I can't fault anyone for finding my hipster doofus persona objectionable.
But look past my penchant for political rants and willingness to fight on a dime at the suggestion that Talking Heads' "Remain in Light" isn't the greatest album ever recorded, and I have very few irreconcilable edges. The list of things for which I hold genuine disdain is brief: kimchi, the word "irregardless," and Valentine's Day.
It's not the day itself, nor its philosophical underpinnings, but rather the social conventions surrounding it that leave me, along with a very large segment of the population, feeling left out in the cold.
Even as a happily single person, day-to-day life is often plagued with the pressure to court, be courted, and find your "better half." Valentine's Day takes that minor pestilence to a new level. It's a gaudy consumerist trap, an annual soapbox-in-the-town square for lovebirds. It's a day where everyone asks if you have any special plans, and a response of, "Not really," begets a pity-filled groan. Bars take on a desperate, somber tone as evening approaches. Sad text messages abound and not a corner can be turned without couple-culture slapping you in the face.
At this point, there are certainly some readers characterizing me as a bitter, lovelorn imbecile, ignorant to the idea Valentine's Day is simply not meant for people like me. But the reality is, there are many people like me. Take a 2017 Pew Research report, which found 61 percent of adults under the age of 35 had no partner, up five percent from 10 years prior. Factoring in that 35 percent of single adults live alone, as I do, about 21 percent of Americans under 35 live lifestyles similar to my own.
As the red heart balloons fill the sky and Russell Stover gets its annual payday, being alone can feel, well, more alone than usual. Even as common as my lifestyle is, Valentine's Day can feel like a day when you've broken or failed at fulfilling a social obligation. Even if that obligation is something you don't quite want to fill.
Make no mistake, I've been in love, and being the tender age of 27, it's likely I will be again. I've strolled on the beach hand-in-hand. I've shared a kiss as the ball dropped on New Year's Eve. I've watched the sun rise over the city, gently running my fingers through another's hair. I've done these things at least a few times.
If this were a Yelp review, I'd give the experience a solid two and a half stars.
And listen, if you are a person who detests being single, more power to you. Love away, have a ball out there.
But holding coupledom as a standard breeds folks who bounce from relationship to relationship, searching for meaning in another's embrace. It creates weddings followed by five years of bliss and 15 years of despair. Are there those who choose to be single that are miserable? Of course. But that coin has two-sides, and our society loves to only acknowledge the tails.
On Valentine's Day, it's a dichotomy that's in full swing, even if the majority of young Americans are not currently in a relationship. Statistically speaking, no matter what your current love life is like, you're likely in good company. And if we're to celebrate romantic commitments, we should find time to celebrate those who appreciate quiet solitude. Those who make a choice to avoid the social pressure to pair up, and know we are all alone on this frigid rock of ours, each one of us yearning to find a sliver of insulation to shield ourselves from the hollering winds of isolation. But that shield shouldn't necessarily take the form of another human.
When I was 16, I bought a little cactus in a clay pot that I plopped down on my windowsill, and day by day, gingerly dribbled water into its soil. With time, the cactus bloated and then began to rot away. I think about that poor cactus a lot, and how my care for it eventually ended its life. So just as the rose has become the mainstay foliage of romance, I submit the humble cactus as the symbol for singledom. While as prickly as the rose's thorn, it's a rustic plant, which thrives on solitude and lack of intervention, and is hurt by too much pruning and doting.
- ILLUSTRATION BY JACOB WALSH
In honor of the virtue of quiet singledom, and the memory of my doomed cactus, I implore my single compatriots to start a new tradition. This Valentine's Day, just as the lovers of the world throw down their dollars on bouquets to share with their sweethearts, buy yourself a cactus.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.