To my surprise, once I stopped centering my life around romance, I was happy on my own.
I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day. When I was married, my then-husband and I spent the holiday at our favorite bed and breakfast, and it was always just a little bit magical. Now that I’m single, I still love Valentine’s Day as much as ever. But instead of the romantic holiday it once was, it’s become a celebration of love for my kids and myself.
Despite my enjoyment of the day, there’s one person who remains convinced that I’m secretly miserable: my teenage daughter. No matter how many times I’ve told her that I love Valentine’s Day, even when I’m single, she doesn’t believe me. So every year, she spends a small fortune of her hard-earned babysitting money to shower me with gifts.
It’s sweet, I know. But even as I appreciate her kindness, it leaves me unsettled. Because what’s at the core of her need to make Valentine’s Day special for me is her belief that something is lacking from my life. And if she believes that about my life, I’m fairly certain she thinks it about hers too.
When I was younger, long before I had a houseful of kids, I wasted a lot of time worrying about whether I’d have a date for Valentine’s Day. I clearly remember sitting alone in my apartment with Indian takeout one year, crying as I watched Sex and the City alone on DVD. I was convinced that I’d never meet Mr. Right (I wasn’t wrong), and at the time that felt like the most important part of my life.
I’m older and (hopefully) wiser now. After three failed long-term relationships, I know that being single is always better than being in the wrong relationship. I decided after the end of my last relationship to take a break from dating until I could get my shit together. Six years later, I’ve yet to find myself motivated to get back into the dating game. To my surprise, once I stopped centering my life around romance, I was happy on my own.
But my daughter hasn’t lived through my experiences. She’s smart enough not to obsess about dating but she still sometimes defines her worth by her relationship status — just a little bit. She can’t conceive of a future without a husband or partner, and she feels bad about herself when she spends days like Valentine’s Day alone (or maybe even worse yet, with her mom).
Part of what I’ve always loved about Valentine’s Day is the beauty of it. Cliche or not, pink is my favorite color and I can’t walk by a Valentine’s Day display without stopping. I fill my home with hearts and flowers in February, and it’s a welcome break from the Seattle gloom. I enjoy giving my kids silly gifts and eating a bit of chocolate together, and that’s enough for me.
As a single mom, I know I’m supposed to feel a pang for what might’ve been or what once was. Social media is always filled with mournful stories about what it’s like to be alone on Valentine’s Day, but it’s been years since I’ve worried about that. Sure, it might be nice to go out to dinner with an actual adult, but that’s about as much regret as I can muster up. My life is full to bursting already, and there’s simply no room for romance.
I doubt my daughter can understand that; in fact, the entire notion must be alien to her. I remember how I felt when I was 17, all passion and drama, and I would never have expected to find myself comfortably alone either. But I think it’s important for my daughter to see that it’s possible — even if she doesn’t quite believe it.
My daughter may end up happily married, or she may not. Right now, she can only imagine one, perfect version of her future and that’s fine. But I know that life rarely takes us where we expect it to. And no matter what her future holds, I want her to have a model of what single life can be. And, even more importantly, to always know it’s OK to be single — and that being single, too, can be a choice.
I wasted years of my life chasing the dream of romance. And while I know my daughter has far more common sense than I did at her age, I hope she sees her romances in their reality. I hope she has the confidence to walk away from relationships that aren’t working, and I hope she grows up unafraid of being single.
But mostly, I hope she knows that she is always enough. Just her. No partner required.