A few Februarys ago, I went for lunch with a friend and was served a devastating blow.
As I ordered a club sandwich, I caught her eyeing me nervously. “So, I have some news,” she said in a hesitant tone. There was an agonizing suspenseful pause.
“Oh god,” I said. My heart was beating so fast I thought it might leap right out of my chest cavity. She put her head in her hands as she geared up to break the news to me. Just tell me, for the love of God, I thought to myself.
“It’s about Tom,” she said.
“Ok,” I said, panicking. This was the man I had been seeing on and off for the past nine months. A friend-with-benefits that I’d accidentally fallen in love with. Not that I would’ve admitted that at the time.
“He has a girlfriend?” I guessed in a bid to put myself out of my own misery.
There was more. “They’re having a baby,” she said. Suddenly the restaurant felt unbearably noisy. A wave of heat passed over my body and a weird rash appeared across my chest, my sandwich arrived. I stared at it and tried my best not to puke.
It was three days before Valentine’s Day and I wanted nothing more than for time to stand still. “Valentine’s Day can absolutely get fucked,” I said the next day to my friend Michelle as I ran on the treadmill and cried simultaneously. A feat of human nature, you might say.
I wanted to round up every silk rose, every cheesy card, every tacky giant teddy bear and throw them on a giant bonfire. Everywhere I turned felt like a constant onslaught of love, romance, and relationships. Each one of them a reminder of the sting of rejection I was feeling. I wanted to pretend that Valentine’s Day didn’t exist, but I didn’t know-how.
There’s a scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary where she finds out that Daniel Cleaver has a secret fiancée the whole time they’ve been together, and she has to go to work and act like nothing’s happened. She stares blankly at her computer screen, tears welling in her eyes. At my job in a theatre press, I spent a week stealthily wiping away tears as they streamed from my eyes.
On Valentine’s Day, a work friend left a card on my desk. It was a kind gesture that made me feel loved. But later, on Instagram, I saw Valentine’s Day card that Tom had given to his girlfriend. There was an illustration of a green olive alongside the line “Olive You.” Ugh, they’re at the pun stage of their romance. It was the longest Feb. 14 I have ever lived through.
Over the next few years, that cursed day came and went. In some years, I was nursing a broken heart from yet another terrible dating experience. Dear friends continued with their sweet gestures (my best friend left a red rose on my desk one year). Truth is, Valentine’s Day is just another day if you’re not in a state of loved-up bliss. So, why not treat it as exactly what it is: just another day in February.
I refuse to spend another Valentine’s Day crying over a terrible olive pun. If you’re nursing the fragments of a broken heart and are listening to The 1975’s “Somebody Else” on repeat, then don’t fret about Feb. 14’s impending arrival. Here are some tried and tested techniques for putting two fingers up to V Day.
Celebrate other types of love
Psychologist Dr. Tony Ortega suggests reframing the day “from being a day of romantic love to a day of celebrating any kind of love like we did when we were children.”
“If you want to celebrate love but don’t have romantic love, grab your friends and do something out of the ordinary to celebrate your friendships,” say Ortega. “This could take the form of a scavenger hunt or perhaps an establishment that serves both liquor but has some entertainment like games or even a drag show.” If you don’t fancy going out, you could FaceTime a friend who lives far away and have a long-overdue catch-up.
Banish all negative thoughts
Psychosexual and relationship therapist Silva Neves recommends banning the negative thoughts you have about yourself. “Being in a relationship is not a mark of success. Many people in relationships are unhappy. Be proud of being single,” says Neves.
“Each time you have a negative thought about yourself, breathe in and out deeply and say something nurturing about yourself instead. You will find out that you have many good qualities.” Make a list of everything you like about yourself if you feel like it.
Ignore the hype
Valentine’s Day literally is just any other day. So why not treat it as such? As it happens to fall on a Friday this year, stick to your usual Friday routine — be that grabbing a drink in the pub with your mates, or binge-watching Grace and Frankie on your sofa with a takeaway. Avoid anything that’ll remind you what date it is — stay off social media and turn any calendars around so they’re facing the wall.
Rachael Lloyd, relationship experts at eharmony, says “it may sound obvious, but the more you engage in Valentine’s Day, the more you will be impacted.” “Skip over the love stories, avoid your local pizza express and keep off social media for the day to limit your exposure.”
Get really into puzzles
If it’s nigh-on impossible to ignore the fact that it’s the most cursed day in the calendar, then ramp up your distraction techniques. My best friend Elisha swears by jigsaw puzzles because, she says, “they require enough of your concentration to prevent you from getting in your head too much, but not so much that you can’t complete the task.” Buy yourself a big bag of Doritos, a bottle of rosé, and a 1,000-piece puzzle and it’ll keep you entertained and, crucially, distracted for hours on end. Alternatively, you could invite all your single friends over to your house for a game night.
Have some ‘me time’
Dating and relationship coach Sami Wunder says if you’re single, Valentine’s Day is the perfect day for celebrating yourself. “Firstly, don’t let all the hype get to you. Decide that it will be a day for self-love,” says Wunder. “So schedule in some me-time. Book yourself a massage, or a manicure, or treat yourself to a nice coffee, or even put on your favorite dress and take yourself out for dinner.”
Neves says if Valentine’s Day is unpleasant for you, “give yourself the permission to be indulgent with whatever floats your boat.” “Along with bath maybe? Or have your favorite chocolates. Or put your favorite movies on and a glass of wine?” says Neves.
Have an errand day
If you’ve got the day off, one thing that’s guaranteed to keep you very busy is running errands. Go to the gym, clean out your fridge, buy your groceries, do your laundry, iron those clothes at the bottom of your ironing pile. In short, stay busy. At the end of the day, you’ll have a big sense of accomplishment.
People in long-term relationships aren’t the only people who get to have sex on Valentine’s Day. Dr. Ortega suggests calling up your fuck buddy and scheduling a hookup.
“Do you have a friend with benefits you can call on? Instead of celebrating romantic love, celebrate your sexual nature with your FWB,” says Ortega. “Throw away the notion of romantic love and for a period of time, celebrate sexual love.”
If you don’t have an FWB, then Neves recommends having an orgasm anyway through solo sex (aka masturbation). “And make a commitment to have those on a regular basis, not just on Valentine’s Day,” says Neves.
Leave the country
Not forever. Just take a break and get some space from everything. If you can afford to, treat yourself to a weekend away somewhere nice, or take a road trip to visit a friend you haven’t seen for ages. About a fortnight after this whole debacle occurred, I decided to book an EasyJet flight to Germany to visit a really lovely friend of mine. It did me a world of good to get away from everything and gain some perspective on the situation. This year, I’m heading back to Germany to see the very same friend, and we’ll be celebrating female friendship rather than romantic love.
Whatever you do on Feb. 14, remember that lots of people in long-term relationships couldn’t give a shit about it. It’s just a stupid day.