Off the beat: Learning to be alone on Valentine’s Day

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For the past two years, I have met up with my valentine. We go through the motions. We watch movies. We have sex. Last year, we even baked a cake. It was chocolate with raspberries on top. These might sound like normal romantic activities. But the thing is, I was single both of these times.

Now, it’s that time of the year again. You know, the day dedicated to upholding the idea that romantic love is the highest value in society, through the idealism of poorly written romantic comedies, a clusterfuck of commercialism and overdone Instagram posts of couples who purport that they are in love. This onslaught of romantic saturation might not sound like such a bad thing to singles who aren’t adversely affected by the gaudy color palettes covering every inch of their local Hallmark card section.

But then singles realize they’re on their own when everyone inevitably inquires about their Valentine’s Day plans. Suddenly, boyfriend pillows seem less satiating compared to having an actual human being care deeply about them. The shame of singledom sets in as social pressures magnify their inability to love and be loved in return.

For me, the fear of being alone can be distilled into the concept of spinsterhood. The current meaning of the word “spinster” is a relic from around the 18th century, which was a time before the women’s liberation movement when a woman’s duty in life was to become a wife. If you couldn’t find a husband by a certain age, you’d be written off as a spinster. I see a recurring pattern in many lady elders in my life: They’re all single. They don’t get out much. They have few friends. They fantasize about what it would be like to create a profile on Christian Singles.

My best friend and I used to joke we’d become spinsters by incessantly quoting “Bridget Jones’s Diary” when we attended our all-girls Catholic high school, where no suitable male romantic interests were to be found. Now, looking at my elders, I worry their fate might actually be mine, too.

Sure, there is the loophole of avoidance tactics, such as calling the holiday “Singles Awareness Day.” The idea of single people taking back Valentine’s Day sounds good in theory. But upon reading the official website’s suggestion to send yourself flowers, the realization strikes that the acronym for the holiday is S.A.D. for a reason. The desperation of defense mechanisms just reinforces the idea that Valentine’s Day is a force to be reckoned with.

The easiest way to temper the fear of being alone is distraction. Thanks to the ubiquity of media, distraction has become the most common prescription for any ill in our society. There are two main ways singles tend to do this: 1) Purge the remnants of their emotions while watching sappy movies, and 2) engage in casual sex disguised as romance. Because I’m not too big on emotions or cliched films about them, I have opted for the latter choice.

The contrivance of romantic gestures applied to a relationship that is purely based on sex for the sake of Valentine’s Day devalues the experience. Projecting meaningful acts onto something that doesn’t really mean anything will become a blatant reminder of your singledom. When you wind up lighting an altar of candles and taking an hour to put on expensive lingerie for someone you hardly know, the forced nature of your actions will take you out of the experience. Instead of sex being in the heat of the moment, it becomes a mechanical miming of what’s expected of romance.

That’s not to say that romantic love isn’t worth being valued. It’s one of the most fulfilling aspects of life. And as the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman ruminated when playing Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous,” pining over romantic love is what “most of the great art in the world is about.”

But the nature of humanity is that we’re all alone in the end. We think our own thoughts. We live with ourselves all day, every day. All relationships have to end eventually. According to Louis C.K., the best-case scenario of ending a romantic relationship “is that you’re going to lose your best friend and then just walk home from D’Agostino’s with heavy bags every day and wait for your turn to be nothing also.” So why can’t we as a society embrace that solitude rather than fall into the pit of conveniently snapping up a valentine in time?

Luckily, a friend recently pointed me to a new term to define single people, including my elders: “Quirkyalone.” It’s a word coined by Sasha Cagen to describe someone who enjoys being single and prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of it. Although the term might not apply to all singles, it at least gives me the chance to escape the rhetorical and social trappings of spinsterhood.

I’m not saying Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be celebrated. If you love someone, love someone on Valentine’s Day. If you want to get laid, get laid on Valentine’s Day. If you want to avoid contact with human beings, avoid contact on Valentine’s Day. But don’t do those things merely because it’s Valentine’s Day — well, unless it’s the last scenario.

“Off the Beat” guest columns will be written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers are selected.