I didn’t grow up around men and women who made grand romantic gestures on days like Valentine’s Day. In my working class family and community, love was shown through paid rent and lights that came on when you hit the switch. Fancy romance was reserved for movies and Jackie Collins novels, and I’m grateful my mother didn’t allow me to get caught up in the matrix of those kinds of Hallmark holidays.
Never falling under the spell of V-Day has allowed me space to desire and experience the ideas about love the day offers without becoming undone if the day doesn’t go as I’d like. I have seen women have complete meltdowns because they determined their worth (and the standing of their love with their partner) on the V-Day gifts they did or didn’t receive.
The “woke” me sees the capitalist agenda interwoven into the conversations about love and desirability created by V-Day, and is repulsed by it all. But the tender lover in me still struggles with wanting to be someone’s valentine. I mean, as much as we despise capitalism, the sh*t hasn’t upheld all of the world’s “first nations” because it doesn’t work.
This is the first Valentine’s Day that I will spend as a single woman in quite some time.
As somebody known for writing about love and relationships, admitting I’m single again (and also admitting that the relationship I used as a muse to speak to others about love is no more) makes me feel both anxious and free. I feel free because I’m brave enough to face my reality, and the possible negative responses that may come from some regarding my new relationship status.
But I’m also a bit anxious and perplexed, because I thought I’d finally figured out how to love and be loved in a healthy, long-lasting way. And it’s unnerving when lessons you should have learned in your 20s are still resurfacing as you approach 40. I believe earnestly in the Buddhist teaching that no challenge leaves us until we fully learn the lesson it represents. The universe is lit.
You won’t catch me waxing poetic about how Black love is in trouble, or that partnering with someone you love isn’t also revolutionary work. Our families are the fruit of loving romantic partnerships; without strong families we cannot build strong communities. And if the past few years that’ve ushered in a beautiful new stage of our longstanding human rights struggle have taught us nothing, they’ve taught that without strong communities, we can’t breathe radical change into the world.
But this post isn’t about revolution, per se. It’s about loneliness. It’s about letting go of ideas and hopes I had for my life. It’s about being reminded that I seem to keep failing at love. While reflecting on those things though, I remember that if I was speaking to a friend (or someone who has read my column) who might be feeling like I am, my conversation with them would be hella more loving and gentle.
The first thing I tell people when they speak negatively or hopelessly about being single, or ending relationships, is that they are worthy of the kind of love that they desire. So much in the world tells Black folks we are worthless. Remembering that we deserve to take up space in the world— to imagine, to conquer, to love and be loved—is as bold and beautiful as any struggle for Black lives.
So I’m spending this V-Day remembering my worth. I am reminding myself daily of the things I love about myself: my passion and fire, my heart, the fullness and shimmer of my thighs. I still bought that lingerie. I’m going to wear it too, like I always do, but this time specifically for my gaze alone. Because just as we remind ourselves that we are worthy, we must also remember how beautiful we are in our own unique splendor.
I also plan to spend time thinking deeply about the woman I want to evolve into during this next phase of my life. As I told my ex the other day, the glorious thing about endings is that they force new beginnings. They require our transformation, and push us past our comfort zones.
Whether you are spending Valentine’s Day alone because of a recent breakup, or because you have been single for a long time, the day should be spent practicing radical, intentional and affirming self-love. We should learn to love ourselves so fiercely, in fact, that when we do find our new lovers, our mere presence works as a handbook for them on how we want to be loved.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.