A Solo’s Valentine’s Day

Solo – The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life | Iris Schneider | Valentine’s Day


It’s that time of year. To discuss Valentine’s Day, Peter McGraw invites Mary Delia Allen and Iris Schneider back on the Solo podcast. They have a wide-ranging conversation that includes the history of Valentine’s Day and alternative approaches to the day. What do you think? Join the Solo community and share your opinion: https://petermcgraw.org/solo

Listen to Episode #203 here


A Solo’s Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of year. For some, it’s a wonderful moment to reflect and appreciate a romantic relationship. For others, it’s a time of sadness. For me, at least, a time of indifference. It’s Valentine’s Day. I invite back two familiar guests. The last time they joined me, we talked about what would do alone. I thought this would be the perfect group to talk about Valentine’s. Welcome back, Iris Schneider.

Thanks. I’m happy to be here.

Welcome back, Mary Delia Allen.

Thank you. I love Valentine’s Day.

I’m glad. I think we’re going to have a full range of perspectives here. Mary, you pitched this idea to me. What was your rationale?

My life’s work is to encourage people who are single to enjoy their solo, and being single has changed so much in the last 25 to 50 years that we have to recalibrate a lot of traditions, and Valentine’s Day is one of them. There’s a very traditional mindset of your partner brings you roses, you have a romantic duo, and that’s the only path to enjoying Valentine’s Day. I think we have to widen the path and broaden our definition of a lot of traditions. Valentine’s Day is one of them. If we’re celebrating love, there are all kinds of love out there.

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Let’s go back even further to 1960 when 78% of adults were married and 90% would go on to get married. It feels like for Valentine’s Day, at least the forced reflection to remind you why you picked this person and what to appreciate with the mundane life that you may experience makes sense. As we’ve been investigating in this show, that’s no longer the case. Not everybody is getting married. Not everybody is looking to get married. Not everybody is looking for that traditional relationship escalator that Valentine’s Day is designed to celebrate, so we need a different model. We need a different conversation.

I think instead of focusing on that one type of love relationship, you should look at all the things and people that you love. Valentine’s Day is a little reminder to say, “Have I shown that person that I love them? Can I do anything extra? Can I reflect on the love that I have in my life?” Be it your family, your pets, or your children. Love is what it’s about. Also, reflecting and celebrating in a joyful way is what we should be doing.

Also, love yourself. Don’t overlook that one.

Agreed. There’s no singles holiday but there’s November 11th. It’s the largest online retail event and it’s celebrated in China as single people celebrating themselves. It rankles me to the core that the US marketers don’t say, “48% of US adults are single, we should sell them something.” Instead, they keep pushing Valentine’s Day and they haven’t gotten on the singles bandwagon because I would love a singles holiday where I’m told to go on Amazon and buy what I wish for myself.

Also, at heavily discounted prices.

However, we only have Black Friday and Valentine’s Day and those kinds of things. The US hasn’t caught up on this, which I find shocking.

It’s true. It’s a thing in Germany as well. The 11th of the 11th. First of all, it’s the start of the carnival season. That’s huge but apparently, it’s also Singles Day on the 11th of the 11th. Although I have to say I saw it in a cosmetic store, and I’m not sure what to make of that. Singles Day here is a way for you to look nicer to perhaps improve your chances of not being single. I don’t know what they’re pushing, but it was a thing that I thought was interesting.

It’s beauty items on 11/11 in Asia.

That’s the store where I saw it.

I think it’s because self-care is part of what people say is your relationship with yourself. “I want to be sure that I’m taking care of the outside as much as I’m taking care of the inside but I want to caution that I feel super strongly about not taking things and traditions, the things that couples do, and turning them into something for singles. I dislike the idea of dating yourself. Dating is one thing. Spending time with yourself is another thing. I’m not saying we have to turn Valentine’s. Let couples have their Valentine’s Day. Singles Day is something different and you don’t have to be single to celebrate the people you love beyond your partner. I think we have to widen the definition of Valentine’s Day.

I’m not going to lie. My mom has been sending me Valentine’s cards for years.

My sister sends me Valentine’s Day cards. I send a lot of Valentine’s Day cards. I think it’s a great time in business to thank people for their business. I think it’s a great time to make that list and say, “Did I remember everybody? Is there anybody I should reach out to?” It’s such a simple thing and concept celebrating the people we love.

I agree. I like that.

My book is launched and a theme in it is understanding how good Homosapiens are at inventing things, but also inventing rules. We’re good at doing that in order to solve problems. One of those big problems that humanity has is cooperation, especially as our society scaled from hunter-gatherers to farming to the Industrial Age and now this digital age that we live in. We now are constantly interacting with strangers.

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When we lived in hunter-gatherer tribes, we knew everybody. There was accountability and structure. We needed to invent things like money, trade, and any number of things but in particular, these sets of either rules written down or social norms and unwritten rules. One of those things ended up being the relationship escalator that didn’t exist in hunter-gatherer societies.

