BY Erica Leong

"It's okay to be single on Valentine's day, unless you actually want to be in a relationship," I said in a deadpan tone to a friend. He laughed, but I was crying on the inside.

There are times when I have to face the hard truths by boldly stating the painful facts. I am 21 this year. I am at the precipice of adulthood, but I still very much feel like an adolescent. I'm short, 5'1", have a body of a 14-year-old, still struggling with teenage acne, not attractive by any conventional standard, and to top it all off, a serial monogamist who can't seem to casually date-- a symptom of an archetypal Christian upbringing.

To the absolute surprise of no one, I've also been single for over 3 years.

As far as I am concerned, no one who has seen me in person has ever been attracted to me. The only boyfriend I've ever had only dated me because I was so desperate to be in a relationship that I expressed interest first.

Is this a sign of my physical grotesqueness, social ineptitude, or god forbid, both? What if the one relationship I had was my one shot at true love and I just completely blew it?

As if adding salt to an open wound, around comes Valentine's Day, when single-hood is something more akin to insult than fact. And this posits an interesting observation--how we as a collective species are so desperate for an anaesthetic against being alone.

The tragedy of this line of thinking is that we seek to understand our goal and not ourselves. We set up a goal, in this case, getting into a relationship, which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We try desperately to look better, to be smarter, to be superior to the rest in our quest of romantic validation. But I've been through that and I can tell you that the constant intellectual battling to prove that I was different or smarter or prettier almost made me want to die.

You see, everybody is identical in this singular, secret unspoken belief that beneath it all, we are different from everyone else. That we are special. But this thinking is what makes us all the same.

If physical attributes are where you tap real meaning in life--you will find that you never have enough.

Worship your beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. Worship your intellect and the public perception of your wit, and you will always feel stupid.

On one level, it's not like we don't know this stuff already. It's not like we don't know that our self-worth is isn't defined by our relationship status, or that getting into a relationship really is more about being in the right place at the right time than anything else. But it feels so viscerally good to know that you are wanted, desired, and acknowledged for the traits of yours that you find attractive, and when you are passed over for someone you deem inferior, it is a huge blot upon your confidence.

So here lies the crux of the matter. This feeling of rejection may be a blot, but it is not a blot upon our conscience. The problem is not that we do not have agency over our self-worth, the problem is that we do not have it anymore.

It is not the end of the world to feel sad, or lonely, but it is entirely in our self-interest to make things better for ourselves. We can talk about how unfair it is that we're alone while our friends aren't. But what if we tried to let what is unfair teach us?

Unfairness is a stern but invaluable teacher. There are individuals who have had more relationships than digits to count, and there are those who have had none. Unfairness will teach you that none of that had anything to do with being hot or smart. The world is a never ending cycle of ups and downs and your present alone-ness should not dictate your future. Plenty more awaits you and you get to decide what happens, whether you get a degree, switch careers altogether or travel the world. But in order to allow your future to happen you must allow yourself to live your present and not hold yourself to a one-size-fits-all criteria, thereby resigning yourself to definitive failure because you didn't allow yourself a few bumps in the road.

The lesson then, is not to have tangible goals set in stone. Set goals that conform to you, rather than force yourself to conform to a goal. You will feel a tremendous shift. Perhaps the old resentment and jealousy will still be swimming around, but it will feel much less deathly than before. You will be as alone as you were yet much less lonely. Remember that life isn't about ticking off an arbitrary set of checkboxes--it is so much more than that.

So don't be sad on Valentine's Day. Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen--even if you are single.

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