There are many answers to this question, so this blog post is biased by my own experience of being single: one in just over 16 million stories of singleness in the UK. Single or not, we are all unique, precious individuals with great potential – so why is it that us singletons can often be made to feel invalid at times, especially on Valentine’s Day?
Being single sits within the wider context of being human. As a nearly-39-year-old, single, mum of one, I cannot separate my singleness from my humanness. We all have experiences, thoughts, feelings in common with each other - whatever our relationship status. Just because I am single, I am not subhuman, a failure, or doing anything wrong. I could be forgiven for thinking I am all of these, given the quantum of ways the world around us tries to ‘cash in’ on singleness feeding the idea that being single is not enough. You can Match.com and “love your imperfections, or someone else will”; Elite Singles say “with love, you have every right to be demanding”; there are Plenty of Fish out there; and Tinder is “how people meet. It's like real life, but better.” All of these dating sites promise to get you ‘off the shelf’. Yet whilst some find love, many others experience a continuous returning to the shelf.
I would liken this over-commercialised art of match-making to the destructive influence of consumerism that invades the lives of us all. Who, in the few weeks after the indulgent Christmas season, wants to be confronted with the option to purchase Easter chocolate, when at home sits a cupboard of left over festive treats, with the new year’s resolution threatening to banish it all to the bin? Likewise, I do not want reminding of my relationship status by a bombardment of dating adverts. So my personal response to the question, “How does it feel to be single on Valentine’s day?” is that it feels just like any other day, but with an increased awareness of my singleness – making me feel alone and not good enough. This is of course not true, but is sometimes how I feel.
For the single person, the absence of a partner is actually an absent relationship. For some this absence is embraced, wanted even, or filled with quality friendships, but for others there may be a longing to fill the absence with the presence of a partner. Whichever it is, there are ways for the single person to feel included in celebrations such as Valentine’s day. Maybe when you’re popping a Valentine's gift for a loved one into your shopping basket, you might think of that single person in your life who would love a gift too. For me, Valentine’s day presents an opportunity to tell all the people I love how I feel about them.
The truth is that being single can be seen by some as abnormal, which has created a stigma to varying degrees, depending on the reasons for a person’s singleness. The offer of a genuine listening ear could truly help to break down this stigma of being single. Just as those partnered up may often need to share the highs and lows of their relationship, so the single person may need the exact same for the absent relationship.
16 million singletons are not a minority group and, regardless of age or circumstance – from the single teenager to the older person widowed, divorced or never married – the need to share and feel understood, supported, cared for, and listened to is great. Just as we are seeking to challenge the stigma surrounding issues such as mental health, HIV, and even the provision of relationships and sex education (basically anything that is seen as taboo), so we need to challenge the stigma surrounding singleness. This Valentine’s day is chance to reach out to those singletons around you – for they also have a lot of love to give too.