Particularly in the online world, February 14th is a terrible mine field. You can’t go online without running into angry rants and bitter commentary about those of us who are happy on this day. If you make the mistake of actually admitting that you are happy and wish other people a happy day, someone’s feelings will be hurt. If you try to avoid the topic altogether, someone will ask you why you’re not waxing eloquent about your husband/boyfriend (or wife/girlfriend or whatever significant others you normally talk about). When I avoided saying anything anywhere online at all one year on February 14, I got an angry message accusing me of being too busy celebrating with my boyfriend to even spare a moment to help some of my single friends feel less unloved.
How can you possibly answer that?
Not that I don’t understand where all these mixed feelings come from. I do. I haven’t always been in a relationship. I got so used to being in the emotional space of being single and not terribly happy about it, that it’s still something of a shock to me every morning to wake up and discover I’m not alone. Even after seventeen wonderful years with Michael. So, yes, I understand what it’s like to be single.
I know what it felt like seeing people happily paired off when I wasn’t. I knew the pain of being completely smitten with someone who was in love with one of my best friends. I knew the double-pain of having a crush on a guy and not being able to share my misery with anyone else or seek sympathy from anyone because not even my closest friends knew I wasn’t straight. So I understand, really, I do, why just seeing Michael and I together being happy can cause someone else heartache.
There were times I felt that heartache. There were times I said something to one of my friends that might have made them feel guilty for being in a relationship. There were times I lashed out, making a snide remark to make them hurt as much as I did. So I understand where the negative comments come from.
I’ve had the incredible luck (and luck does have more than a little bit to do with it) of falling madly and deeply in love with someone who loved me back. When you find that kind of relationship it’s impossible to keep it to yourself. You want people to know what a great person your significant other is. You want to share the joy with your family and friends. Even when you’re a gay man living in a very homophobic society, it’s very difficult to be in love and keep it a secret. So I understand why people want to talk about their relationship with other people they care about.
I don’t need the calendar to remind me to tell Michael I love him. I don’t need a holiday to give me an excuse to buy him presents. More than once we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day by just taking an exhausted nap together. I don’t think we have ever remembered to make reservations for a dinner at a restaurant on the big day. Michael scolds me for buying flowers on the day because prices are always jacked up. Just a few days ago I asked him if he wanted his Valentine’s gift then (since it had arrived that day), or wanted me to wait until the actual day.
I don’t believe in the so-called coupled ideal. I don’t believe that there is one and only one soulmate out there for everyone. I don’t believe that no one is capable of loving more than one person at a time. And I don’t believe that everyone would be happiest if they were in a relationship with their “one true love.”
But I refuse to feel guilty for being in love. When I was single and made other people feel guilty, their guilt didn’t alleviate my loneliness by one iota. When I lashed out and hurt their feelings, it didn’t get me one step closer to happiness. All that happened was they were hurt, and I wallowed in self-pity.
So, it’s Valentine’s Day. The eve of the Ides of February, which was the beginning of an ancient Roman celebration of fertility and purity (hard for some people to believe those go together). Some parts of the Roman festival were rather shocking to the prudish sensibilities of the early Catholic church, which is probably the reason that a pope declared Feb. 14 the Feast of St. Valentine in 498 AD. The oldest surviving Valentine Greeting (a love letter which specifically mentions St. Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate one’s love) is a letter written by the Duke of Orleans to his wife in 1415, while she was imprisoned in the Tower of London (take that, everyone who claims the holiday was invented by greeting card companies; in fact it was the other way around).
For the last several years, the biggest celebration we’ve done on Valentine’s Day is meeting up with a bunch of friends to celebrate our friend Jared’s birthday. It’s an evening of laughter and love with a diverse group—some single, some not. The important thing is that we’re together and not mired in bitterness nor guilt.