Her cell phone rang soon after we were seated at the small Italian restaurant in one of those “trendy” parts of town. She pushed the strands of her long dark hair behind her ear and lifted the phone to her cheek.
We’d met at a professional conference several months earlier and decided we’d get together the next time she was in town on business. Strictly professional, of course. But it just so happened to be on Valentine’s Day 2007.
“Oh, that’s so sweet of you,” I heard her say. “OK… Thanks, honey. Bye.”
“Boyfriend?” I asked, as she put down the Blackberry.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I don’t have one of those anymore.”
Valentine’s Day. Italian restaurant. And we were both single and unattached. I could’ve sworn I heard a violin playing. Or maybe it was a harp. That would have been even better.
But this story doesn’t have a romantic Hollywood ending. None of my Valentine’s Day stories do. That probably explains why I’m a never-married, self-described loser-at-relationships confirmed bachelor. That’s not self-loathing; it’s an accurate reflection of where I rank in the dating department.
You might think that would be reason enough for me to hate Valentine’s Day. But I don’t. It’s actually one of my favorite pseudo-holidays of the year.
I look at it this way: If you have a special love interest in your life, then Valentine’s Day can be a very special occasion for the both of you. But if you’re not romantically involved when February 14th rolls around, it’s not the end of the world.
Bars and restaurants, movie theatres and comedy clubs, museums and libraries, amusement parks and shopping malls all stay open on Valentine’s Day. There are plenty of things you can do either on your own or with other single people to occupy your time in a festive sort of way.
It’s not like Thanksgiving or Christmas, when the whole world essentially shuts down for the holidays, and even the unattached scatter to the four corners of the earth to be with friends or family out of town. If you’ve ever been “orphaned” on Thanksgiving or Christmas, it can do a real head job on you. Avoiding that trap typically requires considerable advance planning. But I have never felt lonely on Valentine’s Day. Ever.
I was reminded of all this during a recent episode of NBC’s “Go On.” Which reminded me of an episode of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” Which came rushing back to me during an episode of Fox TV’s “The Mindy Project.”
Each of these shows featured single characters who didn’t quite know what to do with themselves on Valentine’s Day. Well, Mindy had it figured out better than the rest. She and her current flame had planned to go to the top of the Empire State Building, but things blew up in her face after she helped him realize he was in love with someone else.
“Grey’s” and “Go On” had characters who were either quite hostile to the whole notion of Valentine’s Day, or were just down in the dumps about not having a significant love interest this time of year. At first I couldn’t figure out the reason for all the negativity. Then it hit me:
THESE PEOPLE DON'T KNOW HOW TO BE SINGLE!
For those of us who’ve had a bit more practice at it, we’re quite comfortable flying solo each February. Or at least we’ve grown accustomed to it. Instead of whining about not having a Valentine, we'll just exercise one of our other options. It's not like we're forced to sit at home and play with our cats.
As author Sasha Cagen put it, we’re the “quirkyalones” – people who are not opposed to being in a relationship but who genuinely enjoy being single. We’re not “anti-dating.” We’re “anti-compulsory dating.”
Cagen’s website explains the term this way:
The quirky in quirkyalone is really about authenticity. It’s about accepting yourself in all your quirky glory, and being fully yourself, whether you’re single or in a relationship. The alone part is about willing to stand out from the crowd, to go to a wedding alone rather than go with a date, for example, out of social obligation. It’s about resisting the tyranny of coupledom, the prevailing notion that you must be in a relationship at all times in order to be happy.
Exactly. Which brings me back to Valentine’s Day 2007.
“I think I'll have the gnocchi," she said, glancing at the menu. “You know, I've never been sure of the right way to pronounce it.”
“As long as you don't say 'nookie,' I think you're fine.”
“I think you’re adorable,” she told me. “You’re a good catch.”
Maybe it was the wine talking. By the end of the night, we’d made plans for a second date. But there wouldn’t be a third. She decided she “didn’t think of me that way” after all.
I’ll never know whether the phone call she took that evening was from a boyfriend-in-waiting. But I do know she’s one of those people who throw around terms of affection like “sweetie” and “honey” and “adorable” in casual conversation with any number of friends.
When my married women friends talk to me that way, I know there’s nothing flirtatious going on. But when a single woman friend does it – in an Italian restaurant on Valentine’s Day – well, it can be damn confusing. Especially to a quirkyalone. In the months that followed, there were times I wondered about what might have been.
This year, I’ll be treating Valentine’s Day like any other day of the week. Other quirkyalones, looking for more of a counterpunch to all the Valentine hoopla, are planning “Quirkyalone Day” parties to celebrate the single life.
Hey, whatever works for you. Date or no date, it’s still my favorite pseudo-holiday of the year.