Although I’m single on Valentine’s Day, I’m not alone

For most Australian couples, Valentine's Day is about making grand gestures. This means women carrying improbably large floral arrangements, hasty purchases gift-wrapped on lunch breaks, lengthy restaurant queues, and a marked increase in public displays of affection.

As a committed single, such overt demonstrations used to make me recoil in horror. Whether we think it’s a ruse to extract dollars from insecure couples, or a cruel taunt thrown in the faces of the lonely, Valentine's Day leaves its mark on the un-partnered.

My friends perform the supportive functions of a full-time partner, and many of these friendships have outlasted my partnerships.Credit:Shutterstock

But, this year, I feel differently. Although I’m single, I'm not alone. I have love in my life … it just doesn't resemble the standard package.

The Western world is romance-obsessed; a loving relationship is supposed to fulfil all our needs, a neatly-wrapped gift of happiness for the truly deserving. On the other hand, our non-romantic relationships are less defined. They often lack the reassuring markers of commitment that we demand from our long-term loves.

Although they aren't as grand as traditional romantic partnerships, these connections deserve equal consideration.

My friends perform the supportive functions of a full-time partner, and many of these friendships have outlasted my partnerships.

My close friends, for example, are indispensable. They have nursed me through career setbacks and counselled me during break-ups. My friends perform the supportive functions of a full-time partner, and many of these friendships have outlasted my partnerships.

And then there are my lovers, the intimate partners who never reach "boyfriend" status. These folks drift in and out of my life as work schedules, travel, and other commitments allow. They inspire in me an enduring affection. Because we don't demand too much of each other, we're able to maintain our connections long past the expiry date of more intense relationships.

Lastly, I also cherish my community: the people who inhabit my social scene. We share values and interests. We support each other in difficult times. Eight months ago, we raised thousands of dollars for a friend who was undergoing chemotherapy. And when I caught a nasty strain of the flu last winter, I had offers of soup, hugs, and emergency transport – thus proving that I don’t need a full-time partner to care for me, as long as my support network exists.

These relationships endure because they’re mutually beneficial. Paradoxically, this often makes them more reliable than romances; I call on my friends, lovers, and community for affection because they have proven their readiness in the past, rather than due to an unspoken expectation.

On Valentine’s Day I could feel miserable; instead, I’m grateful. Despite my lack of romance, I’m surrounded by people who care.

When we see romantic love as the ideal, we stop putting effort into cultivating these other connections. We ditch our friends, stop spending time with our community. And that’s a tragedy, because these people are just as essential to our happiness. It’s not all about bold promises of love – my untidy relationships with friends, lovers, and community give me a sense of security more profound than anything I'd gain by placing my needs in the hands of one person.

On Valentine’s Day I could feel miserable; instead, I’m grateful. Despite my lack of romance, I’m surrounded by people who care.

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