I didn't have time to write a Valentine's Day piece this year so I am rerunning this one from 2014 or '15. The idea is to remind those who are feeling sorry for themselves that this is a day EVERYBODY drowns in self-pity. Only the merchants are happy!
I am rushing this piece out before Valentine’s Day to make sure we have time for a straight up-down vote on abolishing the whole thing.
But don’t panic, merchants! What I had in mind was replacing the national romance-and-chocolate day with a universal self-pity-and-chocolate day. You’d sell as many Godivas as ever, possibly more. Not everybody has somebody to buy candy for, or somebody to buy it for them; but the rest of us are sorry enough for ourselves to empty your shelves. So enough with the gift-wrapped hearts already! Just cram the goods into plain brown wrappers and let’s cut out the middleman.
The idea for the new holiday–shall we call it National Loneliness Day?–came about last February, when thanks to the magic of Facebook I realized Valentine’s Day makes practically everybody suicidal.
It started on the Monday of V-week, when a single male friend on Facebook posted: “Since Valentine’s falls on Friday this year, I have the whole week to think about not having a girlfriend, or even a date.”
Then on V-day evening came a post from a female FOF who had been what FB calls “in a relationship” since before FB, in fact possibly before ZIP codes. “I understand him not getting me candy,” she wrote. “He’s waiting until tomorrow when it goes down to half-price. But maybe a few flowers he could have brought...”
As for me, I was spending the big date night with the tall, dark and handsome man of my dreams–who was deeply submerged in his own. Wrapped in the arms of Morpheus, not mine, his hot lips pressed into the sofa cushions, TD&H was sleeping off his carb-heavy dinner, which we’d eaten out not because it was Valentine’s Day but because it was Friday; and which had been accompanied not by red foil crinkling off heart-shaped boxes but by red condiments oozing off french fries; and which had been followed not by drinks and dancing but by couch and newspaper; and which had climaxed in snores.
So Valentine’s Day was making me feel frowsy and pathetic, just as it had ever since the blush wore off the rose, roughly around the Middle Pleistocene (I’ve been “in a relationship” since before dinosaurs). But this year, thanks to FB, I realized I was not alone.
Yes, maybe there were still lovers experiencing Great Romance, but if so they were holed up making out somewhere I couldn’t see them. What I did see were singles not swinging but moping around wishing they had a love life, unaware that we LTR participants were eaten with envy for what we imagined they had that we didn’t, which is to say: a love life. We were all a bunch of slobbering losers!
Which made me feel much better!
Why? I don’t think it’s so much that misery loves company as that the worst part of being unhappy is the loneliness. You imagine that everyone else is frolicking around having a wonderful time while you’re the only one too stupid to find the fulfillment button, or too unpopular for anyone to tell you where it is.
The great upside of the Cyber Age is disproving this. Google anything you like–“jumping cursor”; “uncontrollable flatulence”; “Will anyone ever love me?”–and you’ll see that others have the same problem.
Not that these truths weren’t out there long before the Internet; they were just less evident. I heard an NPR report about a clever college orientation for incoming freshmen. The presentation in no way suggested that the freshmen themselves felt lonely, or suggested remedies. It merely noted that in the past other students had reported feeling especially miserable during this period because they remained alone and left out while they imagined others around them were “finding their tribe.” After the orientation, participants seemed much happier, presumably simply because they now knew they weren’t the only pariahs.
I went through the pariah phase myself at that age and it was the pits. But about the unhappiest I’ve ever been was later in life when I felt betrayed by someone I’d loved and trusted. Betrayal is another of the lonely pains–you think you must be the most genetically inferior pile of steaming excrement in the universe, because even the people you thought loved you most now hate your guts like everybody else.
While I was suffering through that, I happened to be talking to a lawyer about something unrelated when he grumbled about his clients: “I don’t mind helping them procure a divorce, that’s my job; but I don’t understand why they have to complain to me every time the ex fails to get the kid home by six.”
Well, I understood why! It was because the person they’d always cried to when the world treated them unfairly was now the person making them cry, that’s why! Where else were they to turn? The arms they’d relied on for comfort were currently wrapped around some Waffle House waitress to whom the louse was probably ratting out their deepest secrets.
But even as I had these bitter thoughts came a new sense of ease: I realized the very fact that the divorce lawyer was doing a booming business meant I was not the only one who had been betrayed. Betrayal seemed about as common as hangnails.
Thinking about it later, I also realized how redundant it is to say “betrayed by someone I loved and trusted.” You cannot be betrayed by anybody else. Being wronged by a stranger falls among your garden-variety “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as opposed to your “most unkindest cuts.” It takes someone you think is watching your back to stab it.
So really, the very existence of the word “betrayal” is a pretty good indicator how many people have reeled through history with that same whiny, amputated feeling I had. Like I said, such a bunch of pathetic no-hopers we are! But there is comfort in that word “we.”
Deepak Chopra in one of his books referred to the mind in the body as a monkey in a tower, sometimes happy and fulfilled and sometimes tormented by the loneliness of its isolation. So when I think of humanity, what I see is millions and millions of towers stretching into the clouds as far as the eye can see, each with a little monkey face peering anxiously out the window. What I would like to see with my proposed new holiday is each of those monkeys contemplatively nibbling a chocolate truffle.
The idea in replacing Valentine’s Day with National Loneliness Day is not to denigrate romantic love, which can in fact sometimes function as a metaphorical catwalk among the monkey towers. But catwalks crumble and love as often as not leads to yet more misery and heartbreak (to say nothing of country music).
No, the purpose of NLD is to assure each monkey in each tower that other monkeys are out there in similar towers suffering similar torments. I would say in fact that the purpose is to celebrate the human condition, except by this point I am way too tangled up in these damn monkeys.
Anyway, fellow monkeys, here is the message of National Loneliness Day: Take comfort, for we are all alone in the universe –