Tag Archives: Valentine’s Day

How to Be Comfortable Alone on Valentine’s Day

guy sitting alone at restaurant

Totally NOT this. I promise. (Image/Its Box Office Forums)

If I’m hospitalized or incapacitated from a car accident or emergency health problem, my ex-wife will be the first person anyone calls.

That’s because, even four years after our divorce, she’s still my emergency contact.

In a reverse-scenario, I’m probably the fourth person to get an emergency call about her. Yes, I’m aware of how pathetic that sounds.

On a night where she might go out for dinner, drinks and whatever else with her boyfriend if our son wasn’t at home with her, I’ll sit alone in my kitchen writing things for a client after grabbing a takeout dinner on the drive home later.

I have no way to prove I’m not just writing this in some lame attempt to sound cool or tough, but I have exactly ZERO problems with my Valentine’s Day plans today.

I want to talk about why, because I think the things that make people feel lonely on Valentine’s Day are the same things that compel people to marry someone before they’re ready, or to ignore their partner’s behavioral red flags, or jump into a relationship super-fast after a breakup or divorce and ultimately suffer for that choice.

I remember when it wasn’t this way.

I remember how excruciating it is when your body is still learning how to operate with entire pieces of your insides missing. Crying, even though you never cry. Unable to breathe, even though you’re always breathing.

I remember.

Because Valentine’s Day is hard for a lot of people. We like to associate that feeling with single people and maybe feel sorry for them as if they’re all alone because no one will ever like them or find them worthy.

To be sure, many divorced people will be afraid of that. I was afraid of that. Maybe still am.

But I don’t think single people are the loneliest people. I think people in broken marriages, or people who are the givers in one-way relationships that just haven’t broken yet, are the loneliest people.

Being married or carrying the “In a Relationship” label DOES NOT prevent loneliness.

Connectivity to others prevents loneliness, regardless of whether you share an address or exchange bodily fluids with them.

Self-love (self-compassion and respect, not narcissism) and self-acceptance prevents loneliness.

And something else does, too: Getting used to being alone.

The Reason I’m Single

Save it, dicks. Of course not everyone finds me attractive. Of course not everyone likes me.

But that’s not why I’m single.

I’m intentionally single today in a way I wasn’t four years ago, and I want you to understand why because it matters.

I am divorced primarily because I spent years taking my wife for granted, leaning on her to do most of the heavy lifting of Life and household management, including paying our bills, coordinating our social calendars, planning holidays, developing a caretaking system for our newborn, and executing the day-to-day management of everything required of working adults with a child and a mortgage in the 21st century.

I think MOST divorce today stems from this same toxic condition.

I can’t speak for other guys. Just me.

I grew up in a small Ohio town. When we were all together for large holiday gatherings, or when I visited friends’ houses, or just my experience with my mom at home, I almost exclusively watched wives and mothers doing things like cooking, clearing the table afterward, broom-sweeping the floor, washing dishes, changing baby diapers, folding laundry, vacuuming carpet, cleaning bathrooms, etc.

I’ve heard so many men call this stuff “women’s work” and seen so many men retreat to the living-room recliner after dinner to let their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters take care of the cleanup, that I felt OFFENDED by my wife wanting me to do more housework.

I’ve had four years to think about this, and finally see it for what it is.

First, I was a baby and small child, and everyone did everything for me.

Then, I was in grade school and high school, and all I had to do was show up, get decent grades, and have fun with my friends the rest of the time. My parents did all of the heavy lifting.

Then, I was in college where even the super-rare chores were things I was doing with my best friends, usually while drinking beer or after sharing a joint.

Then, I was with my girlfriend. The same one who, 16 years later, would be my Life-emergency contact despite being divorced for four years.

In other words, every second of my existence from my earliest memory until the moment my wife walked out the door and never came back consisted of me having almost no life responsibilities other than staying alive, and a constant support system INSIDE the walls of wherever I called home.

