Originally published in the Journal Inquirer Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013
by Kristen J. Tsetsi
So reads the final stanza of the poem “Valentine Schmalentine” by Charlotte Scadeng, who submitted the poem to an Anti-Valentine’s Day poetry competition hosted some time ago by Daily Info, Oxford, an online guide for visitors to the city of Oxford, United Kingdom.
Scadeng’s entry didn’t win the competition; Anna Morgan took the prize with her untitled ode to an ex, the second stanza of which begins thus: “I hate you, you’re icky, you’re like an old leech. / I hate you, you look like a whale that is beached.”
Both poems—the first, with its all-caps line followed by two exclamation points, and the second with the strong language—do little to veil the writers’ disdain for “romantic” Valentine’s Day.
While most holidays will incite some feelings of anger or loneliness, Valentine’s Day seems to be the one that is the most vocally boycotted, the most reviled. And not just by men and women in relationships who resent the pressure to behave romantically on a designated day, but by singles with no stake in the holiday. There’s even a website that sells anti-Valentine’s Day gear, including a T-shirt reading “Singles Against Valentine’s Day.”
Often, Valentine’s Day anger is expressed as distaste for either the marketing of a made-up holiday, the commercialization of love, or the expectations advertisers are responsible for perpetuating: that women must receive diamonds, chocolates, marriage proposals, diamonds, and more diamonds, and that men must receive adequate expressions of gratitude.
It could be argued that singles should feel lucky for not being relentlessly targeted by jewelry stores wanting them to spend a month’s salary, that nothing about Valentine’s Day affects, or should affect, them, but Valentine’s Day very much affects the uncoupled, some of whom become ever angrier as February 14 draws near.
And where there’s anger, explains Matt Bohonowicz, licensed professional counselor and founder of CT Mediation and Therapy in Manchester, there’s far more than mere frustration with commercialization.
“People are rarely just angry with marketing,” Bohonowicz says. “Anger is a secondary emotion. There’s always something more. People don’t like to look at it, they don’t like to see it, because they’re ignoring it—that sadness, that loneliness—and going straight to anger, because they can do something about it.”
Anger, he explains, is an action-oriented emotion that follows a primary emotion, such as sadness or embarrassment. Little can be done about primary emotions other than waiting for them to pass, but anger is different.
“You can yell, you can hit someone, you can grump and groan,” he says. “There’s control in it.”
Bohonowicz says he has yet to treat someone who has simply been angry; there has always been a primary emotion preceding the anger.
Christa Madden, MSW and licensed clinical social worker at the Hope Center in South Windsor, says many clients have visited the center feeling loneliness, sadness, or hopelessness regarding their romantic future.
“I think (Valentine’s Day) amplifies to them that they’re alone, that maybe they don’t have a significant other to share the day with,” Madden says. “But I also think there are these expectations out there—social expectations, media expectations—that puts a lot of pressure on people.”
Bohonowicz concurs, saying that on Valentine’s Day people are expected to be with a sweetheart, and that those who can’t meet the expectation so many others seem able to fulfill wind up asking themselves, “Who am I? What have I accomplished?”
Such questions, he adds, can inspire either introspection or self-doubt, and while introspection can often be useful, self-doubt can be difficult to deal with.
Bohonowicz recommends exploring the source of the anger and analyzing what Valentine’s Day really is. The obvious answer is that it’s a time to be romantic with a significant other, he says, but what is romance? Is it buying a spouse flowers on February 14? Quite the contrary, he argues; romance is buying someone flowers or their favorite ice cream on a random day, and just because. It’s thinking outside the box and doing things in unexpected ways.
For the negative feelings to change, the Valentine’s Day mindset must change, Bohonowicz says. Many people go through periods of not needing or wanting a significant other and find it liberating. In that case, Valentine’s Day should have no significance.
“If you’re hurting about it, though, there’s more to the story. You have to look at why you feel so strongly about the issue,” he says. “You can do one of two things: You can push it down and create resentment and get angry, or you can use it as motivation to be introspective and think, ‘So, if romance isn’t in my life, how do I bring it in my life? Am I sitting on the sidelines and waiting for it to come to me, or am I doing everything I can do to pursue this relationship I’m looking for?’”
Madden recommends treating the occasion as an opportunity to empower themselves.
“There’s so much pressure to be in a relationship. It’s okay to be single and take the time to empower yourself and take care of yourself,” she says. “Schedule or plan a gathering or an event with other single people, maybe have a group of friends and go out to dinner, or go out to lunch. Surround yourself with a good support system and do things you like to do. It’s okay if you’re not in a relationship.”