We needed to invent marriage and then a particular form of marriage, which was arranged marriages. As people started to leave the farms and go into the cities and live in this Industrial Age, we started to see this rise in love marriages. Your family, your parents, and your community were no longer picking your spouse. You were getting to pick your spouse.

As a result, we had a rise in dating culture. The courtship process moved from inside the house out into the public sphere. This was especially good for women because women got to pick their spouse. It started to open up the possibilities for women not to be owned by their spouses anymore. Now, we’re at a culmination here where women’s opportunities, both educationally and economically in lots of parts of the world, allow them to not just pick a spouse but pick whether or not they want a spouse. We’re on a pretty positive trajectory, I would say. I think it’s worth looking back at the history of Valentine’s Day to see how it has been rejiggered a little bit to fit.

I feel like you picked a very kind word. That was very kind.

I’m excited. I don’t know anything about this.

The Catholics are not going to come out looking good in the next couple of minutes.

I’m going to hit some of the highlights of the historical context of Valentine’s Day. This traces back to an ancient Roman fertility festival celebrated in mid-February in the 6th century BC. This is over 2,600 years ago. This was a very different world we were living in. This is a world of arranged marriages, predominantly.

What do we think the expected lifespan was?

One of the interesting things about lifespan is we had a much higher child mortality rate, but if you did survive your childhood, you tended to have a longer life. We think that lifespan was much shorter, but it’s only shorter because it’s being brought down by high infant mortality. You had plenty of old people in the 6th century BC. The thing that made this famous was St. Valentine who was a priest in Rome during Emperor Claudius II’s reign. I think he had a short reign. It was only two years or so. Here’s another example of singlism. Claudius banned marriages for young men because he believed that being single made you a better soldier. It was like, “Send the single boys off to die.”

That was an extreme move on his part.

What are they fighting for?

They were always fighting over something back then.

No, but you’re asking if you didn’t have a lover, how could you go off to war unless you were saying goodbye to a lover and fighting for her?

What if you got to go back to your boy’s club?

You had responsibilities at home. I think that’s a big part of it. The origin of the term bachelor was about a young single man who was aspiring to become a knight, in a sense. There was this idea that you hadn’t yet made it when you were single. You are not yet fully part of society and certainly, you didn’t have as much. Evidently, Claudius didn’t think you had as much to live for when you were a single man.

What Valentine did was he defied this decree and he secretly performed marriages. One of the things that’s fascinating as I was doing this research is a lot of the writing referred to him uniting young lovers. That’s not the way I see it because these were all arranged marriages. These were not people picking each other.

These were families who were coming together, forming alliances, creating in-laws for very practical business matters. It wasn’t this romantic thing where this boy and this girl wanted to be together, but he was going to get shipped off to war, and they may not be able to be united. No. It was like these families wanted these two kids to be married to each other.

It’s like black market trading.

I get the invention. It seems shocking and weird but it still happens in places in the world now. However, it made sense in a world that was much more tenuous than the one that we live in. One that didn’t have bank accounts and things. You had land and livestock.

Only the men could own those things.

I was about to say that some women didn’t have bank accounts until the 1970s.

That’s true.

Women couldn’t get a mortgage in the US until 1974, which is why people are so fixated on, “Who are you dating? Are you getting married?” They haven’t caught up to we’re all okay on our own. It’s okay. You’re safe as a single. It comes from a good place.

Valentine’s actions were discovered and he was arrested and executed for his defiance. He became a martyr. With time, he became a martyr and a symbol of romantic love. Although, it’s not entirely accurate. Some of these couples coming together were in love or had loving relationships. I don’t want to dismiss that, but this was not a time of love marriages.

When I took people who were single on vacation, I went to the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, which is on the West Coast of Ireland, which is an agricultural-focused society, and basically on the edge of the world in the Atlantic Ocean. They had this matchmaking festival because they wanted you to not marry the boy on the farm next door. They wanted you to go to three farms over to mix up the gene pool a little bit.

I would say the argument was what difference did it make? How different was everybody? We all grew up on the edge of Ireland. I’m using this as a very specific example. We’re all farmers. Our families were probably similar. Our focus now is so much on, “I need this one right person,” and arguably in those less advanced circumstances, how much did who was making a difference. He was going to be a farmer. He was going to be Irish. He was going to be Catholic. Your life wasn’t going to change as dramatically as maybe it does now based on your partner’s choice.

Certainly, there are personality differences. That probably mattered how agreeable he was, how conscientious, or whether he was an alcoholic or not.

Also, how handsome.

I would say, how far could the differential be in any of those categories?

I don’t know. I look around and I see a lot of variation.

I say that with love. There’s variation today but was there variation then?

Variation is a matter of resolution. If you have, from the outside, twenty farm boys look the same, but if you have to pick between them, I think you see far more variation than somebody who is basically looking at them from the outside.

Your point is a good one. Now, you can marry someone from a completely different culture, race, religion, or even different age in a way that is more appropriate.

