Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays: these holidays, for many folks, whether single or partnered, can be a major trigger around intimacy, heartbreak, self-love, and relationship trauma. Rather than engaging in romanticized conceptions of romance or cycles of comparison, I want to offer a different approach. Days of “special importance” can be a catalyst for engaging with your relationship with love, intimacy and attachment in a new way. While I am organizing these thoughts between single folks and partnered folks, take some time to apply the ideas and self love techniques from both sections. Whether it is Valentine’s Day, a romantic occasion, or a weekend where you are feeling especially lonely, consider how your mental state and emotional wellbeing is impacted by intimate pressures and expectations.
Today is a day that might bring up a lot for you, or maybe it will bring up absolutely nothing at all. Are you thinking about past mistakes in relationships? Are you grieving a relationship? Are you judging yourself for being single? Are you celebrating being single? Are you so preoccupied with other challenges in your life that you didn’t think twice about it being February 14th? Regardless of where you are, what you are feeling, or what you are thinking, I wanted to share some thoughts as you move through special occasions ridden with triggers and opportunities.
You have been socialized into thinking that singleness is secondary. American culture and the media tend to prioritize and celebrate folks who are coupled while pitying those who are single. On the other hand, another narrative suggests that those who are single are “free” and those who are in couples are “tied down.” Being single is often associated with being lonely, an uncomfortable negative emotion that has been demonized by culture. There have been characters established by society to paint a negative image of singleness: the desperate, hopeless romantic; the sexually empowered person who will never “settle down”; the single person who is too picky; the relationship avoidant; and the single person who is depressed about being single.
All of these tropes have the common thread that being single is bad; being in a relationship is good. This reinforcement of a black-and-white dichotomy about singleness erases any level of nuance that single folks have. Furthermore, it reinforces the narrative that you need to be intimately attached to another person in order to be complete. By separating yourself from these toxic and nuance-free narratives, days that have been triggering in the past can be days where you align with emotions, thoughts, and goals.
Check in with yourself
Practicing self love tips requires you to focus on yourself—not others. Tuning into how you view yourself involves separating yourself from the comparison trap. It would be unreasonable to attempt to be completely objective, devoid of the influences and images of what you aspire for in your intimacy journey. However, allowing yourself to be helpfully influenced might involve asking yourself questions like:
- Who do I idealize as an intimacy role model?
- What values can I extrapolate from what I observe from my intimacy role models?
- Have I experienced healthy intimacy role models in my life?
- What is my emotional response to seeing others in relationships?
- Am I glamorizing people who are in relationships and belittling myself?
- How is my being single viewed by my friends, family, and community?
- How do I view being single?
By engaging in this line of questioning, you can help yourself move from being driven by external influences to consider your goals and values. You have the opportunity to observe your social surroundings without engaging in self-judgment or self-downing.
Do not demonize your negative emotions
Let’s take the example of Valentine’s Day, which can be a major trigger. When faced with an uncomfortable emotional response, call it out explicitly and specifically. Instead of saying something like “Valentine’s Day just sucks,” get specific with your discomfort: “I am experiencing disappointment because I am single again this year” or “I am feeling lonely because I do not feel valued today.” By mentally or verbally acknowledging your specific negative emotions, you are telling yourself that negative emotions are not inherently “bad” and give yourself the opportunity to sit with the discomfort as opposed to repressing.
What do you believe about yourself?
After you become more specific with the emotion you are experiencing, you have the opportunity to check in with the beliefs you have relating to your singleness. What is the narrative you are attaching yourself to regarding what it means to be single? Maybe you are feeling hurt that you are single: are you then telling yourself that there is something wrong with you because you are single? An alternative way of conceptualizing this might be to acknowledge your feeling of disappointment or loneliness and then reiterating messages through words and actions that “I am disappointed that I am single, but I am not less than or have less value because I am single.” By acknowledging your feelings rather than ignoring them, you can create a better internal dialog that supports you on your journey to self love.