Later, I either had my best friend or my wife under the same roof. An adult I could count on to back me up, and trust with everything I have including my favorite little human on Earth. Someone I could talk to. A living, breathing human being exchanging stories, ideas, hugs, kisses, comfort.

Then the only vinyl record I’d ever heard, the same one spinning for 33 years straight, screeched to a halt, and all that shit drove away in a white SUV with a woman I used to know behind the wheel, and the other half of my entire world sitting in the backseat.

I freaked.

Some of you remember.

I remember.

So when people are having a hard time on Valentine’s Day, I’m not inclined to tell them to suck it up because breaking on the inside feels so much worse than breaking on the outside and I learned the hard way that’s not something you can know until you, just, know.

I Vowed I’d Never Do That Again

Not to my son.

Not to my partner.

Not to myself.

Because it does feel scary sometimes. I can’t hitch my wagon to someone who I’m not EXTREMELY confident I could potentially have a life-long marriage with.

No settling. NONE.

But someone else isn’t what scares me.

I scare me. Must be this tall to ride.

I won’t be with someone just because I want something from them, including the comfort of not being alone.

So, here’s the task I’ve given myself: Get comfortable alone. Get comfortable taking care of yourself. Get self-sufficient in all of the areas you spent your life relying on others. 

Because my biggest relationship failing was that. Relying on others to take care of things for me.

And that’s not okay. Life is hard enough. We can’t expect others to carry all of our things too.

And that’s where I am today. Right now.

That’s where many single people are. They’re not unlovable or unsexable rejects. They’re not all a bunch of emotional charity cases.

They’re just walking the path for the first time without a trail guide and learning to find their own way.

Maybe all of that changes tomorrow. Or maybe in three years. Or maybe never.

In the meantime, I must arrive at a place where I have complete and total faith in myself, and where I demonstrate a strong capacity for self-care and self-sustainability.

THEN. Then I can be a good partner to someone else in a way I wasn’t in my marriage. Maybe other people are that way too.

I don’t think we can NEED someone else.

That’s a bad power dynamic, and frankly, unattractive—so we’ll have a hard time finding viable partners like that anyway.

But we can be whole all on our own.

We MUST be whole on our own.

Because I think when we’re whole all on our own, we’ll be ready to deliver on the things we talk about around here.

How to Get Comfortable With Change

We have a tendency to resist all kinds of changes because change is uncomfortable.

We struggle with loss because life changes dramatically, and it’s uncomfortable.

We feel uncomfortable behind the wheel of a strange car, or sleeping in a strange bed, or moving to a new town, or starting a new job.

But, inevitably, if we stay alive long enough, the new things become familiar.

The new things become the new normal.

And we get comfortable.

Step 1 – Breathe.

Step 2 – Do your best at whatever you’re doing.

Step 3 – Repeat.

We all want painkillers or life hacks or magic fast-forward buttons to zip us past the shit storms, and we so rarely stop to feel grateful for the opportunity to gradually adjust to things in a sustainable way. No one would ever succeed at, or be comfortable with ANYTHING if we always hit the “Easy” button every time things got hard.

And things do get hard.

So, hug.

Cry.

Scream.

But also.

Smile.

Laugh.

Hope.

Because tomorrow comes. Just by breathing.

You start the journey crying in your kitchen alone wondering when the journey will end and someone will save you.

But after enough steps, you realize the journey NEVER ends.

And that it’s you who has to save yourself.

And that you can’t save others. You can only encourage them to save themselves.

Not with heroics or anything dramatic, but by doing the simplest thing we do absent-mindedly more than 20,000 times per day and 8 million times per year.

Just breathe. Everything’s going to be okay.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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The Third Post-Divorce Valentine’s Day

Wilted rose sad on valentine's day

I didn’t want to write about Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t thinking about it at all. But it turns out, THAT is the entire point. (Image/freepromotoday.com)

My phone buzzed.