You can also structure your relationship in relationship design, as you preached, to be focused on one part of your similarities and the other things that aren’t important. You can have two different religions, but you agree on how you’re going to raise the children. You have the same idea about money and you want to achieve a certain financial success. Your health habits aren’t that important. You can make those choices now. Whereas it was all narrower hundreds of years ago.

Also, the other thing is you did not have that much say in your life. You lived in an extended family situation. You lived in a corporate family situation. Your parents, grandparents, and siblings were all very close by. You had not nuclearized the family where it was withdrawn and isolated from those people, which gives those people a lot more autonomy in a lot of ways, so I agree.

I was thinking about this as you were talking. With relationship design, you could have a Democrat and a Republican marry each other and then design the relationship in a way that could manage those different political beliefs. Versus this all-or-nothing where you have to be in lockstep with regard to most things that you believe and most ways that you want to live.

I would say the times that we’re talking about, whether it’s St. Valentine or the Irish matchmaking, the most important thing to do was to survive. This idea of our personality quirks and how they fit together was less important. What was more important was how we were going to make it through the winter.

I think it was Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage, a History. There was a passage in there where she said that a woman around this time, at least in her arranged marriage more generally, would hope that her husband would be kind to her and that if she was lucky, love would emerge. The way to sum this up is this is a very different view of relationships than the one that we have now. What we’re doing as we look back is we’re revising history to make Valentine’s actions and these marriages to be much more romantic than they were, and much more elevated.

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I’ll give you an example of this. As Christianity started to spread, the church would Christianize pagan festivals and it appears that Valentine’s Day was positioned in mid-February to Christianize the Lupercalia Festival. This is the 6th century AD. Lupercalia was celebrated in ancient Rome from February 13th to 15th and it’s a lot different than Valentine’s Day. It involved these rituals of sacrifice.

These men would sacrifice a goat and a dog. The men would use animal hides to whip women and it was a practice that was believed to promote fertility. This is not all. This was a wild time. This festival also included a matchmaking lottery where young men drew women’s names from a jar and were paired with them for the festival’s duration. If it was a suitable match, that pairing would go on longer.

I want to say I hate everything about it. The goat, the dog, the whipping, and everything.

These are not sophisticated times.

It’s one way of saying it. Imagine being a woman at that festival. Let’s go to a festival. You dress up for Coachella, and then you end up at a place like that. This is terrible.

One last thing about historical times. What ended up helping accelerate this was a Chaucer. I talked about the term bachelor. The first mention of the word bachelor was in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer wrote poetry associating Valentine’s Day with romantic love and it’s alleged that he was the first to do so. That’s what got things rolling, the media. Chaucer was the Oprah of the day, accelerating ideas.

I’ll take Valentine’s Day in that way any day over this goat and dog sacrificing festival.

The idea essentially is that we’ve turned it into this romantic loving thing because that’s what relationships are supposed to be about now. Over time, St. Valentine’s Day became a day to express love through letters, poetry, and small gifts. It evolved from being more of a religious Christian thing to secular. When it got going though was, to Mary’s point earlier, when businesses could start to make a profit from it.

We saw that in the Industrial Revolution. You started having mass production so you could mass produce Valentine’s Day cards. I don’t know if you two had this experience as children, but you would go to school as an elementary school student with a box of Valentine’s cards, and you would give out a card to every single one of your classmates.

That was not an experience that we had.

You decorate your shoe box and you cut the hole on the top and you put your card in everybody’s shoe shoebox.

I don’t even remember Valentine’s Day being a thing until I was in my teenage years.

It was big as an elementary school kid. I remember that.

It’s a big consumer event in the States. It’s huge and it’s bigger every year.

Especially in the United States, the Western world has become much more consumer-focused. You now have the ability to produce goods at scale. Prices go down and you have more selection. It started to get marketed as an opportunity for a gift exchange. Here’s another interesting thing. You started to see the rise in the postal service.

Now, you could send letters to your crushes in other places so they would receive letters to their homes. They could receive their Valentine’s Day cards in their homes. At the same time, we’re having dating culture being created and formulated and it moving out into the public sphere. This is an opportunity to not just reflect and express your appreciation for someone. It’s an opportunity for courtship.

It’s an opportunity now to stand out as a man against the competition. The better the gift you give, the more you can demonstrate, “I have wealth. I have means,” which still was something that mattered in the world where women couldn’t make it on their own except for our beloved spinsters. Women were still moving from their fathers’ houses into their husbands’ houses and all things equal. You want your husband’s house to be nicer. This is a chance to show those things off. Now, you have public expressions of love.

For the women, it’s how many suitors do I have? I would say, there’s another side. How much am I loved? How much am I shown the love? I feel like it’s competitive for both genders.

Indeed. That’s right. I’d say that hasn’t changed very much. One of the biggest realizations that I’ve had about dating apps is that not everybody on the dating apps is looking to connect. There are people on dating apps who are looking for attention as a way to feel good and be entertained.

Also, gauge market value.

They say that 35% of Gen Z and 30% of the Boomers are not looking for relationships with people who are single.

I think it’s even higher.

