If You’re Not Happy During Valentine’s Day, You Are Not Alone
Written by Bruce Y. Lee Contributor Forbes Magazine
Happy Valentine’s Day? Maybe. Maybe not. If not, don’t despair.
Ah, if only life were like a romantic comedy or advertising. Valentine’s Day is certainly a happy occasion for many. An opportunity to spend a day with that special someone or, for some, someones. A time to generate more memories, show your love or feel loved. But for others, it’s anything but…even if you are in a relationship. For a number of people, the commercially designated day of love can actually cause stress, anxiety, unhappiness and even depression. Here are 20 reasons why not all are completely happy during Valentine’s Day:
- Being reminded that you’re not in a relationship: Here’s a common source for the single. Most other days, you may realize that you are much more than a relationship and being single is much better than being in a bad relationship. But on this day, the social pressure can be overwhelming. Valentine’s Day is like society collectively deciding to be politically incorrect toward single people.
- Being reminded that you are in a relationship: On the flip side, you may not really like your current relationship. Perhaps you can avoid the other person most of the year (e.g., “Honey, I’ll be stepping out for a few weeks,” or, “We have common interests in that we both hate each other.”), but it’s harder to do so on Valentine’s Day. Seeing other couples who seem happier in real life or on television can add to the stress…especially if one of those couples you see includes your significant other.
- Being reminded that you are trying to be in a relationship: You know that person that you keep spending time with, trying to be like mold and grow on him or her? Well, ignorance and hope can be bliss. Valentine’s Day can be the moment of clarity. If that person’s out with someone else during Valentine’s Day, things aren’t looking too good. The Friend Zone is like the Phantom Zone: It takes Supergirl or Superman to get out of it.
- Being reminded that your significant other is not around: Not all couples can be together during Valentine’s Day. Maybe your significant other is long-distance, traveling or a Capulet and you are a Montague, or a Jet and you are a Shark.
- Being reminded that your kids may be in relationships: Yes, your kids may be finally old enough to date, which depending on your attitudes can range from the age they are in junior high school to the age when they can rent a car. Worrying about this can cause anxiety about who they are with or why they grew up so quickly.
- Being reminded of past relationships: Valentine’s Day can be like syndication for your past romantic regrets, making you replay your mistakes over and over again. It can be especially tough if a former significant other passed away. Conversely, Valentine’s Day can prompt your favorite stalkers to reappear and step up their games, calling, texting or messaging you or sending lovely gifts that you then have to explain to your current significant other or your co-workers or your front desk person or the entire basketball stadium.
- Stressing your relationship: Valentine’s Day can bring scrutiny on and strain your relationship. Rather than a happy occasion, it can feel like a Law and Order interrogation. Where is relationship going? Do you love me? Why do we argue so much? Why do my parents call you a bum? When are you going to get a better job? When are we going to get married? When will we live in the same city? Is a yak really a good pet? Who is that other person that’s sleeping in the bed with us?
- Taking your relationship to another level: Depending on where you are, Valentine’s Day may be a cue to take your relationship to another level, but you and your partner may not be on the same page or even the same book, which could be stressful. This could mean trying to have children, redecorating the kitchen, a marriage proposal, sex for the first time, kissing for the first time or getting to know the name of your significant other.
- Failing to meet expectations: A neurology resident once told me in medical school that happiness is reality minus expectations (which is why denying reality can keep you really, really happy). Sometimes expectations for Valentine’s Day can be so high that you just can’t reach them. Spending weeks thinking that your significant other is going to hold a Pepsi Super Bowl halftime show for you could set you up for big disappointment.
- Forcing roles: “Roles” as in duties and expectations, not baked goods. Some may chafe under the standard roles of Valentine’s Day and feel that the holiday is old-fashioned.
- Being reminded that you have no money or are spending money: Valentine’s Day can be expensive for all the reasons below. Yes, money can’t buy you love, but apparently it can rent it. Such spending can add to financial stress for some.
- Finding a babysitter who is free on Valentine’s Day but is old enough to be a babysitter: Rule number one, the babysitter has to be older than the children being babysat. When there is a shortage, watch babysitters become Wall Street tycoons and push their rates up and up.
