Every year when I turn the calendar page to February (yes, I still keep a paper calendar), a simmering anger takes hold in my gut when I see the 14th highlighted. This is my reminder that Valentine’s Day is coming and I’ll be subjected to another year of this exclusionary holiday that places romantic love on a pedestal at the expense of all other forms of love. This day is a not-so-subtle reminder that we are all supposed to aspire to a romantic relationship as our primary and most enduring relationship. It’s our culture’s way of telling us what lane we need to live our lives in and that veering outside of this lane means that we don’t get to belong.
In the past year, I’ve lost two people in my life to premature death. Like me, these women were singularly single and lived their lives without partners. In the throes of grief, I couldn’t help hearing the whispers of pity among mourners because these women didn’t share their lives with a partner. Like many single people, these women cultivated a network of deep and meaningful friendships. These friends were devastated by the loss of their close friend, and knew the deceased with an intimacy that their own family members did not. I watched these friends grieve without being granted the privilege of a position of importance in their friends’ life because our culture does not have the language or structure in place to recognize intimate friendships as relationships of supreme importance. This is by design. Friends are not granted visitation privileges in the hospital or bereavement leave from work even though they may be the deceased's most intimate relationship. We can’t make legal vows with our friends or share our employment or government benefits with them. We don’t have the language to describe a dear friend’s place in our hearts even when it may be the most meaningful relationship in our life. When describing a person who is a friend, but not a partner, we often use the phrase “just friends'' to describe the relationship implying that it can’t possibly hold as much meaning as a romantic relationship. Imagine saying this is “just my spouse” or “just my partner.” It intentionally degrades and devalues the relationship. It’s a great loss to not recognize the meaning that friendships hold in people’s lives and adds to the sense of tragedy when losing a beloved friend.
I’ve written about being singularly single before and I will continue to do so in the future, because I believe this aspect of my life has caused me the deepest disconnection from others. If I can help someone else feel less alone for building a way of life that feels true for them, but looks drastically different from the ones they are presented with by their culture and families, then I will continue to share my experience. I’ve long known that romantic love is not the pinnacle of relationships for me, and I know it’s not for many other people like me, but I didn’t share my experience for fear that I was wrong in listening to my own inner truth because it contradicted what I was told I was supposed to want from life. Those of us that live outside of the prescribed ways of being in this culture and the world at large need to share our experiences so that we can normalize the multitude of ways there are to live life. It’s too easy to believe we’re flawed people when we don’t fit into the mold our culture prescribes for us. It’s a matter of mental health and well being to live according to our own set of values and personal truths. Often this means living outside cultural norms, which can take a huge toll on people.
I long for a world that is more accepting of the multitude of ways people can build a meaningful life and I hope that our policies, language and celebrations will become more affirming of all lifestyle choices. The cost is too great to prescribe and celebrate a single way of being in the world. This practice does a great disservice to all of us, even those that fall within the culturally acceptable ways of being because devaluing friendships for some of us devalues them for all of us.