The signs are inescapable, especially at mall jewellery stores: "Find the perfect gift"; "Show her that you know her". There are "Heart pendants she will love"; and a "Hugs & Kisses" collection. Social media is hawking pressies like cookies, chocolates and shapewear (not a romantic gift, but ever-present on my feed. I'm trying not to read too much into it).
Unless you've been shunning shopping and media, you know Valentine's Day is on Friday.
Embrace the pseudo-holiday or reject it; either way, the day mostly celebrates romantic love. Which is fine, except even before us pre-millennials were searching for information about the Greek god of love, Eros, in our Encyclopedia Brittanicas, we were hammered with the construct that coupled is the human default and singletons were sad creatures for whom the right one had simply miss-dialled our number on his rotary phone.
It's different now. We have Tinder, Grindr, Bumble ... myriad ways to reach out and say, "You're hot and I'm lonely".
There's also a growing movement towards staying single by choice. Podcasts, books and videos are devoted to the topic. Instead of learning how to make yourself more attractive or engaging to the opposite sex, you can focus on you.
Some of you are thinking this is a load of self-absorbed nonsense. The stereotype of the selfish, self-indulgent, self-centred single is just that - a stereotype. But many of us in the single space are anything but - we're raising children, or helping with other people's kids, helping causes we believe in, working and making time for friends. Coupled people do all these things. But data from multiple studies shows singles are more generous than married people with their time, money and with care-taking someone who was sick, disabled or elderly.
I'm lucky to have found a partner a long time ago with whom I had my kids. He died in 2010. I remarried in 2014, but New Guy worked a series of faraway jobs. During the past two years of our fraying relationship, we rarely saw each other. I made the painful decision last year to sell the final filament tying us together - a house.
What now? For me, there's no swiping, no dating, no awkward moments across a cafe table trying to discern if Mr Right Now is a serial killer, narcissist or has Peter Pan syndrome.
I was reminded how few choices women used to have when I took my daughter recently to see the movie Little Women. Around the time Louisa May Alcott wrote the book in 1869, women could be married or be spinsters. Few other choices existed. One of the characters, Jo, said, "I'm sick of being told that love is all a woman is fit for". Alcott never married and famously said, "I'd rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe".
Today's women are fit for careers and hobbies that suit their desires, capabilities and interests. Neuroscientist and triathlete are possible in one feminine package.
If we want a partner, fine. If not, that's okay, too. But society still looks askance at singletons, especially women. Many of us are deemed unlovable, too ambitious, too independent, and my favourite - too picky. Two of my close friends who were once partnered have been single for about a decade. They've dated, but nothing serious has materialised. They're attractive, smart, own homes and have careers. They shouldn't settle. They deserve nothing less than a fulfilling relationship with someone they can match wits and chemistry with. So do you. So do I.
I've been guilty on occasion of excluding singletons from social activities when I was married. That kind of separation breeds isolation and otherness - the idea you're not fit for purpose when couples get together. On the other end of the spectrum, friends in Spokane whom I rarely see invited me out for dinner with them one year - on their wedding anniversary. Granted, I was visiting town a short time and didn't want to knuckle into their night, but the cuisine and the conversation were wonderful. And I loved my friends even more for being radically inclusive.
We need to celebrate singledom if we want to inoculate humans against rushing into the arms of their first Tinder date. People comfortable in their skin and confident about immersing themselves in solo activities will eventually make better partners if they so choose. People who take time to learn what makes them happy are better positioned for romantic love.
Not that any mum of teenagers gets much of this, but there's beauty in solitude. There's comfort in not only steering your own ship, but sitting on deck with a book in one hand, cup of coffee in another. Being alone does not mean being lonely. In fact, the more I practise, the more I can live uncoupled with contentment, rather than heartache. British poet Warsan Shire wrote, "My alone feels so good, I'll only have you if you're sweeter than my solitude." Is it any wonder the author, who also said, "I belong deeply to myself" is a she?
Sometimes, there's nothing missing from our lives; there's only a societal expectation we need a significant other.
Women have a pragmatic reason to nurture female friendships - we survive, on average, longer than men. Having outlived one spouse and outgrown another, I look at my girlfriends with tremendous gratitude and a sense of wonder so many of those relationships have outlasted two marriages combined. The show Parks and Recreation in 2010 had a character throw a "Galentine's Party" for her female friends the day before Valentine's Day. I love this idea.
Why not treat yourself and a friend to something nice on the 13th? If it's a male friend, he can be your Palentine.
I'm not opposed to the idea one day I'll find another romantic partner with whom to travel and have adventures. But he would have to set off fireworks and not just ring bells, but improvise jazz on the marimba. I'm also not opposed to the notion I'll never have that again. If I'm lucky enough to reach old age, Spinster Me will live with girlfriends and a golden retriever named Doug.
To rip off a meme: I think this relationship is working out. I think I'm the one.