- Trying to secure a reservation in any restaurant that doesn’t serve Happy Meals and Big Macs: Valentine’s Day is a boon for restaurants. Popular restaurants get completely booked weeks in advance, leaving the non-planners with the choice of the 3 p.m. or midnight dinner slots or taking their dates to Subway. Also, expect every dish to be more expensive than usual and renamed after love or passion.
- Getting flowers that are not weeds: So dandelions don’t count as flowers? If Valentine’s Day is a boon for restaurants, it means absolutely everything to florists. Therefore, buying flowers can involve more planning than a military operation. And there are so many decisions. What types of flowers? Pretty ones. What arrangement? One in which flowers are not upside down. What type of vase? A solid one that doesn’t leak. What type of wrapping? A tortilla. Then you have to schedule the flower delivery so that it arrives at exactly the right time: when everyone else is around and can see that the flowers are arriving. Not too early and not too late.
- Buying a gift that is not just a thought: Yes, it’s the thought that counts. Try thinking about something and see if that passes as a gift. If that were the case, people would be all over philosophy majors. Unless you really know your significant other and have a mutual understanding, trying to buy the right gift can be stressful.
- Trying to write something dramatic but not corny on a card: “You are excellent,” “Good job on being a girlfriend (or boyfriend),” “Best of luck in the coming year” or “Congratulations on being my significant other” probably don’t pass. Face it, this is a losing proposition. If you end up breaking up, you are probably writing something that you didn’t mean, such as: “I will always be your Valentine (until something better comes along or until you develop this really bad farting problem).” If you do stay together, words on a card cannot really convey the meaning of your relationship.
- Eating too much and too badly: Valentine’s Day fare can be unhealthy. You don’t tend to buy or receive Valentine’s Day rutubaga, kale or cucumbers. (Honey, you are just so fibrous.) Many things are sweet, goopy and full of fat, sugar and salt. Unhealthy food, even for a day, can make you feel sick. But if you are buying or getting candy, that stuff can last for days or even weeks. Candy is not like turkey. You can’t make candy sandwiches, salads or soups. So be prepared to eat unhealthily for a while or throw out food.
- Suffering from performance anxiety: For sex, this may seem like the Super Bowl, only without the helmets, shoulder pads and Lady Gaga…unless you are into those sorts of things. You may feel like for some reason this has to be extra special, and you know what pressure can do…
- Suffering accidents: When you are distracted or under pressure, you make mistakes. When you make mistakes, you can hurt yourself. When you hurt yourself, you can even end up in the hospital. Don’t end up in the hospital. Get Direct TV and be careful during Valentine’s.
- Dealing with the drama and the aftermath: Holidays can be emotional times. People do all kinds of things when they are emotional. Arguments, fights, abuse, failed proposals, sex mishaps. All of these can leave scars, emotionally, mentally and physically, leading to more drama. And break-ups can.
In the end, Valentine’s Day is just a day. It can be a happy one, but if you are not happy about it, keep things in perspective. You are not alone. If you aren’t in a relationship, don’t despair. Remember that most relationships fail. (It’s always good to comfort yourself with other people’s miseries.) Seriously, though, it is much better to be single than in a bad relationship, and you shouldn’t base your worth on a relationship. If your kids are in relationship, realize that you can’t control them. If you raised them well in general, they will know what to do. If you are in a relationship, don’t put too much pressure on yourself for Valentine’s Day. The measure of your relationship should be what you do the other 364 days of the year. One day shouldn’t determine a relationship. If it does, then your relationship is probably not worth more than a Subway sandwich.
Bruce Y. Lee Forbes Contributor
I’ve been in the worlds of business, medicine, and global and public health. And these worlds are a lot more similar and different than you think. Currently, I am an Associate Professor of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Executive Director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC: www.globalobesity.org), Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. My previous positions include serving as Senior Manager at Quintiles Transnational and Associate Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh, working in biotechnology equity research at Montgomery Securities, co-founding a biotechnology/bioinformatics company. My work involves developing computational models and tools to help health and healthcare decision makers in all continents (except for Antarctica) and has been supported by a wide variety of sponsors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the NIH, AHRQ, CDC, UNICEF, USAID and the Global Fund. I have authored over 190 scientific publications and three books. Follow me on Twitter (@bruce_y_lee) but don’t ask me if I know martial arts.
Follow me on Twitter @bruce_y_lee and visit our Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Read my other Forbes pieces here.