As Valentine's Day approaches, singles in SLO County and throughout the nation are reminded that they don't conform to societal standards.
# Coupling up is the natural order of things or so our culture tells us via endless articles, advertising, and more subtle and insidious means. Couples tend to pay less per person than singles when attending events or going on vacations. Couples get tax breaks and incentives. Couples aren't nagged by their mothers to "find that someone special." But singles? Well, if you're single, there's obviously something wrong with you.
Yet statistics show that singles are the fastest-growing population group in the country, and that most Americans will spend more of their adult lives single rather than married. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 1950s married couples comprised 80 percent of all households but today make up only 50.7 percent. Any second now, singles will be the new majority of households. Forty-two percent of the American workforce is made up of singles, 40 percent of homebuyers are single, and 35 percent of voters are you guessed it flying solo.
Those numbers aren't lost on locals, even in the face of the hearts-and-candy celebration rapidly advancing on the calendar.
Harry Lindell, co-owner of Shell Beach's Alex Bar-B-Q along with Mark Adam, said that Alex staffers are using Valentine's Day to cater to what Central Coast barflies desire.
"People like cheesy stuff," he said of the establishment's Second Annual Love Stinks Valentine's Night Party. "It is a spoof on a traditional love story."
According to Lindell, Ray Means a bartender's bartender at Alex came up with the idea as a way to take Alex's promotional efforts to new heights. Means (happily single) confirmed this assessment.
"It is the anti-V-Day party," he said. "Restaurants are for couples. The bars are a singles' scene."
# Revelers will receive goodies, including condoms and naked roses, as well as a chance to thumb their noses at the countless couples who spend the evening slurping down the same spaghetti noodle until they kiss, a la Lady and the Tramp.
The singles-oriented party planners at Alex Bar-B-Q aren't the only ones downplaying the traditional restaurant scene. Megan McGreen, a licensed clinical social worker in Morro Bay, noted that going out to eat on Valentine's Day can potentially be depressing, especially for people who are anxious or down emotionally because of their single status. The day can trigger feelings of loneliness, she commented, and can make people feel like failures if they've never had a committed relationship.
To combat those negative notions, McGreen recommends that struggling singles do something for themselves on Valentine's Day.
"It's just one day that will pass," she said, "and people can celebrate it in a way they choose."
She went on in an e-mail to explain her thoughts:
"There are a lot of unhappy marriages out there, and still our society puts subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on people to get married or to have a girl or boyfriend. And if you don't, somehow you're 'less than.' We're obsessed with the need for a partner the mass fear of loneliness or of being left out gets projected onto those who are single.
"Valentine's Day is a challenge for those who are single because of this pressure and the belief that if you don't have a partner, you're lonely. Loneliness is part of the human condition. People who are married can be lonely.
"You can be happy or unhappy with or without a partner. It's your choice. Valentine's Day is a celebration of love, not just romantic love. From what I remember, St. Valentine wrote letters to families and children to show how much they were appreciated, to help them feel good about themselves. If you have that kind of love in your life that appreciates people and nature and anything else you care about happy Valentine's Day to you!"
Maybe you missed it, but last Sept. 17 through 23 the country observed National Singles Week, which celebrates the lives and contributions of unmarried and single Americans. And, in case you don't want to miss the next big national singles-celebrating holiday, mark your calendar for Feb. 15, also known as Singles Awareness Day.
Matt, a Sacramento-based small business owner (who only wanted to go by one name for this article), started SinglesAwareness.com in response to comments from his friends and acquaintances who wanted suggestions for what to do when single on Valentine's Day.
He suggested volunteering at a hospital or nursing home to visit someone without a family, taking a walk or treating yourself to a trip to a salon, getting together with friends for dinner and a movie, and most importantly remembering that "you are defined by who you are and not who you are dating (or not dating!)."
In an e-mail, Matt explained that the exact founding of Singles Awareness Day is unknown, but that alternative events for singles in mid-February have certainly been growing in popularity. He agreed that this culture is weighted toward couples and echoed McGreen's ideas about a more general outlook for this holiday.
"Concentrate on sharing your love with family members, friends, or strangers because Valentine's Day should not be just about couples," he wrote.
Last year, Matt started an anti-Valentine's Day site for anyone coupled or otherwise willing to take a stand against Feb. 14's notorious identity.