What does Valentine’s Day get to be if you’re not looking for a relationship? Do you just lose and you don’t get it? We have to redefine that.

The history lesson is over.

This is a good one.

I’m not saying this to try to undermine people who like Valentine’s Day. Having a reminder to express the love that you have for people in your heart is a good one, but I also want to say it’s not this pure holiday as we tend to now think about it. It has evolved because humans are good at inventing and reinventing, and making a world that’s still built for two works for the current world.

What I like about it is the fact that it has been transformed so much. Like Mary D said, it’s a holiday that can be transformed because it’s so consumer-oriented. That means that consumers decide what it is. I think that’s a cool idea if you decide that it’s not just about traditional couples or relationship escalators, but that it’s about your mom, your family, your friends, or your tribe. It’s nice that it’s not set in stone and that we get to decide what it is in a way.

One of the things I talked about in Enjoy Your Solo was one of the complaints about being single is I don’t have intimacy. I don’t necessarily mean sexual intimacy. Maybe you don’t feel close and you think that a couples automatically have that closeness. I believe that intimacy is showing off for the other person and it can happen so it should happen outside of couples so you can reach out to friends and family. You don’t have to have a parade. You can just say, “I’m thinking of you. I am supporting you. I’m sending my support from afar.” We don’t have that many touchstones in our culture that remind us to do those things.

I feel like Valentine’s Day is a time for you to think, “When did I last reach out to the people within my circle who maybe I don’t speak to you every day, but I know they’re hurting? I know they’re in a challenge. I know they could use some support and some encouragement. Valentine’s Day is an easy day to say, “I haven’t talked to you since. You had a life change or a challenge and I want you to know I’m thinking of you. That is an intimacy and that is so available to all of us.

If consumerism is a reminder to do that, then it’s something good. If it reminds you to think, “When was the last time I reached out to my aunt who lost her husband? When was the last time I reached out to the college kid I know who’s having a hard time? I’m going to send him a Valentine. I’m going to do something on Valentine’s Day.” What’s wrong with that interpretation? It’s important that if you are living alone as a family of one, you continue to build intimacy by getting beyond yourself and thinking of others. Valentine’s Day is about thinking of the other person.

I feel like nurturing friendships is so under-emphasized culturally on how important these relationships are. I have a couple of friends who I’ve had for a long time. I feel like the last few years putting more effort into cultivating and nurturing these relationships has been so rewarding. It’s amazing to see how these friendships can still grow and become more intimate when you do that.

I agree with you that even if something has commercial roots or even a horrible goat or dog sacrificing roots reminds us of something wholesome in the moment. I don’t think that’s so problematic. Christmas is the same. Some people don’t like Christmas but you can also think, “It reminds me to spend time with the people close to me or the people I care about who I want to ring out the year with and reflect on the year.

Sure, it’s commercial and apparently, Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus, but we all have days off. We all can make the time and we can all sit together closely and enjoy each other’s company and appreciate each other. I think the problem is that some people may still be in this mindset that not being appreciated on Valentine’s Day is a mark of low value to people. That can be a bit difficult where if you don’t receive any cards or appreciation, something is wrong with you or negative.

I think that goes back to couple is good and single is bad. That’s not true but you have to work on that within yourself. I also think when you talk about any holiday being a time to stop and appreciate your friend, I believe as a person who’s living in a family of one who’s single, you have more time and energy to grow your garden of friendship. Maybe there’s somebody who it takes a little bit more time to be their friend or you have to work a little harder to stay in touch or your friend wants you to do something wacky.

You’re more able to say, “Let me swing by. Sure. It’s my pleasure. Let me make room for that.” You don’t have to talk to a partner about it. “Do you mind if I go to my sister’s? She’s raising snakes and we’ll just be there for a minute. Do you mind?” Whereas when you’re single, you can use your energy to grow a more diverse garden of friendship. I like that analogy. The best is that you have richer soil and more time to get further out, and Valentine’s Day is a time to do that.

To digress for a moment. You mentioned this in the Doing Things Alone episode Mary, where you said that singles can live such comfortable lives, they can choose to be uncomfortable to help others. I keep thinking about that and this came up in an episode where my guest and I were talking about the holidays. A member of the solo community said, “I love the holidays. I love going and visiting my family because I can. It’s easy for me to do that,” helping out, being involved, and so on rather than someone who might resent that they have to make the trip. They have to fight the crowds. They have to fight the airports, the traffic, the weather, and so on. I think that’s a very nice reversal where you could feel, “They’ve never visited me. The practical matter is that I get to visit them. What a wonderful thing that I get to do and I get to do it in an easy way because it’s just me. It’s just one seat on a plane.”

You don’t have to say to a partner, “Do you mind if I go see my aunt? Can we fit it in? What are your needs?” You just have to take care of yourself. I also feel on that same topic, when you’re single, your life can be exactly as you wish it to be and you should be comfortable and content. You can make yourself comfortable and content all the time. That muscle of making for someone else, putting someone else’s needs first can atrophy a little bit. I believe that holidays, family, and group travel bring that muscle right back in.

