there’s almost nothing I love more than receiving a display of floral artistry, but acquiring a nice arrangement on Valentine’s Day can require sacrificing an arm, a leg, and approximately $100. In the face of high-demand and extortionate prices, I’ve found a way to lower my floor and accept a decent bodega bouquet. I just make sure I treat myself other times throughout the year.
Even though it’s easy to complain about the compromises that come with having my birthday on Valentine’s Day, I really do kind of love sharing my happy day with lots of other people who feel happy. “We assign so much emotional value to a day—we just have this funny notion of why certain days have to mean so much more than others,” Hafeez told me. “If you want to take a symbolic day to do some self reflection I think there’s plenty of insight there... but the bottom line is that Valentine’s day is just another day.” Maybe I’ve never spent the day alone, but I’ve been alone at other times in my life and I feel comfortable with how that experience has underscored my sense of self-worth.