Today is Valentine’s Day and I am feeling miserable. My love life is a complete failure and I am fearful that I will live a life of loneliness. Around me I see happy couples and babies, while I sit at home and try to find things to do to distract me from my loneliness. I feel pathetic even writing these things. I don’t know what is wrong with me or if it is me. I am not a bad person and see no obvious reason why no one seems to want a long-lasting relationship with me. I date occasionally, but nothing seems to last. I am trying not to lose faith in men, but sometimes they seem so shallow and only interested in passing flings. I am 35 years old and past the point where that will work for me. What can I do? I hope it is not too late.
— Blue Valentine
Dear Blue Valentine,
I hear a lot of feelings in what you are saying. You are sad, discouraged, fearful, lonely, confused, frustrated, mistrustful, feeling more desperate, less hopeful — all of it a kind of misery. Those feelings are your challenge because they create the lens through which we see life. I am not saying that you are to blame for feeling the way you do, but rather, that we each bear the responsibility for our feelings and the impact they have on our lives. Right now your feelings are getting in the way of living life fully.
Let’s step back to understand where our assumptions may also influence how we feel. It is a difficult truth to accept that not everyone finds a love life that is in line with what they imagine for themselves. We are fed romantic notions that we will fall in love and live happily ever after from the time we are quite young. We have days like Valentine’s Day to celebrate love between couples and to perpetuate this as a mythological ideal.
Reality tells us a different story. Many people, inside and outside of relationships feel less than satisfied with the relationship status they have. Some estimate that only about 15 percent of couples are happy in the romantic sense, after their initial infatuation. Divorce rates also suggest that sustainable compatibility is not an easy thing to accomplish over the long run. Many couples stay together for the sake of the kids, or because it is socially unacceptable to go on with separate lives. What I am saying is that it is not a good idea to assume that life will promise you a happily sustainable love life.
It is when we accept this and live our life without the assumption that happiness is a given, we can find ourselves embracing the reality that is ours. So, it means when we are single, we find ways to live with the advantages that come with it. We cultivate our interests, our curiosities, our opportunities, some of which do not exist when we are coupled or with family responsibilities. Solitude and independence can be gifts to those who know how to receive them, and are more available to those who are not sharing decisions and responsibilities with others.
Of course there are parts of life that might be missing, as there are when one is coupled or deeply in love. Empowerment is the idea that a person can accept and able to embrace what is, which leads to a very different set of feelings than the ones you are feeling.
Yes, I know that it means we have to look differently at life because when we focus on what we want, we don’t always get it. What we “want” is a construct of a hypothetical reality. It can serve to guide our choices, but hinders us if we believe that we are entitled to it. When we accept what is and regulate our feelings we become more positive in our approach to life and, actually, are more likely to get what we want. When we live a life of fear and feel disappointed and discouraged when life doesn’t give us what we want, we undermine the energy that attracts good things to us.
Valentine’s Day brings up these feelings for a lot of people — it holds up a mythological ideal that makes many people feel like they are failing in a part of life. It might be important to grieve your aloneness since it is not what you want or hope for. But it is important as well to overcome the intensity of those feelings and to embrace the life that you have.
I wish you well,