The text read: “I’m telling you now, so we don’t have to have a guilt-ridden conversation later. Today is my bday. Holla! And I am expecting a good V-day post in honor of it.”

“Happy birthday! A V-day post!? What would I possibly write about?”

“I don’t know! About being single on Valentine’s Day?… Unlessss… Wait, do you have another secret girl?!”

(For clarification, said “secret girl” was someone I went out with a few times, and it represented the first time post-divorce that I believed something serious might be happening. It wasn’t.)

“I do not. But I also don’t feel loneliness anymore,” I said.

“Well then. Isn’t that a post?” she said.

“Is it?”

“Isn’t it?!”

“Seems self-indulgent.”

“How could it be self-indulgent when… so many people follow you with the HOPE of one day, being on the other side?! Those ‘I’m not feeling loneliness anymore’ posts are very important to your story. I think.”

Maybe she’s right.

Here’s the thing: I can’t remember me three years ago. I remember wanting to die. But recreating traumatic emotion is, thankfully, not a skill I possess.

I won’t pretend to know what other people feel at the end of their marriage. It was all, just, very bad at my house. I spent 18 months in the guest room. That’s, what? About 540 consecutive mornings of waking up and realizing your life is shitty and your wife doesn’t want you? That takes a toll.

I tried to stay hopeful.

On that final Valentine’s Day, I got her a card. The one I received came from our son, but not her. The depths of my denial were apparently limitless.

April 1, 2013 was the last time I shared an address with another adult.

Loneliness is a State of Mind

I freaked out.

I can’t explain the depths of the pain, fear, sadness, grief and anger I felt. I had no idea simply being alive could feel like that. You either know what I’m talking about, or you’re very fortunate.

In the early days, I was with friends constantly. If I wasn’t home with my son, I was out having drinks. I stayed busy and surrounded by others because spending too much time in my empty house taught me how loud silence can be.

Friends and family were checking in constantly. I have never known lonely like I did then.

Lonely isn’t the same thing as isolated.

You can be standing in the middle of a bustling New York City sidewalk and feel lonely.

And you can be sitting alone on a lakeside picnic table soaking in a gorgeous sunny day with no one in sight and be the furthest thing from it.

We can’t cure loneliness simply by surrounding ourselves with others.

It has to be the right others. But broken insides don’t heal from the outside in. The healing has to start from the inside. And we don’t have much control over how long it takes.

When you first get divorced following 34 straight years of pretty much always being with someone in public, you feel like the biggest loser imaginable when the restaurant hostess asks whether anyone will be joining you.

“Nope. Just me,” I’d say, and then imagine what she must think about me since she probably thought I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to join me.

I’d sit there on my phone, or with a pen and notebook, and I’d meet the eyes of other diners, all of whom had at least one person sitting with them. I felt like every one of them was sending me pity vibes each time we made eye contact.

I irrationally believed everyone who saw me could tell my wife had moved out and thought I was pathetic, when the truth is they likely didn’t give me a second thought.

When you spend 540 straight nights in a guest room, then your wife leaves you and seems a million-percent happier about it than you, really bad things happen to your mental and emotional make-up.

I wrote honest stories here about how it felt. About how afraid I was of everything. A bunch of tough guys read some of it and internet-yelled: “Be a man, pussy!!!”

But, they can all suck it.

I wasn’t broken because I was weak. I was broken because human resiliency is a finite resource, and I’d just been through some shit.

When all you have ever known is companionship and connection, being alone and feeling the disconnection of divorce and celibacy and your child being gone half the time is the recipe for profound loneliness.

And that’s what I felt. Every time I saw an old married couple. Every time I saw any couple. Every time I saw big groups of friends laughing and having a good time. Every time I returned home from a fun weekend away. Every time I walked in the door to my quiet, empty house. Every time I woke up in the morning and realized I was the oldest I’ve ever been AND that my life was worse than it has ever been.

