You thought it was safe to resume watching Hulu. You thought you’d seen the last of the inane, holiday-themed Kay Jewelers commercials. Christmas is long gone. But, as the stores took down greenery and twinkle lights, they stocked the shelves with adorable little pink and red trinkets, baubles, fluffy bears, and the arch nemesis of New Year’s dieters everywhere—the heart-shaped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Valentine’s Day became an anxiety-ridden holiday. Couples aren’t immune to the pressures of setting up a spectacularly perfect day, but seeing as it is a holiday essentially celebrating romance, sex, and a little flying baby in a diaper—couples fit the mold. Valentine’s Day holds different and contradictory pressures for single adults. There is an underlying message that if you’re unattached, you’re not “putting yourself out there.” Or in the Christian context, you’re not “being intentional.” At the same time, there’s a competing narrative: If you want a date too badly or are unhappy being alone, you’re kind of desperate.
Whether you’ve heard it from your mom, your roommate or your friendly neighborhood Google machine, there’s a mountain of evidence that suggests if you’re somewhat okay with not dating right now, you’re probably a loner. There is an underlying expectation that you should get a date (on Valentine’s Day and other days too); otherwise, you’re a bit weird.
From a worldly perspective, this pressure is deeply rooted in the “get some” mentality. If you’re not having sex, you’re essentially Steve Carell in the “40-Year-Old Virgin.” Sadly, this thinking leaks over into the Church. In the minds of many pew people, being single means you’re necessarily young and will eventually get married. If you’re a (mostly) contented single, who’s not so young and with no marriage prospects, your story and your attitude end up in the “this does not compute” category. Although no one would articulate that it’s more godly to have a date on Valentine’s Day, the undercurrent is there.
If it wasn’t enough to feel this pressure to get a date and be dating around this time of year, there’s a contrary message floating around: If you’re not happy being alone, you’re somehow not really understanding what it means to “celebrate yourself.” eHarmony’s Do’s & Don’ts for the Savvy Single on Valentine’s Day recommends:
It’s essential to celebrate the fact that you can spend your hard-earned money with wild abandon, primp and preen like the glamour girl you are without having to share the mirror, and sleep as late as you want on weekends. Not to mention you enjoy the freedom to go anywhere, do anything, and flirt frivolously without having to answer to anyone.
No one at church will give you carte blanche to spend your money in wild abandon or flirt frivolously with anything that moves. But if you’ve been unintentionally single long enough in the Christian community, someone has probably answered your honest moment by tapping their Bible app and searching for 1 Corinthians 7. “See,” they say, “Paul says it’s better to be single than to get married. You don’t want any of those worldly troubles do you?” If they’re on their best game, they might even mention the fact that Jesus himself was single.
Mercifully, if you are single on Valentine’s, you are not permanently caught between these two extremes. It is possible to be open to what God might have for you in the romance department without being unduly dejected that you’re alone on Cupid’s holiday. You don’t have to run around looking for a date with your head hanging on by mere tendons. It’s okay—and even healthy—to acknowledge (and even be a little sad) that you’ve spent another year working late at your desk and not at a table for two. And, you are also not a confirmed bachelor or cat-lady simply because you’re at peace about not having someone to canoodle with in soft lighting under red and pink streamers … after paying $100 for dinner, chocolates and roses.
Guilt or shame that piles up from not dating or from not being completely “content” isn’t from the Holy Spirit. Champagne, cocoa-covered strawberries and romantic comedies en mass on one day a year don’t change the fact that Christ has paved the way for us to be free from Valentine’s Day expectations. Instead of being carried back and forth on currents and crosscurrents, we live in light of the grace He extends.