"AntiVday.com was started in 2006 in response to my growing frustration of Valentine's Day," he wrote. "I am a happily married man, but I don't like celebrating Valentine's Day."
# He went on to explain that he didn't like the day when he was single, either.
"Why is it on a day that is set aside for love there are so many lonely and isolated people?" he pondered.
Now his AntiVday site is gaining traffic, he reported, and he's seeing what seems to be "a wide response from people who are anti-love, anti-commercialization of love, and others who just don't like it because they are single." Next year, Matt plans to get an online forum at SinglesAwareness.com so people can post events or parties for singles. He's also working on partnership deals to offer Singles Awareness Day T-shirts, greeting cards, and more.
(By the way, ignore the fact that the acronym for Singles Awareness Day is SAD.)
Ultimately, Matt explained that changes in society including rising divorce rates have created more single people than ever before.
Research psychologist Bella DePaulo, who wrote an entire book about singlehood in America (Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored and Still Live Happily Ever After), believes that the increasing number of singles is driving what she calls "matrimania," a glorification of wedded bliss and our cultural obsession with weddings.
"Americans feel insecure about the place of marriage," she wrote. "It no longer appears to be the only path to happiness."
So what does all this mean? Are people like Matt and DePaulo really onto something? Probably. It's hard to argue with a changing society and what seems to be a mounting singles trend. Just look at TV over the years. Unlike the heroine of the '70s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, single women aren't an oddity anymore. Throw out those antiquated terms "old maid" and "spinster." Today's unmarried woman is typically single by choice. Many women have eschewed the old aspirations to beauty, marriage, and family as their ultimate goals, and more and more Americans aren't interested in having children at all.
Then there's that 50 percent divorce rate. Ask any candid longtime married couple and they'll tell you people fall in and out of love with each other over a long marriage. Sure, in times past marriages lasted longer, but that may be because women had few options as divorcees. People stayed together because to do otherwise was antithetical to cultural mores. Not anymore. Marriages have become almost as disposable as Bic lighters and pens when they run out of juice, you throw them away and get another one, which may be why so many of us are choosing to remain single: If we can't go the distance like our parents, why bother?
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 55 percent of 3,000 singles reported that they are not in a committed relationship and have no active interest in seeking a romantic partner. If you're single and happy, rest easy in the knowledge that you're not alone.
Glen Starkey is in deep, deep denial. Set him up on a blind date at email@example.com. Editor Ryan Miller and Calendar Editor Christy Heron contributed to this story.
Finding harmony for my heart
New Times' calendar editor waxes philosophic on her single status
It's probably a few days from Valentine's Day as you read this, however, in my world, it's actually the end of January.
It may as well be Feb. 14.
# My work e-mail inbox is being inundated with Valentine's Day events: concerts, plays, dances, art exhibits, poetry readings even a dog wash-a-thon.
Then there are the "couples" events. Those pesky restaurants and wineries advertising their two-for-one deals, and the promise of a perfect evening accompanied by a sunset, prime rib, and enough red roses to suffocate you.
Hell, the local drugstore has overdosed on "love," why not you? This time of year, a mere month after you're fresh and clean from the potential optimism of the New Year, a rogue wave of maniacal marketing comes along and attempts to make you fat, make you poor, and basically ostracize you for being without a significant other all the while doing it with a cliche d and lame color scheme.
San Luis Obispo County and its arm candy practices are an enigma, but no more of an enigma than Los Angeles, where I moved from almost one year ago. Back there, I had a whole other set of courtship conundrums. I wrote this for my book, Twenty Something and Blonde: A Memoir of a Los Angeles life on The Verge, a few years ago about my romantic situation (or lack thereof):
"Loving L.A. and finding love in L.A. are two entirely different worlds. Loving L.A. is a constant, with few pauses throughout. Sure, I get frustrated with the world's worst drivers, and the lack of Krispy Kreme franchises, but those impressions last mere seconds, and then I remember to complain less and appreciate more.