That’s a pretty bleak and brutal realization.

The Giant Ever-Spinning Globe

It’s not something you earn.

It just happens.

You just… feel better.

You have a million questions following a painful divorce, but I think the one you care about the most is: When will I feel like myself again?

Everyone and their individual situations are different. Maybe it’s easier for people to move on when they don’t have children and don’t have to see and speak to their ex constantly. Maybe people who have been through traumatic life events prior to divorce don’t think it’s as bad as the rest of us do. Maybe some people brush off divorce easily because of their emotional wiring in the same way some people can roll their tongues while others can’t.

My wife left on April 1, 2013. That day, and many that followed, are tied for the worst day of my life.

A year later, it was still hard.

Two years later, it was much less so.

Three years later? I spent two hours yesterday morning with my ex-wife and her new significant other, and there were zero ill-effects. He’s a good guy. We have history. And I count my blessings every day that he is in my son’s life instead of an unknown entity or someone who sucks.

You don’t “earn” healing. There isn’t a “best way” to heal in order to speed up the process. If you hurt, you just hurt. And it doesn’t stop until it stops.

There are no shortcuts. Just masks. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. People use them to numb the pain. To escape.

The only escape is the other side. The only way is through it.

The Earth spins around every 24 hours. It fully orbits the sun every 365.25 days.

And here on the ground a million imperceptible things are happening inside our hearts and souls. We watch the sun rise and set. We watch the clocks tick off the minutes. We flip the pages on our calendars.

And then we wake up, and it’s tomorrow even though it felt like it was never going to get here.

The days are dark at first. We feel out of control. We sometimes question whether waking up tomorrow is even worth it.

But early in the process, I thought of something important. It’s true, and it has stuck with me, and I will never stop saying it:

Someday, the best day of our life is going to arrive. The best thing that will ever happen to us, will happen, or at least something awesome that makes every day after more inspiring and life-giving.

Someday, we will be presented with a new opportunity or we will meet someone who will maybe become the most important person in our lives.

Since looking forward to awesome things is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I always figure: Why not start now?

Something good and beautiful is out there waiting to randomly bump into us in the future. Look forward to it. Choose hope.

And when that day arrives, we get to connect all the dots. We get to see how everything needed to happen exactly as it did. We get to have this beautiful and important thing in our lives and we get to know that all of the shit we crawled through was worth it because it was the only path to now.

I used to say it even when I didn’t feel it: Everything is going to be okay.

It’s three years later, guys. And everything is okay.

Today just might be the day the best thing that ever happens to me, happens.

And if it doesn’t?

I like having things to look forward to.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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A Girl at a Bar

Kind of like this. Only next to me.

Kind of like this. Only next to me.

It was to be a different kind of Valentine’s Day.

I was okay with that.

My five-year-old son had a special event scheduled at his karate dojo. Something just for kids.

Maybe I’ll meet some other parents.

I had been looking forward to it. It’s fun to be a parent at little-kid things.

But as I signed a permission slip for my son to take part in the evening’s scheduled activities, it dawned on me that this wasn’t something parents would be attending.

I thought it was curious they would schedule something on Valentine’s Day. But when I realized they did it intentionally to give adults some time to do adult stuff while the kids had fun together in a safe location, it all made sense.

Well, shit.

I decided right away I’d go have dinner somewhere. The dojo is located in a strip mall a couple suburban towns away. There were a couple pubs and restaurants nearby.

So, I parked the Jeep and walked into an Irish pub I’d never been in before.

The Bar Crowd

It was an interesting crowd.

I’m like Jason Bourne when I’m sitting alone, only instead of being a badass prepared for anything, I’m really just creepily digesting everyone’s conversations and making judgments about them based on very little information.

The bar was U-shaped.

To my left was a couple I assumed to be meeting for the first time. They seemed an odd pair. Like they’d decided to meet for drinks on an online dating site.

