If you’re single on Valentine’s Day, seeing aisles of cards and candy at the grocery store or hearing about others’ Valentine’s plans can make you feel like you’re the only person who isn’t in a relationship. However, know that you’re not alone, even when it feels that way—other people have been there before. Read on for some suggestions for enjoying Valentine’s Day regardless of whether you’re in a relationship.
Focus on your friendships. During my freshman year of college, I was single and many of my close friends from high school were across the country at college. Fortunately, however, one of my new friends at college decided that this wouldn’t stop us from celebrating Valentine’s Day. She invited us out to dinner at a restaurant, bought each of her friends a Valentine’s gift, and encouraged us to celebrate the day even though we didn’t have dates.
Since then, I’ve realized that you don’t need to be in a relationship to celebrate Valentine’s Day. If you find yourself thinking about the fact that you’re single on Valentine’s Day, take a moment to take stock of your close friendships. Despite the fact that our culture often focuses on the importance of romantic relationships, research shows that people who are single don’t differ from people who are married in the number of people they have to confide in. Psychologists have found that friendships play an important role in our well-being; for example, being around a friend helps us when we are anxious about a social situation. In one study of social support from friends, “participants stood in front of a hill either alone or with a friend, then estimated the steepness of the hill. Those standing with a friend thought the hill was less steep.” So whether you’re single or in a relationship on Valentine’s Day, consider using February 14 as an occasion to appreciate your friendships.
Do something for someone else. When we volunteer or take time to help others, it helps to build our social connections and to make us healthier and happier. In one study, participants reported greater happiness if they spent money on someone else (as opposed to spending it on themselves). In another study, teenagers who volunteered had lower levels of risk factors for heart disease than those who didn’t volunteer. So if you’re looking to build social connections and improve your well-being on Valentine’s Day, try volunteering at your local soup kitchen or simply offering to buy someone else’s morning coffee.
If you recently had a breakup, reflect on the relationship, but don’t dwell on it. If you’ve had a recent breakup, should you try to think about the event and learn from it, or try to distract yourself from what happened? Research suggests that we might actually benefit from doing a little of both.
In one study demonstrating the benefits of reflecting on a breakup, some participants were asked to do a series of tasks reflecting on a breakup (answering questions about the breakup and talking about their thoughts and feelings) at several time points over the course of nine weeks. Other participants only completed these tasks at the beginning and end of the study. Participants who completed more of the study tasks had a clearer sense of who they were. So it’s possible that taking time to reflect on a breakup can help people rediscover their identities outside of a relationship.
However, there are times when thinking back to a breakup is no longer beneficial: if you find your mind returning to a breakup again and again, you could be engaging in what psychologists call rumination. If you’re having repetitive thoughts about a past relationship, you could be getting caught up in rumination–and in this case, it’s best to take your mind off of the event.
Change your way of thinking about it. According to psychologists, our emotions aren’t inevitable responses to situations: our emotions occur as a result of how we interpret and respond to situations. As a result, we can change how we feel about a situation by changing our way of thinking about it. For example, instead of seeing a break-up as a loss of a relationship, think about it as an opportunity to take time for yourself: to develop hobbies and interests that you didn’t have time to pursue while in a relationship. (For more advice about coping with a breakup, see my post about responding to rejection here: https://healthypsych.com/cope-rejection).
If you’re not in a relationship, it’s not uncommon to feel lonely as February 14 approaches. However, even if you’re single, Valentine’s Day can be a time to appreciate all of the relationships that we have in our lives: those with friends, with family members, with coworkers, with a church or volunteer group, and with the people we regularly encounter as part of our daily routines. By taking time to appreciate your friendships, do something for others, and change your way of thinking about being single, you can make the most of Valentine’s Day regardless of your relationship status.
About this Contributor: Elizabeth Hopper is a PhD candidate in Social Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prior to attending UCSB, she received her BA in Psychology and Peace & Conflict Studies from UC Berkeley and worked in a research lab at UC San Francisco studying health psychology. Her research interests include positive emotions, close relationships, coping, and health. Outside of the research lab, Elizabeth can often be found going to yoga class, teaching her puppy new tricks, and working on her creative writing.