Valentine’s Day Doesn’t Have to Suck

Valentine’s Day Doesn’t Have to Suck

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A guide for V-Day cynics and Solo Moms

Valentine’s Day could bum out a Solo Mom for a whole host of reasons:

  • The nation’s obsession with coupled, romantic love that can leave a solo person feeling left out of something big.
  • The hassle and expense of outfitting your children with just the right cards to hand out to their friends (who will hardly look at them before crumpling them up and tossing them in the garbage bin, anyway).
  • The sugar. The sugar. The sugar. The kids hopped up on sugar.
  • The rampant commercialization of love.

If that’s not enough to sour you, check out the economics: according to, the week before Valentine’s Day, Americans spend $448 million on candy. What else could we do with that money? How many hungry people could we feed? How many warm blankets and beds could we provide?

And what about the waste? Each year, 36 million heart-shaped chocolate boxes are sold. About 8 billion—yes billion—of those chalky, soapy-tasting Sweethearts are produced, “enough candy to stretch from Rome, Italy, to Valentine, Arizona, 20 times.” That’s a whole lot of cardboard, plastic, ribbons, and fake flowers headed to the landfill.

Admittedly, I’ve always been a bit of a Valentine’s Day cynic, but when my children were born, I began rethinking our culture’s most highly marketed holidays. How would I make meaning of these days for my kids—and Valentine’s Day, in particular?

Sure, I could describe V-Day as I saw it: a ritual of compulsory heterosexual coupling, during which affection is expressed through purchases of overpriced roses (literally: florists double the price of flowers in February) and waxy chocolates.

Or I could look for a deeper meaning in the day, for my kids and for me.

I chose the latter.

I started my quest by researching the history of V-Day. What started as a fertility festival called Lupercalia in Ancient Rome was co-opted by the Catholic Church when Pope Gelasius named February 14 Saint Valentine’s Day, which was then co-opted by greeting-card companies, eventually transforming the pseudo holiday into the gift-industry cash cow it is today.

Right. No applicable deeper meaning there.

So I decided to focus on the presumed heart (pun intended) of V-Day: love.

As cynical as I may be about romance as it’s played out in Valentine’s Day marketing strategies, I am equally in love with love. Real love:

  • Love, as in the energy I feel when I hold my children in my arms.
  • Love, as in the warmth I experience when surrounded by family and friends.
  • Love, as in the inexplicable force that blankets me in times of trouble and reassures me that, yes, I am OK.
  • Love, as in “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

Even V-Day cynics like me can get excited about a day that celebrates that kind of love.

How about you, Solo Mama? Ready to rescue real love from the jaws of Valentine’s Day? These activities can help:

  • Create a family tradition. When my firstborn was a year old, I purchased a pan with heart impressions in it. This became our no-waste, all-yum family tradition: heart-shaped pancakes on Valentine’s Day. Now every February 14 when I dust off that pan, I think about family love and history, the 11 years of pancakes, giggles, and sticky smiles. And I wonder about our future. Where will this pan travel over the years? Who will flip the pancakes when I’m gone?
  • Write yourself a love letter. Admittedly, this can be a toughie, but I dare you to try it. What qualities do you love about yourself? What do others love about you? If you’re struggling with your list, try writing the letter to an earlier version of yourself. Think of a time when you felt particularly in need of love, then heap that love onto that younger you. Alternately, if you’re on a path of personal growth, meditate a bit on future you. What lovable qualities has future you developed? Love her up for the hard work she’s done to get there.
  • Bring a little love to the world. No matter how you’re feeling on this particular February 14, you can always find someone worse off than you. Sometimes the best way to fill yourself with love is to give love. You don’t need to look far to find someone who is cold, hungry, or in need of loving attention. Whether you choose to give a meal, a blanket, or a listening ear, notice that wave of generosity, the warmth rising through you to meet another. That’s the power of love.
  • Meditate on love. Years ago, when my marriage was a cliff crumbling under my feet, I would sit in the glider chair in my infant son’s room, nursing him back to sleep at 3:00 a.m., feeling both terrified by uncertainty and soothed by the peace of a rarely quiet house. As I held and rocked my little one, I would begin to feel a force much larger than myself, rocking and holding me. The room filled with so much love in the dark hours of those early mornings, such a stark contrast between that deep, silent comfort and the emotional chaos of my days. Nine years later, as a Solo Mom still prone to feeling overwhelmed by uncertainty, I sit in meditation, calling back that visceral, physical, spiritual energy of love. I breathe into it, filling my body with its comfort. I exhale it, sending that love into the world. How about you? When have you felt the undeniable power of love? Somewhere in your body’s cellular memory, that energy still exists. Give yourself a few moments to call it back into the present moment. Breathe into it as into a smoldering fire you’re trying to keep alive.

This Valentine’s Day, you may not have a romance novel–worthy date showing up on your doorstep with a dozen roses and a bottle of champagne, but you’ve got something much better: the durable power of real love.

Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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