Published: Feb. 12, 2022 By

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, and people tend to fall into two different categories: eager to celebrate or dreading the day. The division in opinions on the holiday are so large, the unofficial holiday, “Singles Awareness Day” was created on Feb. 15 to celebrate singleness.

Peter McGraw, a professor of a professor of marketing and psychology at the Leeds School of Business, scientifically studies solos, and is a bachelor himself. Through his research, conversations with members of the single community and his own lived experiences, he’s gathered perspective on what it’s like to be single during Valentine’s Day.

In this Q&A, McGraw shares what it is that makes Valentine’s Day nauseating for singles, how single people can live their best lives and how we all can better support people no matter their relationship status.

How would you characterize Valentine’s Day?

My feeling about Valentine's Day is it's a net negative. Think about it: If you're single, you know you're getting this very public message that you ought not to be. If you're if you're in a relationship that's struggling, you're getting a message that you're not doing this right. The only people who benefit from Valentine’s Day are the people who happen to be in a happy relationship at the moment.

The holiday is well-meaning, but it in many ways it really is kind of a leftover idea from a time when most people were coupled up for most of their adult lives and served as a friendly reminder to not take your partner for granted.  

Peter McGraw

Peter McGraw

So, is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

Every year on Valentine's Day, Spotify has a Valentine's Day mix and an anti-Valentine's Day mix. And let's just say the anti-Valentine's Day mix is a lot more fun.

You know, now half of American adults are not married—and half of them are not interested in dating or a relationship at the moment. For singles, the holiday ends up serving the purpose of society telling them, “Oh, you don't quite belong.” And yet, statistically, singles belong quite a lot.

What can singles do to celebrate being single?

I launched a survey recently comparing what single and married Americans do alone in public. What I found was around half or more than half of single people are willing to do very pleasurable things alone: go to the movies (58%), to concerts (42%), casual dining (64%), to a dinner party (47%). Comparatively, married people were 21–33% less likely to do those same activities alone.

I launched the survey with the hope of really encouraging other singles to do things alone. You'd be surprised at how enjoyable it can be, how welcoming the world can be, how the fact is that no one cares—in fact, they may be envious that you're alone!

Essentially, being single should be celebrated?

There's something really freeing about embracing your autonomy and celebrating your ability to have adventures! And doing things alone is in many ways that kind of adventurous activity. For many people, there's sort of a natural challenge there.

What I'm seeking to do is not to diminish partnership but rather to raise single living to be equal to partnership. In order to do that, we need to we need to break down a lot of the myths around single living. We need to normalize what is already normal, which is that being in a relationship isn't the right path for everyone.

How do we break down these barriers?

You know, Valentine’s Day isn’t nauseating because of the people, it's really because of the business. Businesses are the ones throwing all the pink and red at you, like when you walk into Target and there's an enormous Valentine's display. In some ways it sends the message, “This is not the place for you.”

There’s opportunity with Valentine's Day for businesses to speak to the people who are not being spoken to: the people who are being ignored and overlooked. I use Spotify sort of as a joke, but they actually get it. One of the things that businesses struggle with is competition, and part of the reason they do is because they're all fighting for the same type of customers. The way to differentiate your business is to head in the opposite direction of your competition.

What can people do to better support people who are single?

The first thing to recognize is questioning someone about a relationship status is not appropriate, no matter how well-meaning it may be. You wouldn’t ask someone how their marriage is going, so why would you ask someone how their dating life is going?

Instead, you can ask, “What are you doing with the freedom that being single affords you?” or, “How are you enjoying single life?” That opens up a whole different conversation.