I volunteer to be the Valentine's Scrooge.
The French phrase for the week is: Qu’est-ce que c’est ? Which means, what is that?
An ex once told me that I like to be contrarian. Which is true, somewhat. It’s not because I like challenging things (but maybe I do, subconsciously, who knows.) I simply want to know if the alternative explanation to common knowledge holds merit, and whether there’s another way of doing things beyond what we already.
This is not an endorsement of alternative facts or conspiracy theories. Speaking of, I was recently reading an article about tennis player Novak Djokovic and how his COVID skepticism represents a particular group of denialists.
About a decade ago, the term “conspirituality,” a portmanteau of conspiracy and spirituality, started making the rounds. It’s an apt way to describe a worldview in the land where crystal healing is credible. It goes something like this: To protect its profits, the medical industry has conspired to squelch the evolution of consciousness and the new paradigm of global awareness about natural paths to healing and wellness. Scratch someone who believes in pseudoscience, McIntyre said, “and chances are you’ll find a conspiracy theorist.”
Invariably, McIntyre added, “conspiritualists” aren’t necessarily against traditional science. Indeed, in Serve to Win, as Djokovic admonishes his readers to be skeptical of Western doctors and keep an open mind to alternative therapies, he admits, “Don’t think for a second that I’m knocking Western medicine—trust me, if I blow out my knee and need surgery to reconstruct it, you can bet I’ll be seeking out the best Western doctor I can find.”
McIntyre has heard that kind of remark often. He calls those who make it “cafeteria skeptics.” “They go through science and say, ‘Oh, I’ll take a little bit of this, a little bit of that. No, I won’t take any of that,’” he said. “They actually trust science, just not the kind of science they prefer not to believe in.” Flat Earthers don’t acknowledge that signals from the cellphone in their pockets bounce off satellites circling the globe. The person dying in a hospital from Covid, who regrets not being vaccinated, is practically a daily reminder in the news of the tragedy of cafeteria skepticism, of not believing in a product of science that may have saved their life.
A library of psychology books and science papers exist on why people believe in conspiracies and pseudoscience like crystal healing in the face of contradictory scientific evidence. McIntyre has studied many of the most recent ones and while he’s not a psychologist, and couldn’t neatly summarize the research, he told me, the one quality that stands out to him is people’s fragile sense of identity and “willingness to protect it at any cost.” That insight pierced him at a Flat Earth convention he attended. As he thought about the speakers and the people he met, he writes, “I concluded that perhaps Flat Earth wasn’t so much a belief that someone would accept or reject on the basis of experimental evidence, but instead an identity. It could give purpose to your life. It created an instant community, bound together by common persecution. And perhaps it could explain some of the trauma and other difficulties you might have experienced in life, as the elites in power were all corrupt and plotting against you.”
(The whole article is quite interesting.)
But I digress. What I really want to talk about is Valentine’s Day, and the pressure of celebrating it.
Of course I’m aware that I should be the last person to comment on Valentine’s Day. I understand how it can be annoying to have someone who’s partnered up say things like, “Oh, you don’t have to feel bad being single on Valentine’s, there’s nothing wrong with not having a partner” or use euphemisms like “single-blessedness” (eurgh).
Dating can feel more madness than method, and brutally said, I did try to put a bit of method to dating when I was single. Armed with my marketing experience, I tried to imagine myself as a product, a brand: what aspects of myself are malleable? What is my unique selling proposition? Who is my desired audience? What can I tweak about myself to resonate to my desired audience? What is my marketing strategy? Which channels should I use to market myself?
It does sound Gone Girl-ish, and I sort of doubt that all my planning had anything to do with my current relationship situation. What I did learn from my dating experience was that: one, you can either continuously pivot to align with your prospective partner’s desires, or you can just enjoy being you—relishing your personal growth without seeing it as a means to the end of having a relationship; two, you can’t find the perfect partner unless you understand what it is that you truly want, which you’ll only figure out when you’ve listed down your non-negotiables; and three, life doesn’t work as coherently as we’d like it to be, so be prepared to have all your best-laid plans crumble into dust.
Singlehood is horrible, but so can being in a relationship too. Neither of the two guarantees happiness, but singlehood in perspective seems way better than being stuck in an unhappy relationship. As one of my favorite Wait But Why articles point out:
Dissatisfied single people should actually consider themselves in a neutral, fairly hopeful position, compared to what their situation could be. A single person who would like to find a great relationship is one step away from it, with their to-do list reading, “1) Find a great relationship.” People in unhappy relationships, on the other hand, are three leaps away, with a to-do list of “1) Go through a soul-crushing break-up. 2) Emotionally recover. 3) Find a great relationship.” Not as bad when you look at it that way, right?
There’s a particular oppression though that Valentine’s Day can bring to a lot of single people. Some would rush to dating apps as the day looms, with the hope that they won’t have to spend the day alone (In 2021, dating app downloads during Valentine’s spiked by 14% versus the monthly average, and user sessions increased by 5%.) An acquaintance even bemoaned on social media at how he was exhausted with being alone, and how he wished for a chance at relationship instead of feeling sorry for himself come Valentine’s.
Come to think of it, Valentine’s Day can also be oppressive for people in relationships. The consumerism of it all makes you wonder how capitalism is so good at hijacking our desires and turning it into a material pursuit. And when you refuse to comply and hop in the hedonic treadmill, it makes you feel a failure.
Events are a useful way to mark passing time, but when that event turns into external pressure to get people to partner up, it becomes plainly sinister. Relationships are difficult enough as it is: shouldn’t we make sure that we commit to it for all the right reasons, instead of herded by romantic propaganda?
One would imagine that a world where there is a growing number of single people globally (just in the US, 1 out of 4 people are projected to remain single their entire lives), there would be a significant pushback against the onslaught brought by Valentine’s Day. So why isn’t there? Or are single people scared to be accused of sourgraping by protesting too much?
And as for people in relationship: are we scared to stand up for our single friends because it feels like a betrayal of our community? Are we all just living in Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, except instead of the child, it is our single friends who must suffer to guarantee our happiness?