This is a silly example, but I lived in an apartment that only had one bathroom. When somebody would come and visit, we’d come back and they would use the bathroom first. I don’t normally have to wait if I have to pee. I can go first and it would always be a reminder of, “Other people have to make a little bit more time.” That’s a little tiny example of how we don’t appreciate if we live alone. How we get to do everything we want, anytime we want, and how we want. That’s not good for you as a human so you have to be sure that you’re getting beyond yourself.

I appreciate the optimism around reinventing Valentine’s Day so that you can make it what you want. There’s no central authority saying, “This is how Valentine’s Day does. This is culture, which is an agreed-upon set of norms, and it’s constantly changing. However, let’s talk a little bit about the downside of this thing because I alluded to it before. I think that it can make the non-proud single feel even less proud.

It’s very easy to feel bad because you don’t have that person. I think it puts a lot of pressure on couples to behave in certain ways. It’s a very costly day because when everybody is trying to do the same thing, demand goes up and then so do prices. It’s wonderful to buy flowers for people. The one day that I absolutely never buy flowers is February 14th because those flowers cost twice as much.

There are a lot of people out there who are financially insecure and they feel like they must invest in fancy dinners, gifts, flowers, and these things to demonstrate their love, especially in a social media world where people like to show off what their partner got them or how wonderful their life is. It sets up disappointment because the person is practical like I am. Some people are screaming right now, “Cheap like you are,” or that you put yourself and stretch yourself and spend $200 that you don’t have to do something that you could do with a poem or with a more thoughtful celebration that’s private that’s less of a cost.

In the end, marketing can come in many forms, but one form I think that is very common is a form that plays on fears and feelings of not being good enough. That’s not going to be different around Valentine’s Day, but it’s going to be in a very specific and very personal intimate domain, having made value, mattering to other people, belonging, and on the other hand, being able to provide something.

Also, being able to love in the right way or show your love in the right way. In that way, it can be such a narrow norm that everybody pushing against it or falling outside it will feel at least unappreciated or falling short of what is expected. I would say this goes for a lot of marketing, but on Valentine’s Day, it’s very specific and very narrowly defined to some degree.

I think the two things that are most at work on Valentine’s Day are the Noah’s Ark syndrome. The world is an ark and everybody’s two by two. If I don’t have my other zebra, I am not worthy. The numbers just don’t back that up. Social media may say that, romantic companies may say that, and marketing says that but 46% of US adults are single. We are not an ark. The other thing that’s at work is comparing the worst of being single to the best of being a couple.

All the couples are having the best Valentine’s Day and I am single and I am forgotten. All four parts of that sentence are incorrect except for the “I’m a single” part. You have to take that apart and say, “Couples are under pressure. It’s not always as fun.” You cannot compare somebody’s best Valentine’s of their life. They just got engaged and you’re sitting on the couch. You’re having a Thursday and they’re having one of the biggest moments of their lives. Let’s remember that. Let’s have some perspective, but it’s hard to do.

How do you do it?

I think that within yourself, you wish them happiness, and then you are certain that you are where you want to be. If you want to be in a couple that badly, then you better go find someone or you must make peace with being single or else you’re going to always be in a comparison.

That’s one way to do it and that is achieving a more temporary stability of self and self-value. The other part of it is the elicited states at the moment. I think when you talk about social media, even if these people are having what seems to be the best moment of their life, it doesn’t mean that it’s fun. It’s a snapshot of two seconds where they pose in a certain way but there’s a lot of stress around the same with these enormous weddings. It looks great on camera, but it’s stressful and nobody remembers a thing about who saw who. It’s that they couldn’t find a tiara at the right moment or whatever or the bridesmaid was wearing pink instead of apricot.

Iris, I have been an event planner my whole life and I’ve done a lot of weddings. I’m like, “Apricot is even close to pink.”

This is how these conflicts happen. My train of thought stopped at the apricot. One thing is just believing that it’s fake. Most of the stuff is fake. It’s not true.

It’s made up. I love to say that all the time. “This is just all made up.” We used to whip women with the hides of animals because we believed that it helped their fertility. That was made up and we found out that that’s not the right way to increase fertility. We like to think that the thing that’s made up right now is right. Everything we look back on, a bunch of that stuff was wrong. What are the made-up things now that are not right? Will we look back on these weddings and people will roll their eyes?

I think people roll their eyes six months afterward.

Especially when all the bills come due.

Also, on the day, “I forgot to wear this.”

I think the one thing about whether it be the bridezillas or the people who are super fixated on doing Valentine’s Day perfectly, the intentions are good. This is like, “I’m pursuing something that I believe is good for me. I’m pursuing a relationship that will enhance my life.” I do believe that. I think what happens though is you get caught up on the ceremony where the focus ought to be on the creation of that relationship.

For example, instead of planning a big extravagant wedding, think about how you might still be able to honor this relationship and celebrate this relationship while using that money on things that will help the relationship in the long run. They’ll help provide financial stability to the family that you’re going to have or the home that you’re going to create, for example. The opportunity cost of a wedding can be extraordinary. Let’s imagine the unimaginable, and that is that I had a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.