Your relational goals are valuable and valid. By practicing checking in with yourself rather than falling subject to the self-downing narratives that are imposed by society about singleness, this can be a day where you can learn how to self love, heal, set goals, and check in with yourself.
FOR PARTNERED FOLKS:
You’re in a relationship, so romantic holidays and milestones must be perfect for you now, right? Many mistakenly believe this to be true. However, the discovery of how to self love doesn’t end when you find a partner.
Regardless of if you are coming up on a holiday, an anniversary, or an intimacy milestone, there are so many materialistic and social pressures that come up. When you are in a relationship, there is pressure to perform intimacy rather than vulnerable experience intimacy. Questions arise like:
- What gift are you giving to your partner?
- What are you doing for [holiday/Valentine’s Day/anniversary]?
- What picture will you post?
- How will you show that you love your partner?
- What sexually exciting thing are you going to do?
These days of celebration become the Olympics of intimacy, competing against societal and community pressures to perform intimacy in the “right” way. When you reframe this, it is essential to make plans around your needs, your partner’s needs, and avoid the destructive pressures and standards of performative romance.
Planning your date
The material expectations of modern romance often indicate that intimacy is transactional. The messaging might metaphorically sound like “if you book the right restaurant, buy the right gift, and wear the sexiest outfit, you will be more lovable.” Regardless of how well-attached you are to your partner, these pressures can take you away from a true celebration of intimacy. Take time before a day of major pressure on your relationship to plan around your intimacy needs and align yourself with the needs of your partner. This can be accomplished by communicating your attachment needs and love languages, or reviewing them if you have had conversations about your intimacy needs before. Communicating with your partner can yield more trust than relying on the innate pressures of a materialistic and depersonalized holiday.
Self-love, especially when you’re loving someone else
There is a societal myth that you get into relationships to become “complete.” This narrative puts pressure on the intimate partnership while taking away personal responsibility for self love. Somewhere in the honeymoon phase of a relationship, many couples begin to replace any developed need for self-love solely with a need to give and receive love from their partner. For other folks, learning how to practice self love hasn’t been a priority or focus, so techniques were never developed or modeled.
Regardless of what your past experience has been with self-love, today can be a day for you to invigorate your relationship with yourself just as much (if not more) than with your partner. But what are the steps to self love?
You can start to develop self-love through boundary setting, self care, stating your support needs, resisting codependent patterns, emotional awareness, honest communication, and self-awareness.
Putting pressure on your relationship
Today does not have to be a perfect day. Because of the pressure you may be feeling, you may be tempted to hold yourself, your partner, or your relationship under a microscope. You may find yourself setting high expectations that distract you from the values in your relationship. Your relationship is not perfect and you have the responsibility not to assess your relationship health based on unattainable standards of perfection.
Holding yourself to unrealistic expectations might take the form of experiencing a more intense negative emotion when something does not go the way you planned. For example, rather than experiencing disappointment that your partner did not get you flowers, you might feel humiliated. Rather than feeling annoyed by a comment your mother-in-law made over FaceTime, you might feel humiliated. The level of intensity you experience your negative emotions can be an indicator of the level of value you are putting on an interaction. If you are experiencing a high-intensity emotion, it may be work asking yourself questions like:
- What is the value I am hoping to get from this interaction?
- Is there only one way for me to get this need met?
- Am I consciously or subconsciously catastrophizing?
- Am I telling myself that I can’t stand something that I might be able to stand?
- Am I making demands of my partner/myself that are really preferences?
- Am I making a macro-level conclusion from a micro-level interaction?
- How is the pressure I am putting on this interaction impacting my narrative about my partner?
In this process of understanding how to self love, you acknowledge, validate, and take responsibility for your emotions as well as explore the narrative you are constructing. You are not your relationship. By being able to tend to your needs while also celebrating your relationship are the sweetest gift for yourself and your partner this year.