Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is in your face with its focus on romantic love and many reminders to shower your sweetie with chocolate or trinkets.
If you’re newly single after a long relationship, it can feel like an unwanted reminder of what didn’t unfold exactly as you might have imagined.
Valentine’s Day can be “the most dreaded day of the year” for people who have been through recent relationship changes, says life coach Sharon Stokes, who’s done a lot of work on breakup recovery. “They’re reminded of what they used to have.”
But it doesn’t have to be an unhappy occasion at all, she says.
“I don’t think Valentine’s Day needs to be restricted to just romantic relationships, and when you can spread the love to other people in other ways, this day can be way more meaningful.”
There are plenty of things you can do to not only keep Valentine’s Day from getting you down, but to shift your approach to the occasion in really positive ways.
Here are some tried and true approaches from people who’ve been in the breakup trenches and come out stronger than before.
Strategy 1: Ignore, ignore, ignore
Coupled or not, plenty of people prefer to take a pass on Valentine’s Day. If you’d just like to let it go by without acknowledging it, than that’s what you should do. There’s a good argument that the whole thing is a commercial holiday anyway.
That’s the approach that Kelsea Rambin took for her first V-day after the split. “I ignored it. I hate Valentine’s Day,” says Rambin, “not because it’s relationship centered, but because it feels unneeded in so many aspects and puts expectations where expectations need not be.”
To make this strategy more successful, it could help to take steps to control the amount of Valentine’s Day messaging coming at you from all directions. We’re looking at you, radio commercials for jewellery chains! This is a good week to switch to public radio or listen to a podcast or audio book in the car instead.
And for all the reasons that an occasional digital detox is a good idea anyway, why not make Feb. 14th a day to leave your Facebook and Instagram apps closed? If you worry you’ll be compelled the look despite your best intentions, delete them from your phone for the day. Downloading again the next day is no big thing.
Strategy 2: Treat yourself!
If there’s ever an occasion to be kind to yourself, it’s Valentine’s Day after a breakup. Ideally we’d do nice things for ourselves on the regular, but if Feb. 14th acts as a reminder to do so, that’s a win.
“My first Valentine’s Day was shortly after we split,” says Alex Thom. “I made a point to pamper myself — I bought myself flowers, I made a special dinner, and I spent time with my kids.
“For the first year after my split, I really made a point to date myself. I spoiled me like I wished I’d been spoiled in my life — not necessarily with material things, though I did that, too, but with kindness. It made me really realize what mattered to me.”
Sharon Stokes advocates that approach, as well. “Look at it as a day when you get to do whatever you want.” Instead of negotiating an outing that pleases two people, it can be “the ultimate freedom day,” she says.
Strategy 3: Make it all about the kids!
In some ways parents may have it easier when it comes to Valentine’s Day. We can focus our attention on the kids and make it all about dousing them in love and chocolate.
For years I made a really big deal of Valentine’s Day for my kids and whatever other little children were around to celebrate.
I’d make an elaborate brunches with the table decorated with hearts (above), and we’d bake shortbread cookies with crushed bits of Valentine’s Day-coloured Smarties in the batter, loads of little helpers gathered at the counter.
Now that they’re older, my boys are a little less into baking with their mother. But they both still look forward to the special breakfast before school and to finding a heart-shaped box of chocolates at their place settings.
Many of the parents in my Facebook group, Positive Co-Parenting After Divorce, have also focussed their V-day efforts on making the day memorable for their kiddos.
“I picked up my girls, four and six at the time, from school with a big bouquet of flowers for each of them,” says Ben Broeders of his first Valentine’s Day after getting separated. “My divorce was a difficult one for the girls and it really made them feel special in front of school friends.”
For her first Valentine’s Day on her own, Samantha Carmona planned a special outing with her two year old. “I did a date night with my son, dressed him up, had him buy me flowers,” she says. Then they dined at a family-friendly restaurant.
Strategy 4: Celebrate with friends!
There are all kinds of love worth celebrating, and one of those is the love we have for our friends. So make it an occasion to look forward to with one friend, two friends or a crowd!
The concept of “Galentine’s Day” — a celebration of female friendship — has really taken off in recent years. This can take all kinds of different forms, whether you simply send notes or cards to brighten each other’s days, or plan a gathering out on the town or at home. There’s no reason the same couldn’t apply to groups of male friends, or to mixed company, too.
You can also bring an element of service to others into your Valentine’s Day celebrations, a approach that’s been shown time and again to be a very effective mood booster.
“My birthday is Valentine’s Day, and since the split I’ve spent it handing out candies in my moms’ seniors building to a bunch of of her old lady pals and being invited in for sherry and tea,” says Marci Raizal. “All these beautiful, funny, single senior ladies have shown me another possible future that I would be very happy with.”
Whatever your approach to February 14th, it also helps to maintain a healthy and realistic outlook on whether people in relationships really have it so great.
“This will be my third Valentine’s day; the first was a few weeks after we split,” says Mishka Sawka. “This year, I’m feeling very different. I’m not lonely. I was so much lonelier in my marriage that I have no feelings about the day. I’m almost feeling bad for the couples who are still in struggling relationships and have to face this kind of pressure.”
“All this to say that it does get better and perspective is key.”