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Breaking Up On Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day disappointment can be a blessing in disguise

Last year Margo* came into my office after Valentine's Day, sobbing. It was supposed to have been a celebration of romance and love. So why had her boyfriend - make that ex-boyfriend - chosen to end their relationship on that specific morning? "I never should have trusted him," she said through her tears. "I'll never trust another guy. And I'll never be able to enjoy this day again!!"

In truth, when she got over her pain, Margo would remember that there had been signs that the relationship was finished for some time before Valentine's Day. She would also eventually acknowledge that she had not been happy with this man for many months. But I was curious about why her boyfriend had made the final break on this Day of Love and Romance. Although they had not been getting along well, I had never heard anything in Margo's description that made me think he was cruel or sadistic, so I was having difficulty believing that he had intentionally hurt her. What could his motivation have been?

I was thinking about this question again as I listened to my clients preparing for the big day this year. I have long known that in general men and women have very different attitudes towards this celebration of romantic love. But more than that, I have noticed that people fall into different categories, not based on their gender, but on their personalities. There are, of course, the romantics, male and female, who fill the day with flowers and gifts, and celebrate in some special way, whether a candlelit dinner at home, an evening out, or a weekend away. There are the cynics who openly criticize the holiday as nothing but a marketing ploy and refuse to purchase anything, even a card, or to celebrate in any way at all. There are those who say that they express their love all year long and do not need a special day for it; and there are those who had no one to share the day with. This last group falls into several subcategories, including those who feel sad, left out, wishful, or relieved.

Couples have their own categories. There are those who are in agreement about how to spend the day. Their lives, of course, often go most smoothly, at least on that day. Then there are pairs made up of one cynic and one romantic. For them, conflict is inevitable when it comes to this kind of celebration. Someone has to win, someone to lose on the question of getting their way. But even then there are differences in the ways the couples handle their disagreement, with some giving in gracefully, others with frustration and irritability, and still others with a sense of martyrdom.

And on the day itself, there is always surprise, sometimes pleasurable, often disagreeable. Disappointment is almost inevitable, since the holiday can hardly live up to its image. Daydreams of romantic interludes give way to the reality of crowded restaurants, routine conversation, bad hair, unwanted attention.

In the end, Margo and I together concluded that her boyfriend chose Valentine's Day to end their relationship because he was a romantic. He wanted them to be happily in love, even for a single day; and when they woke up that morning and immediately started arguing, it was more than he could bear.

Last week Margo told me that St. Valentine's (or maybe the Hallmark Company) and her ex-boyfriend had done her a great favor. Although she does not have a steady boyfriend this year, she is happily dating someone who might become one. She feels better about herself. And she knows that a single day does not, as she jokingly put it, "a lifetime make."

*Not her real name. I change names and identifying characteristics in my blog to protect individuals and families.

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