When Valentine’s Day is Painful
By Khouria Faith Potter
Until I met my husband when I was 31, Valentine’s Day always had an element of disappointment and longing to it. When I was growing up, my family had silly traditions that made the day sweet and fun, but once I hit my teen years, Valentine’s Day was a clear reminder that I didn’t have romance in my life. Over the years, I developed some healthy coping strategies that made the day more bearable and often even really beautiful. Here are the top things I learned to put in practice when Valentine’s Day came around to make it a healthy day:
1: Use the day as a chance to think of the loving relationships of different kinds that you do have in your life.
Who in your life do you feel most known and loved while with? Make a list of qualities these people and relationships have that provide this sense of safety. How can you let these people know you’re grateful for their presence in your life?
2: Think of ways to surprise the people in your life with kind gestures.
Bake cookies to bring to coworkers or fellow students. Leave flowers and/or notes on your friends’ cars. Do you have friends who may also be dreading the day? Have a relaxing movie night together, or get dressed up and have them over for or go out for high tea. For me, doing things like this felt proactive and kept me from wallowing in unpleasant emotions. Planning things for others gave the day a sense of adventure and purpose.
3: Give yourself a break from social media.
If you know that all the Valentine’s Day tributes to significant others will be depressing to see, give yourself a vacation from having to see them. Reframing this as something you’re giving yourself instead of something you’re depriving yourself of can help lessen the temptation to check social media and can help it sink in that this is a way to care for yourself well.
4: Make a list of things you can do that make you feel a sense of wholeness, strength, and joy, and do as many of these things as you can.
A few of my go-to’s: Go for a walk on a nature trail and notice the beauty as you walk. Take a bath with your favorite essential oils and listen to music or a podcast. Journal at a cute coffee shop. Work on a creative project, especially ones that involve working with your hands, like knitting, embroidery, or baking. Go to a museum. Read poetry. Spend time with animals. Meditate on a favorite Scripture passage or quotes from and stories of the saints. Get a new houseplant and learn how to care for it. Try to engage as many of your senses as possible, because engaging your senses is grounding and helps to reduce stress and keep you in the present moment.
5: Allow yourself to feel how you feel without being dominated by your feelings.
If feelings of disappointment, bitterness, or grief start to come up, allow them to slowly surface. You can acknowledge and name your emotions without letting them take over. This can be scary, because these feelings are often strong and bring with them waves of anxious thoughts, but their surfacing might be making way for new healing or growth in your life. Emotions exist to prepare us to act and to communicate to ourselves and others important things about various situations, but emotions are not facts. Praying about, telling a trusted friend about, and journaling about your emotions can help you process them. If your emotions feel overwhelming, take deep breaths (inhale through your nose and count to three before exhaling through your mouth). If a negative thought starts to take hold of your mind, you can acknowledge it and then allow it to simply float on by you like a leaf on a river, instead of getting involved in the thought. You can choose to gently redirect your thoughts to something life-giving.
These are the things that I found made Valentine’s Day a healthy day for me when I was single and longing to find someone to share life with. Now, I still use these as ways to cope with emotionally difficult days. It may take time to find what works for you, but I hope these can guide you as you figure out what does. One thing I love so much about our Orthodox faith is the communal nature of it. We are not alone, no matter how alone we may feel. Our salvation is intertwined with each others’. Our thoughts and actions and emotional well-being impact more than just our own individual lives. We belong to each other. Still, loneliness and the longing to find a loving spouse can be very painful and make life feel like its marked by a sense of waiting and unfulfilled desire. If that is where you are today, know that your pain is valid. May God meet you where you are and make your day one marked by beauty and love.