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No matter how much you might try, Valentine's Day is impossible to ignore. Drugstores, banks, and dentist's offices are festooned with hearts. Bouquets are heaped prominently on coworkers' desks. And every song on the radio croons about love. It can give even a blissfully unattached person the blues.
If Cupid's arrow missed you this February, here are a few strategies for maintaining your sanity.
1. Plan a Girls' Night. Thais, 43, from Austin, Texas, and her friends and have nicknamed Valentine's Day SWAN -- Single Women's Awareness Night. Their annual February 14 outing has been attended by cardiologists, elected officials, lobbyists, and Pulitzer Prize winners. "We have a wonderful evening with our friends in a home and treat ourselves to champagne and Chinese takeout. And no guys are allowed. We have so much fun that our married/attached friends always want to crash the party," says Thais.
2. Congratulate Yourself for Not Settling. "If you really wanted to be married, you could be married six months from now. That's not the issue. So if you're single, appreciate yourself for having the strength to not settle for a mediocre or bad relationship," says Katherine Woodward Thomas, a psychotherapist and author of Calling in "The One": Seven Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2004). That's what Jenna, 31, from Chicago does. "What's my strategy? Chocolate! And reminding myself how miserable I was last Valentine's Day, even though I had a boyfriend at the time," says Jenna.
3. Send Some Valentines. When we were kids, Valentine's Day was fun because everybody in class got sweet little notes with candy hearts. But somewhere along the way, we forgot that Valentine's Day isn't about pricey dinners and silky lingerie -- it's about little cards. "The secret to staying happy as an unattached person is to shower those you love with appreciation and affection," says Julie Ferman, CEO of CupidsCoach.com. "Take 30 minutes and send off e-mails or love notes to three people in your life whom you love, cherish, and adore. Let them know how thankful you are to have them in your life. Cheer someone else up and your heart will be light again in an instant."
4. Celebrate You! Hillary, 31, from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is a happily single woman who dates here and there, but is usually single on Valentine's Day. So she takes that time to be particularly good to herself. "Last year I took the day off, went to a spa, made myself a terrific dinner, and had a great bottle of wine," says Hillary.
5. Recommit Yourself to Living the Best Possible Life. Take the evening to refocus on your dreams and goals. Ask yourself how you want to use this solo time in your life -- travel? Write a screenplay? Learn to meditate? "Really honor yourself for this time and use it for your own growth. Whatever you invest in yourself will be returned ten times over in your next relationship," says Woodward Thomas. To give yourself the initial boost, find short-term to-dos -- sign up for a yoga class, download that graduate school application. To keep the momentum, give yourself long-term goals -- an exhibit of your paintings by 2006, making partner in your firm by 2010.
6. Enjoy the Money You're Saving on Cologne and Boxer Shorts. Kate, 22, from New York City, has only spent one Valentine's Day with a serious boyfriend, but she doesn't dread the coming of February 14. In fact, it's her favorite holiday. "I really look forward to it!" says Kate, who usually goes on a date or out with friends on the big night. "I also like to hop online to one of my favorite shopping Web sites and get myself something really nice. I figure if I were involved I would be spending the money on someone else -- why not use it for me?"
7. Celebrate Your Sense of Humor. Jeanne, 42, from Geneva, New York, says she finds making a joke of Valentine's Day helps her state of mind. "I wear black, as if I'm in mourning. One year I attached a glittery heart sticker to the cuff of my sweater and told everyone I was wearing my heart on my sleeve for the occasion," says Jeanne.
8. Appreciate the Love You Already Have. We tend to think of romantic love as the only kind of love, but real love comes in many forms, from many different people. Carolina, 39, of Delray Beach, Florida, cherishes the time she spends on Valentine's Day with her son, Luis. "He always writes a beautiful card and buys me a gift. I also have friends who send me little love gestures like flowers. When you have that, you don't get the blues," says Carolina.
9. Stop Expecting Your Mother's Life. After all, would you even want it? Woodward Thomas says that many of us get stuck in holding patterns because we believe our "real life" begins when we find a committed relationship. We don't purchase homes, start saving for retirement, or buy good china, because those are things that one does after marriage. This might have been true in your mom's day, but now you don't need a man to live like an adult. So get rid of that old futon and chipped garage-sale dishes. You've arrived, baby!
10. Blow the Big Day Off. If cooking yourself a gourmet meal or flying to Nepal sounds like way too much effort, go ahead and get yourself some take-out and sit back with the clicker. After all, for some people, making a big production of Valentine's Day simply sends the signal that it's an important day and worth the anticipation or dread. It might also help to remember that even for couples, Valentine's Day is rarely what it's cracked up to be. With overpriced restaurants, impossible-to-get reservations, and heightened expectations, it's no wonder the evening frequently ends in silence or tears. Enjoy the fact that you have a free pass to spend February 14 exactly as you please.