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In deference to the lonely, try to avoid too much PDA on Valentine’s Day

lonely queer person lgbtq valentines day alone restaurant
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The day is about celebrating love, but for some, it’s one of the toughest days of the year.

Several years ago, a very close friend of mine lost her husband.

“It was right after COVID. He had some health issues, so when the pandemic passed, we thought we were in the clear,” she recalled.

“Let me tell you something, it really sucks being a widow,” she added with a laugh.

I asked her when she felt the most lonely. “On his birthday, and on the anniversary of his death, but by far, Valentine’s Day is the hardest for me, and I’m almost afraid to admit this, but it’s because I have such tremendous jealousy of anyone who’s happy that day.”

She told me that last year was the first Valentine’s Day without her husband, and she made the mistake of checking out her social media accounts on that day.

“It was overwhelming, really, to see so many people happy, coupled and bragging about the loves of their life, or their soulmates, or their romance. I cried so hard because I felt so lonely, but I also felt so much guilt.”

The guilt she felt was because on Valentine’s Day in years passed, she was “one of those people” who posted pictures with her husband, recounting how much they loved each other, “and I always ended the comments with lots of red hearts. I understand now how much that must have hurt anyone who saw that felt lonely. Even though it wasn’t intentional, I just thought it was such a terrible thing to do.”

I wrote last year about our epidemic of loneliness, and how holidays can be a tough time for anyone lonely. I know from the losses in my own life how holidays bring back such vivid memories of loved ones lost, relationships that ended, or relationships that don’t exist.

These feelings of loneliness are more prevalent than ever on Valentine’s Day, the holiday where we celebrate the loves in our lives. And for those who are without them, the day can be a grueling reminder of the darkness of being alone.

Yes, we can wish our parents, relatives, friends, or coworkers a happy Valentine’s Day, and revel in the love that we share with all of these groups of people in our lives. Yet, if you are alone, without a partner, wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend, you can feel so destitute, such emptiness, and a feeling of missing out on something special that everyone else seems to have. Oftentimes, it can feel like you are the only one who is without someone.

Many among us dread this day. Some, like my friend, lost her spouse. Others are divorced, or just out of a relationship. It was many years ago, but I was dumped on Valentine’s Day while the guy I was dating at the time told me at dinner that night that he thought we’d be better off as friends.

Really? You tell me this on Valentine’s Day?

I will never forget leaving that restaurant in tears and seeing the other couples gazing at each other over candlelight. While I was tremendously hurt, I also felt like taking those flickering candles out from under all the lovers and burning the place down.

Ever since then, I’ve always been reticent about being over-the-top with public displays of affection (PDA) for my other half on Valentine’s Day. To be honest, and not to sound like the Grinch of romance, I always thought the day was a bit discriminatory. Valentine’s Day, I came to learn, is not for everyone. It is a privileged holiday.

Yes, in the Catholic Church, today is the feast day of St. Valentine, who is considered the patron saint of lovers and married couples – he’s also the patron saint of epilepsy and beekeepers if that means anything. February 14 is the day St. Valentine died in 270 AD. A lot – really an awful lot – has changed since he died, namely what constitutes married couples and lovers.

What’s also changed is the plethora of days in the year that also celebrate romantic love – 22 of them according to bride.com – including National Spouses Day, Lover’s Day, National Couple’s Day, and Sweetest Day. This begs the question: do we really need all of these days that might leave some feeling overly forlorn?

If you are in a relationship, especially a very happy one, consider yourself very lucky. You should be celebrating that every day. There are so many people who would do anything to be in your place. The yearning to have a happy relationship can be all too consuming for those who feel they are eternally searching for the love of their life.

And if you are in a happy relationship, and want to tell the world about it, who can blame you? There is not a more exhilarating feeling than knowing you have found the one. I always tell people that finding the one is the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your life, and after nearly 60 years, I firmly believe that to be true.

There should be a certain sense of humility that comes with winning the lottery of love. Someone asked me once if I held my partner’s hand in public, and I said no.

“Are you trying to hide the fact that you’re gay?” They responded with a bit of incredulity. “Not at all,” I said. “I don’t want someone who is lonely to see us holding hands and making them feel bad about themselves because they don’t have anyone to hold hands with.”

I don’t say that to sound altruistic, rather just cognizant of the fact that for plenty of times in my life, I didn’t have someone’s hand to hold.

With that in mind, perhaps before you take to social media today to brag about the love of your life, take a moment to consider who might be reading your PDA post. While most may very well be happy for you, there might be others who will be reminded of how lonely they feel today.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.