Ask Pawan: How do I feel better about being alone?

Dear Pawan,

I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. I really don’t. It’s just so good at making me feel lonely and kinda without value. It’s too much to deal with sometimes so I end up getting angry on the inside at people in relationships. How do I feel better about being alone?

Valentine’s Day is pretty well known for doing three things: reminding people to cherish their loved ones, reminding people of their perceived lack thereof, and getting Hallmark employees’ kids through college. Those first two are pretty proficient at making people either adore or despise the whole month, where pink and red motifs find their way into every nook and cranny, and they start to think that roses only grow in thornless bushels of 12. But beyond the aesthetics of Valentine’s Day, the marketing of and messaging behind it all can feel a bit in your face as well. Here’s my advice.

On the face of it, Valentine’s Day is meant to be a cute, entirely wholesome day. In modern times, it’s taken on a bit more complexity than that, with lots of pomp regarding the month in general. Now, who, you may be wondering, is responsible for this evolution of the once simple celebration? None other than Big Business. You’ve probably heard of “commodifying the holidays” before so I’ll spare you any rehashing from my manifesto, but something of a common criticism is that Valentine’s Day is seemingly impossible to live up to. Put alliteratively, you’re cursed to compete with high-quality commercials created with crazy amounts of cash. The pressure to make the holiday something exceedingly special is hard to keep up with. That pressure isn’t corralled to those in relationships, but can also hit hard in making you particularly aware of just how single you are. But it’s important to remember that a relationship isn’t the perfect solution to loneliness.

All in on Red

Being lonely can suck, and everyone feels lonely more often than they’d care to admit. Regardless of whether you’ve just become single, have never dated or are married with three kids, loneliness can creep in from any angle. If you find yourself flying solo to your chagrin, jumping into a relationship can seem like the perfect reprieve from the cold winds of singlehood. These gusts can feel ten times stronger once this day of love rolls around, because it seems like the whole world enjoys rubbing your face in its supremely satisfying relationships. This is where things get a little dicey. Jumping wantonly into a relationship is ill-advised at best, but sprinting into one as a means of escaping a bout of loneliness is perhaps the best way to ensure a messy start and necessitate an early end. You may find that you’re discovering things about the other person and have to ask yourself, on the fly, whether that’s something you’re okay with, let alone desire, without having the comfortable distance provided by being unattached. Beyond that, if you don’t enter into a relationship with the right headspace, which running from loneliness assuredly is not, you increase the chance that you’re in this for different reasons than your new partner, something which is bound to boil over.

It’s tempting to think that the close relationship promised in dating someone is the perfect solution to loneliness, and it can definitely help keep those feelings at bay. Despite how tempting that thought is, though, you have to remember that the simple status of “dating” is nothing more than a word to be said, and that the feelings and motives behind use of that term makes a world of difference. Even more urgent is the risk you run of carrying this unwanted loneliness, then using a relationship to give you an excuse to foist that baggage onto the other person. It’s like building a bridge between two cliffs, but instead of using a few pebbles to test its strength, you toss a boulder on and hope no one gets hurt in the aftermath. We don’t need a red jacket engineer to tell us that that isn’t a great idea.

Valen-Time for Yourself

If I had a solution for loneliness, I’d be on Dr. Oz, promoting it. Unfortunately, there’s no cure-all for this basic human malaise that seems to creep up at the most inopportune times. What I can provide is a little bit of a pick-me-up in a printed reminder that you’ve got a support system. Just about everyone has a person or people with whom they can stride up and talk. It doesn’t need to be a conversation of any importance, just something to stimulate those parts of our brain that worry about social connectivity. While Valentine’s can certainly feel like it’ll be the worst part of your month, it’s also helpful to remember that it truly is just another 24 hours. That’s important to keep in mind whether you’re in a relationship or not, as a reminder to the former that it’s okay for it not to be a spectacular day of romance and for the latter to remember that it won’t be the end of the world. Another tip that might be helpful to remember is that while it may not be the most pleasurable to yourself, Valentine’s Day can certainly be special to others, and if you’re the kind of person who gets vicarious joy from others, that’s a little bonus to 14 February.

When it comes to loneliness, it can easily feel like you’re just about lost on the open seas with no other ships in sight. The irony about that sentiment is that you’re never alone in feeling singular. Being content with one’s levels of social interaction is a great trait, but it’s not guaranteed to shore up any bits of lingering loneliness that you might be feeling. That’s something that’s certainly helped me, as I remember that while I might be feeling isolated in a crowded room, chances are that half the room has felt similar in the last little while. The difference that reminder makes is that I acknowledge that if they can get past it and not be considered lesser for it, then I definitely can! Valentine’s is kind of a mixed bag, when it comes to giving someone the highs or lows of social interaction, but it’s vital to remember that you’re not an anomaly for feeling lonely. It’s something that you have to analyse. Figure out what discontentment is at its root, and deal with it from the source. No one can keep loneliness away forever, but it always helps to have a social net to fall back into, when you’re ready.

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