Don't Sweat Valentine's Day
Most of us have been there before: a few weeks before Valentine's Day, you overhear friends or coworkers mention the lovey-dovey holiday. Instead of responding with joy and excitement, your heart sinks. For this time around, you are single on the day that praises romantic love. When you go to the grocery store, you walk through the seasonal aisle that constantly reminds the single folks. You might walk through the section with peace and calmness, or you might feel a seemingly unavoidable yearning for companionship.
Fortunately, the Stoics talk about romantic love. Musonius Rufus, the teacher of Epictetus, talks about marriage in a couple of his surviving lectures. In one passage, he says:
"Sometimes a spouse considers only his or her own interests and neglects the other's concerns. Sometimes, by Zeus, a husband who acts like this lives in the same house as his wife but concentrates on matters outside of it, and is unwilling to work with, let alone agree with her. In cases like this, even though the couple lives together, their union is bound to be destroyed and their affairs cannot help but go poorly: they either break apart completely, or they have a relationship that is worse than solitude" (Lecture 13).
It is interesting to note that the hypothetical person in the beginning of this post thought about relationships as something positive and ultimately beneficial for both parties. However, Musonius Rufus illustrates a situation where people act selfishly in a relationship. While positive outlooks are to be admired, the person who walks down the aisles full of Valentine's Day products is wise to think about relationships in a realistic view. Along with the positive things that relationships bring to us, we need to consider the negative things as well. Ironically, thinking about relationships in this way can actually cause less torment for the shopper.
Not only should we look at romantic love realistically, it is beneficial to make the difficult (yet liberating) realization that love is not guaranteed. Epictetus tells us to "Remember that you should behave in life as you do at a banquet. Something is being passed around and arrives in front of you: reach out your hand and take your share politely. It passes: don't try to hold it back. It has yet to reach you: don't project your desire towards it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. So act likewise in with regard to your wife, to public office, to riches, and the time will come when you are worthy to have a seat at the banquets of the gods" (Enchiridion 15). Even though we can wait patiently for love to come our way, it may take longer than we expect. For Stoics, there might be some discomfort with the idea that we will never find love. However, in this journey of seeking a romantic relationship, there are many things that we can do that are under our direct control. We can decide, for instance, to strike up that initial conversation. We can also decide to use our time strategically so we can have more opportunities to be around that person who we feel a connection.
So, to return to the issue: we cannot avoid Valentine's Day. That dreadful red aisle is still there to haunt us! What do the Stoics say about being alone today? Fortunately, the Stoics say a lot about looking within to our true power. Marcus Aurelius reflects: "It's time you realized that you realized that you have something more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet" (Meditations XII.6). So, if you find yourself a bit heartbroken today, remind yourself to look within to the immense strength that nature has provided you. You are all you need!