Maybe a very short-lived relationship, like a 24-hour girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.

Iris, I was going to give her the February 1st. You meet somebody on February 1st, she makes it to the 15th. What happens?

It’s not that she makes it but that I make it. Come on. Let’s be honest here.

Come on, Peter. There’s somebody out there for you as well. You just have to keep looking.

I’m not looking hard enough.

Wave to us from the escalator.

Let’s suppose that I have a romantic partner in my life. We could do what I normally do when I have a girlfriend during Valentine’s Day. I do very little. I acknowledge this is a made-up thing and it doesn’t make sense for us to walk in lockstep with everyone else in this sense. I won’t out of principle do this, but there’s another level to this that I believe would be superior.

It would be let’s use this moment in time to reflect on our relationship. Let’s do a walk down memory lane about the fun times that we’ve had, and about what we enjoy about each other. What we adore about each other, and what we love about each other. Let’s talk about what’s not working the way we need it to be working to solidify this relationship.

Let’s engage in some relationship design. Let’s celebrate. Let’s reflect. Let’s be honest about what it is that we love about the person and what are the points of friction and challenge that we’re having to co-create a stronger relationship. In the same way, imagine if married couples took all the time and energy that they put into throwing this wedding that’s going to last for seven hours, and they spent all that time and energy on planning and arranging the rules and agreements that they want for their marriage.

In that way, I like Valentine’s Day because it’s almost a forced reflection. It ends up causing a lot of people to spend more money than they have or to feel bad about themselves or whatever it is, but I think it’s an opportunity to reflect on where you are at and where you would like to be. To your point, Mary, I think that if you are deeply affected, sad, and lonely by Valentine’s Day, it’s indicative that your life’s not exactly going the way you want it to be going.

Maybe that solution will be to find your person and get back in the game. It may be that you need to address other areas of your life that are lacking because you have a void. You don’t have the friends that you want. You’re not having the adventures that you would like. You’re not the person that anyone wants to date, in that sense. It may end up being that you decide on a dual strategy, which is, “I’m going to live a remarkable life and I’m going to keep one eye open for that person, or people,” depending on your proclivities. Maybe next year when I reflect on my life, it won’t feel like there’s such a void.

I love what you said, and if something bothers you and you blame it on being single, then you’re doing single wrong. That’s your life sending you a message saying, “We should live differently so that we’re happy on our own.” You can still find a partner, but if you’re distressed over Valentine’s Day and you think life would be better with a partner, I promise you that’s not the case.

The way that life is better is that you have a better relationship with yourself. You have 100% of your relationship with yourself forever and only 50% of your next relationship. If you’re down, that’s sending you a message and start, “I love to live remarkably.” Make the list. What would living remarkably look like for you because there’s no partner telling you what to do?

Iris is thinking.

I am, but I’m a social psychologist so I always put a lot of emphasis also on the context. This is going to be maybe too into. I’m not trying to intellectualize it, but I think a lot of stuff that we talk about nowadays has an emphasis on the individual. When we talk about climate change, it’s about individuals recycling bottles. When we talk about health, it’s about individuals making healthy choices. The same is true here.

When we talk about how it feels to be single, are you happy? We talk about like, “Can you work on yourself and accept yourself?” That is all true but if the world around you clearly signals that this is not a fit or the context around you makes certain behavior more difficult than other behavior, I think we need to take that into account as well.

If you’re in any setting where you stand out like a sore thumb, not like a peacock or a beautiful unicorn, that’s going to hurt because people want to belong to some degree. They’re looking for this optimal distinctiveness where they both are happy with themselves as unique human beings, but they also want to feel included in the larger part of it. Yes, I think everybody should work on feeling good in their own skin and feeling good about yourself.

However, I think we need to have a lot of compassion for people who struggle with that because it can be really difficult. Also, that may be because you don’t have the right people around you or you feel like the people around you judge you or think less of you because of your relationship status or whatever thing is sticking out in that particular context. I don’t want to put it all on the individual as being completely responsible for their emotional state because they are but it’s still more difficult in some context than in others.

I agree with you. I think we should open up the definition of Valentine’s Day. I agree.

I think that would help. That would be great because when you open up that norm, that acceptance and feeling good in what all the other people are doing and accepting the variance feels a lot better. It’s much easier.

I think the rise of Galentine’s Day is a nice example of that in the following way, which is like, “Let’s unite in this thing.” I think what often happens is having a community like the SOLO community, which you can sign up at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. It is a place where you can find like-minded individuals. You can find an alternative narrative that’s there so you’re not out there. I have to be honest. I don’t know where my skepticism about Valentine’s came from, except that I tend to be a highly reflective person and tend to overthink things.

I think it’s the consumerism that bugs you the most.