Three stools to my right, in the middle of the U, sat a man by himself who walked in not long after I did. He immediately ordered a pint of Fat Tire—the same beer I was drinking—and a shot of Jägermeister. I was at the bar for nearly three hours. He never took that shot while I was there.

There were two intoxicated couples and one guy who boasted about how he dumped his wife at home to come drinking with his friends. They sat directly across the bar burning money on losing attempts at Keno.

A male gay couple came in and sat in a booth on the other side of the room. A couple guys who looked like they were really into science-fiction and comic books came in and sat between the guy who wouldn’t take his shot and the drunk Keno players.

Those guys LOVED the song “Sail” by AWOLNATION. It’s probably the fifth-best song on the album.

And back to my right sat two couples in a booth. One of the guys was older than my father and was with a girl younger than me. And yes, they were a couple.

What am I doing wrong? Honestly?

Everything, probably.

The bartenders were sweet. Two girls. One was gorgeous. The other was not. The one who wasn’t flirted with me all night.

I didn’t mind.

I left the bar and walked down to the karate place to check on my little man. It was shortly after 8 p.m., and the pizza delivery person was JUST getting there as I walked in. Dinner for the kids. My son is usually in bed at this time.

Whatever. Special occasion.

I chatted with a couple staff members. Everything was under control.

Screw it. I’m going back to the bar.

I sat down in the same stool.

I smiled at the bartender who thought I’d left for the evening.

“Another Fat Tire?” she said.

“Yep.”

A couple minutes later, a pretty blonde girl walked in and sat right next to me.

“A Miller Lite and a Fireball,” she told the bartender.

“Nice work,” I said, holding out my glass.

She clinked it and we drank.

She asked me to do it again when she took her shot.

“I was supposed to be out with my mom,” she said. “She dumped me.”

“Dumped by your mom on Valentine’s Day? Brutal,” I said.

She was only in town visiting.

She lives in Venice Beach, Calif. A self-employed action-sports photographer. A very talented one. I checked out her work.

She just travels around, sometimes internationally, shooting cool stuff.

Very pretty.

Very funny.

Very engaging.

Not quite an hour later, I didn’t want to leave.

But my son always has, and always will, come first.

“Devon, I’d love to stay and get silly with you. But I gotta go be a dad. It was a pleasure to meet you.”

A smile.

“Likewise.”

And I walked out, leaving that lovely stranger to have whatever adventure the night was going to deliver her.

And I smiled.

A chance encounter.

A simple thing, really.

But a big thing.

A reminder that life just happens.

That plans are great. Expectations are fine. But life just happens anyway.

The beautiful stranger chose me to sit next to.

Smile.

And someday, there will be another one.

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The First Valentine’s Day

They're still the most-bought candy on Valentine's Day. I don't know that's true. I just read it on the internet.

They’re still the most-bought candy on Valentine’s Day. Might be true. I just read it on the internet.

Valentine’s Day in elementary school is when you found out which girls “liked” you and which didn’t.

We all made those little Valentine’s Day card boxes out of shoe boxes we decorated.

Then everyone in your class would give one another Valentine’s Day cards and candy.

Most of the time, you just signed your name on the back of the little rectangle card.

But if a girl liked you, you got a bonus note.

“Dear Matt,

“I think you are very nice and sweet and I hope you like the candy I gave you. I gave you more than the other boys because I want to be on you.

“Love,

“<Insert random girl name here>”

Only part of that is made up.

And then you make eye contact, if she wasn’t fidgeting nervously at her desk.

Does she want to talk on the phone?

Does she want to hold hands?

Does she want to “go together”?

Sweet. Simple. Drama-free.

You eat candy hearts. And Sweet Tarts. And you open all your cards, ignoring the ones from Chad and Jim and the other Matt and John and the Bills.

And your heart flutters because Erin dotted the “I” in her name with a heart.