"Finding love in L.A., on the other hand, is a daily chore. A constant work in progress glittered with many false hopes and even more slaps in the face. Is it too much to ask for a boyfriend of my own? A man who takes me out on Saturday nights, buys me beautiful jewelry, and makes me laugh? A man who rocks my world, both mentally and physically, and who's smart as hell? A man who does not invite me to the premiere of a movie he worked on, proceed to flirt with one of the PAs, and then attempt to take her home instead of me? Will this ever happen for me in this city of a million and one broken hearts?
"A lot of people don't seem to share my dilemma. There's no shortage of lovebirds in Los Feliz. In fact, they seem to be taking over my peaceful neighborhood. Waking up on a sunny Sunday morning, it takes every ounce of my self-control not to run them all down as they're dining cheek to cheek at Fred 62. Sitting outside, they read the paper, try to figure out which one is Mary-Kate and which one is Ashley, and feed each other waffles.
# "Every bloody Sunday.
"Actually, it's not the couples I hate. My true hatred lies in the fact that each duo is a mere side of hash browns away from an afternoon of hot, Sunday sex, while I'm making a bagel run in my pajama bottoms and flip-flops, hauling ass to make it back to my couch before the Lifetime movie returns from commercial. Don't hate the couple hate the circumstance.
"Don't I deserve a freaking waffle, and an afternoon of sex?"
My love life in SLO is a lot different and not nearly as pathetic but still suffers from some of those debilitating issues. I'm not nearly as jealous, but still somewhat envious. I'm single and I'm going to be 30 in less than five months. I may not eat bagels anymore, or possess an insatiable need to murder leisurely couples, but I'm not completely content either.
Shame and despondency don't plague me. I'm more annoyed and ambivalent, with a little fear and confusion thrown in for good measure. I really want to be left alone, and I especially want to be left alone when it comes to game playing (this is an impossibility on both ends of the dating spectrum). I want attention, but too much attention is off-putting and unnatural i.e. being a bride. I want a boyfriend, yet I absolutely love cuddling up with my pillows in my big fluffy bed all by myself to watch movies or to read. And I like being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want. And I'm not a morning person. And I have to have my own bathroom. And closet. And so it goes.
I haven't had much swaying to behoove me to change. Since moving back to the Central Coast I have found "dating," at least the traditional crap-form you see in movies, almost completely non-existent.
Maybe it is me. My single status shape-shifting into a self-fulfilling prophecy of loneliness. Maybe I'm more interested in the sex than in the boy. Maybe I give off the wrong impression, or go for the wrong guy. Scratch the maybes. It's all true.
What are my options? Marriage? Settling for less? I see my friends who married at 24 and are divorcing now, or are still married and simply miserable. They married their second love, or got pregnant and felt they had to. I don't know if I want to be a part of that trend, or if any of that is worth it, just to have couple status or to be a little less lonely.
What about alternative dating options like speed dating or using the Internet? Blind dates? Well-meaning friends? I'm open. Hesitant, but open.
At this point, even I have to admit it's getting late in the game. Given my age, the pressure to pair up is significant. However, I am, plainly, not ready for serious commitments, especially not kids, and my maturity level would agree. My singleness is too comforting, like mac and cheese.
Ultimately, I am a romantic at heart, and I have a healthy sexual appetite. Growing old alone with 15 cats at my aging, swollen feet isn't exactly a picturesque fantasy that plays out in my mind each night. I want that special someone in my life, but I won't settle. I want balance and options. A sort of optional balance.
This may or may not exist, but I know it is entirely up to me to find out.
All by myself
Happy V-Day, people! It turns out Feb. 14 won't be a complete waste of 24 hours for locals without a significant other. Like an old reliable dog, Alex Bar-B-Q and its adjacent bar presents, with a bite, the Second Annual Love Stinks Valentine's Night Party. From 9 p.m. until you meet someone, join the singular set for drink and food specials at 853 Shell Beach Road in Shell Beach.
Alex scores yet another hit with this theme party one of many infamous fiestas that take place throughout the year at the centrally located tavern. In addition to Love Stinks, the White Trash, Toga, and Erotica events bring in costumed crowds.
Wassail away your loneliness and get a long-stemmed red rose (no petals, of course), a condom, a candy heart with a "Fuck You" message, and a chance to meet that special someone.
Singles get in free. Couples pay a $10 cover. Just kidding. Info: 773-2539 or www.alexbbq.com.
Christy Heron loves you. She swears. Reciprocate at firstname.lastname@example.org.