It does a lot. I agree with that. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I had no money for so much of my life, and then suddenly, there was all this pressure to spend it in a way that I didn’t think was a good return on investment. I do think that there are opportunities. To your point, Iris, the average person is just living in it. They don’t realize that all of this is made up. They’re living their life and the world says, “This is how you behave this day,” and it sets off these cognitive and emotional reactions in them without much reflex. What does it end up doing? It ends up being the case that you can invite other people to come hang out and make dinner that night.

You can go out for coffee that day. You can go find the places that are going to be empty because it’s Valentine’s Day or go bowling. Valentine’s Day is a great day to go bowling because that’s not where the couples are. Where are the non-couples? Go to those places, bring your friends, and talk about these kinds of things to let people know they’re not alone. You can make this day whatever you want to make. The world doesn’t have to tell you how to behave.

Also, by investing in your community and in your close friends, then you already create a little circle where you have this acceptance anyway. That’s also super helpful and healthy in dealing with feelings of non-belonging. I think it’s a great idea to, just specifically on that day, take a stand and do something great with your friends.

I have hosted all kinds of Valentine’s Day parties for singles. I took the singles on cruises. I used to throw a Valentine’s Day party. I had all the women come first and bring gifts. You could bring a slutty gift or a romantic gift, depending on where you were and your relationships. People exchanged and then we went out to the bar. There are all kinds of things to do from a celebration standpoint.

I need to know what a slutty gift is.

Like from the adult store. We had an all-ball menu. All the food was ball-shaped like meatballs.

I enjoy creativity. This Valentine’s Day, what do you think you two are going to do?

I have already decorated because I like Valentine’s Day decorations the way people like their Christmas tree. I usually have some Valentine’s Day lights and décor.

That’s wonderful.

I have various Valentine’s Day outfits.

Do you do several costume changes throughout the day?

I for sure could. There are not many holidays I don’t have several costumes for.

This is one of the reasons I bring Mary Delia back time and time again. It is because she was early to the movement. What I like about Mary’s perspective is it’s never liminal. You’re never waiting for life to happen. You are making life happen. I think that that is so inspirational because we live in this world where there are a bunch of made-up rules, and the rules are not created to make the individual thrive. The rules are designed to make society work.

Even the invention of marriage was not about personal fulfillment. It was about what’s best for the community, what’s best for the family, or what’s best for your in-laws. We need these reminders that things may be posed as being good for you but most of it is we just want people to be well-behaved. We want them to do as they’re told. We want them to be a little bit scared. We want them to be a little bit sad and strive for these small goals in life. It’s like, “Go to work, get a good job, find a way to survive, and try to make it to retirement,” yet we live in this incredible world. Let’s talk about that world that we opened up with where you were living in a farming community.

The excitement was the festivals and these holidays. There’s a reason all these holidays occur in the winter because people are miserable and you need to try to regulate their behavior. You don’t need as many festivals in the summer because it’s a much nicer time. What I think is a very nice reminder, and every time I speak to you, Mary, I get this impression. I’ll talk about why I like Iris in a moment here because Iris and I have a different set of conversations, but I always feel exhilarated when I talk to you. I always feel like, “Yeah. I want to do all the things.”

I get to live one life and yes, it’s hard work to go and plan a trip. Yes, it’s a little bit scary. It’s expensive and it takes you away from these important projects that seem so damn important because the world says your work’s so important. I think it’s just a nice reminder that you can do whatever you want if you’re able to break free of these social norms of understanding that you’re going to have to break some rules.

The biggest part is, “What will make you happy?” Your soul life is to do it yourself. You have to do it. No one can do it for you. It has to fit you. You like to travel. I like to travel. It doesn’t have to be that. It can be whatever but don’t wait. Don’t miss it.

It could be writing and novel or starting a podcast. It could be starting a garden in your backyard. It could be joining a community garden. The list is infinite but it very rarely is, “Let’s sit on the couch and watch more TV.”

When he comes or when she comes, “I’ll do that when my person arrives. I’ll do that when I’m a couple.” Don’t wait. When you get on the escalator, you can have those adventures, but don’t miss these adventures.

The thing that I like about Iris is that we talk on the phone a lot because I’m up early and walking to a coffee shop. I called her because she’s one of the only people who is appropriate to call at that hour because she’s in Europe. Iris and I have been on a personal and professional journey to recognize all the ways that the rules are just made up. They are not necessarily there to help us be great scholars or for us to be happy with our work.

Also, how difficult it is to break those rules because it means that we’re going to disappoint or anger colleagues, for example, that we’re going to feel guilty for this because we live in this particular version of society called academia, which is very conservative in their thinking and very rule-based. It’s been a wonderful set of conversations that we’ve been having in terms of encouraging each other to do what’s best for our careers, for our scholarship, and our lives more generally. Thank you both.

Thank you for these words. It was kind. I wanted to say that breaking the rules is super hard and then suddenly super easy because you realize once you start doing it that the consequences are not what you thought they would be. You think you’re going to jump off a cliff, but you’re not. You’re just stepping off a little embankment or something into a shallow stream. It’s not the Grand Canyon. It’s a little ditch. You walk through it and it is all fine. That’s at least my experience. I had a resistance to breaking norms or not even breaking them, but bending them and once you do it, nothing of consequence happens.