Because you got a cute note from Kelly or Lisa or Deanna or Jill or Sarah or Kim or Stacey or Leslie or Gretchen. Or whoever.

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get better than that.

Free candy NOT from a creepy white van AND notes from girls so you don’t have to read between too many lines.

How great would that be as adults? If all the single people got together and exchanged candy and Valentine’s Day cards with cartoon characters on them, with little notes?

You don’t have to answer that because I already know it’s one of the top-three best ideas ever.

(Note to self: Try to invent a Valentine’s Day for single people party in 2015 to do this exact thing.)

A Brief History of February 14

Roman Emperor Claudius II executed—not one, but two—men with the name Valentine in the 3rd century. Both in different years. Both on February 14.

Claudius thought Valentine’s Day was bullshit before it was cool to think so.

The Catholic Church honored those men as martyrs and dubbed the occasion St. Valentine’s Day before later removing it from the church calendar in 1969.

There’s no evidence linking the sex act of 69ing to this occasion. In fact, it’s widely speculated inside my brain that 69ing was happening before 1969. But Wikipedia doesn’t know, so I don’t either.

Be Mine

I was never particularly good at this Valentine’s Day thing.

A year ago, I was excited to get a red envelope from my wife. We’d spent more than a year sleeping in separate bedrooms. Hope?

I opened the card. A card for Dad.

A scribbled signature from my son.

It’s the kind of thing you appreciate, of course, but it’s also the kind of thing that rips your guts out.

I didn’t expect Valentine’s Day to bother me much this year.

When I first thought about it, realizing it was a Friday, I knew I’d either have my son at home (and I do!) or I’d go get wrecked with some single people who are in the same boat I’m in.

Either way, I had a plan.

I scrolled through my Facebook feed earlier. Lots of nice notes from friends to their spouses.

Couples I have memories of doing couples things with.

There were a few pangs. Nothing I can’t handle.

You know what I’ve been wondering a lot lately? What my ex-wife thinks and feels on a day like this.

Does she ever think about me?

Or does she think about him?

Or does she think about some new guy?

Or maybe nothing at all?

I don’t know. And it really doesn’t matter. I can’t help it. It just pops in there.

That’s what she said.

Love You

One of the more-selfish life observations I’ve made as my years have advanced is how we gravitate toward people sometimes—not because of how much we like them (even though we do!)—but because of how they make us feel about ourselves.

It’s crazy. Do you really like that person? Or do you just like how they make you feel?

Is there even a difference?

I don’t know.

I like how you make me feel.

I want to like you unselfishly. I try to. I hope you feel that way.

But, really? Other than my son who I will shower with affection this weekend?

No one makes me feel as good as you do.

I try to write every day. I try to leave a little slice of my soul in each post.

And so many of you hit the pause button on your busy lives to drink a little of it.

I’m sure some of you roll your eyes and hate it. Thank you for not telling me.

Maybe others smile, like it, go on with your days. Thank you.

Others take a minute to hit that “Like” button. Thank you.

And others still take a few extra minutes to be part of the conversation. Almost always, you have something thoughtful, supportive, empathetic, kind, encouraging and/or funny to say. Thank you.

You’re my Valentine.

Faceless stranger.

A friend. A reliable one. Giving me so much of what’s been missing in my life for so long.

Inspiration.

Confidence.

The encouragement to believe in myself. To believe that I can be so much more than just some corporate nobody. That I can punch these keys and it can matter. To someone. Maybe you.

Someday, someone is going to give me a second chance at feeling alive. I can’t wait to meet her.

But in the meantime, it’s you.

Yes, you.

You’re giving me a second chance to feel alive.

And that means so much to me every day.

But it really means a lot on my first Valentine’s Day.

My first Valentine’s Day where something’s missing.

But here you are. Reminding me to breathe. Giving me hope.

You are very nice and sweet and I hope you like the candy I gave you. I gave you more than the others because I want to be on you.

Some of that is untrue.

But this isn’t…

I love you.

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