"... Don't you want somebody to love, don't you need somebody to love, wouldn't you love somebody to love, you better find somebody to love.."
Back in 1967, those lyrics were belted out by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and hit the number-five spot on the Billboard Hot 100 becoming a rock classic. The words embodied in "Somebody to Love" were as true in the '60s as they are today, as Valentine's Day makes so obvious, especially to the single and unattached.
For single people of a certain (middle) age, Valentine's Day is fraught with tensions and anxieties no less dramatic than those experienced by adolescents but are more successfully controlled, repressed and managed -- but the anxieties are under the surface nevertheless. The main source of angst is just being unattached and not knowing if some attachment might be attainable somewhere in the near future. As the song says, "but in your head baby I'm afraid you don't know where it is." Never in American history have so many people over 40 been single and Valentine's Day doesn't always make it any easier.
During those Jefferson Airplane days, I was in elementary and junior high school and Valentine's Day was about exchanging as many Valentines cards with the opposite sex as possible. The quantity amassed was a sure sign of your popularity within the context of the emerging pubescent social strata. Unrequited crushes were the order of the day and woe unto the pining near-adolescent who did not receive a card from the often hidden object of their affections.
As one got older, expectations were more easily managed. Many young couples got together from before Christmas through Valentine's Day (and then broke up) just so they'd have dates for New Year's and Valentine's. I've lost track of how many mini-relationships like this I experienced. You knew in the back of your head that one of you was going to end the thing but that dull headache was far superior to the pain of those years when absolutely nothing whatsoever was happening with the opposite sex around Valentine's Day.
The ultimate Valentine's Day experience for a young person though was getting engaged on that paradigm of romantic days because it was the zenith of what could be realized on that date combined with recurring anniversaries down the road -- if the marriage lasted. If it didn't, then Valentine's Day became a dark reminder of love's labor's lost. If you ever ended a relationship on this date then it was the St. Valentine's Day Massacre (figuratively).
One of the great gifts of getting older is not being pulled this way and that by primal emotions, but come Valentine's Day, thanks to mass media and the profusion of red hearts, red roses and red candy boxes nearly everywhere in one's line of sight, it's hard to completely block the day from one's consciousness. The day dredges up memories of all the girls we've loved before (apologies to Willie Nelson), all the mistakes we've made and all the bad luck we've experienced to have landed us at this very moment without a significant other. Valentine's Day has the kind of ubiquity that can even get you to become delusional (for a few minutes anyway) about why you broke up with that person who in actuality made you so, so unhappy.
Many men who are casually dating will bend the plastic and spend bucks to have a date to avoid the loneliness and many women will accept a date for the very same reason. Restaurants, florists and even jewelers depend on Valentine's Day for a big chunk of their mid-winter income. If you're seeing someone you like then it can be a great evening but the weight of expectations often leads to disappointment.
The need for somebody to love is basic and elemental even for those in middle age but the totality of life's experiences combined with all our adult stresses and responsibilities makes it harder and harder to achieve notwithstanding the help of alcohol and E.D. pills.
What many of us need this Valentine's Day is cupid to fly around and help us out by shooting arrows in great profusion, piercing the armor that encases many of our hearts to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. Armor-piercing arrows -- if you could buy a quiver of them they'd be selling far faster than flowers. The notion of Valentine's Day is great. The reality? That's another matter entirely. Thankfully we're all back at work first thing Friday morning.