That same episode I referred to is with Janice Formichella. She’s a breakup coach. We do a Truth or Truth. She asked me about my dating life point blank and I was unprepared for that question. In part because I think the audience gets a sense of what I am about. As I say, I’m like a 20% no way and an 80% new way type of solo. I said to her, when I was moving back from Los Angeles to Colorado, I was at my wit’s end with traditional dating. I didn’t feel like it worked for me. It wasn’t the path that I wanted. I didn’t like the dynamic and I decided that I was going to own a different way of dating.

I remember filling out dating profiles in new ways. I remember at one point in time my friend’s girlfriend, I had put something in a dating profile. I had a list of things I was looking for because I wasn’t looking for just one thing. I want to co-create. I had put FWB in there and my friend’s girlfriend was like, “You might scare some women off with that.” I was like, “But I would be happy with that with the right woman.” I was like, “I’m done playing scared.”

You’re scaring off the right women.

That’s right. When I was redoing these dating profiles, I was 100% honest about the range of possibilities, the process, and who I was. I remember thinking, “If this means I’m going to be celibate because there’s no one who wants these things, then so be it. At least I’m living my authentic life.” I was like, “I don’t care who sees this. I don’t care if colleagues see this. I don’t care who sees these things because this is true. This is what I want.”

I have fortunately been pleasantly surprised that a whole different world has opened up to me and that people find this refreshing and still find me appealing enough to at least connect on occasion. I think that it would be very easy to be timid and to run the escalator script and hope for the best and not truly be your authentic self. You end up being disappointed with the people you meet and they’re disappointed with you.

I say this Iris because now it’s easy to revise it myself and feel like it was this big bold decision, but I did it with a little bit of reluctance in the same way that I launched this show with a bit of trepidation. I was like, “No, I wasn’t being censured for this show. No. I haven’t been made a pariah.” If anything, it’s helped me find my people. I think that this is reinforcing to remind people that these rules are generally socially enforced.

That is people may talk some smack about you, probably behind your back because most people don’t have the guts to say it to your face. They’re just words anyway so I would much rather live my authentic life and bend or break the rules and suffer some consequences, which are rather minor than suffer living in lockstep in a world that doesn’t quite fit me and is not built for me.

However, it’s people coming out of the lockstep that’s going to change the system. It’s people saying, “I’m going to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my dog and put it on social media.” That’s going to change the narrative. I try hard not to talk about dating because it’s not my expertise. My expertise is enjoying your solo, but I don’t like that question when people are like, “What are looking for?” I’m like, “I’m looking for a billionaire who’s not going to bug me too much.”

Delia, do you have a dog?

I do not, but I feel like the dog people would love a Valentine’s Day for dogs.

You can always borrow a dog from some couple.

You’d have a friend with a dog. I have a sister with a dog. I’m dog adjacent. I have plenty of access to dogs.

You have the FWD, Friend With Dogs. The final thing is also what you said, Peter. The thing is people talk smack about you anyway. The whole idea that you can prevent people from judging you is so misguided. People will judge you and you get to decide on what they judge you. It’s either doing what you want or doing what they want.

By the way, if you do what they want, they never say to you, “I’m so proud of you for doing what I want you to do.” They take it for granted. I did a different podcast, the Job Tales podcast and we talked a lot about the Solo movement in it. The guy who introduced me to the podcast host sent me an email or a text. He listened to it and he said, “I enjoyed the low-key rebellious vibe,” and I think that in many ways, that’s what solo is. It’s not in-your-face rebellion. It’s not “Take down the man.” It’s just, “I’m going to live the way I want to live unapologetically. It’s very low-key. It’s not trying to convert people. It’s not trying to tell married people they’re wrong. It’s like, “My path is different and it’s equally worthy. I’m comfortable with that.”

Peter, don’t you say this all the time. The very act of being you is an act of rebellion or some iteration of that.

That’s Albert Camus, essentially.

I know but we’ve not been talking, but I’ve been talking with you.

I have this quote by Camus that I like a lot. It’s in the book. It’s, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to be so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” I think I should end there. Mary Delia, thank you.

Thank you.

Iris, thank you.

Thank you, Peter.

All our audiences out there, we wish you a very happy Valentine’s Day filled with lots of love in the many ways that you love many people. Cheers.


Important Links


About Mary Delia Allen

SOLO 169 | Enjoy Your SoloMary Delia Allen evangelizes a new era of being single known as the solo. This is time for unmarried individuals to build a one size fits one life they love. After ten years as a vacation tour leader dedicated to singles Mary Delia Allen wrote Enjoy Your Solo; How to Be Great at Being Single to inspire singles and to educate non-singles on what solo life is today.

So much energy is spent on attracting/keeping/losing love it’s time to flip the script and celebrate the solo!


About Iris Schneider

SOLO 180 | Truth Or TruthIris Schneider is a Professor of Social Psychology at the Technical University Dresden. She studies ambivalence and difficulty in decision-making and judgment.