Like I said in the title, I’m going to tell you about a really mean Valentine’s Day story. But before I get there, I want to tell you a very uplifting story, based in findings from research, about single people and Valentine’s Day. Here’s the thing: the disparaging story I’m going to rip apart was a story about those very positive data on single people. The bigger point here is that this sort of sliming of single people happens all the time, and it can be triggered even by (or especially by) indications that single people are doing great. The rise of single people, especially happy single people, is a threat to the worldview that you have to be married to be happy, and that to get married is to become a better person than you were when you were single.
The research was about single people and Valentine’s Day. If ever there was a holiday with the potential to shame single people, surely it is Valentine’s Day. The way the day is treated in the popular culture, with all the relentless matrimania and sickeningly sweet odes to couples, it would be understandable if singles responded with revulsion or – for the vulnerable ones – feelings of shame.
But that’s not what the study found. In the nationally representative sample of American adults:
70 percent of the single people said that not having a date on Valentine’s Day was something to be proud of!
Only 30 percent said that not having a date was something to be ashamed of
Single people are not spending Valentine’s Day weeping with self-pity either:
76 percent of single people say that they enjoy Valentine’s Day
50 percent say they are proud to be single on Valentine’s Day
Only 13 percent say that Valentine’s Day makes them feel lonely
If single people were ashamed of being single on Valentine’s Day, then they might do things such as lying about having plans on that day or sending themselves flowers at work. But that’s not what happens, either:
Only 20 percent of single people have ever, in their entire lives, lied about having plans on Valentine’s Day
Only 10 percent have ever sent themselves flowers at work
If single people let all the Valentine’s Day hype get to them, then they might actively oppose the holiday. But they don’t:
Only 6 percent of single people actively oppose Valentine’s Day
82 percent of Americans favor a more expansive definition of Valentine’s Day that celebrates all kinds of love
The survey was sponsored by Dairy Queen. The company hired a research firm to conduct it. Yes, DQ wants to sell more ice cream, but they did recruit a representative sample of Americans rather than seeking out the kinds of participants most likely to give them the answers they wanted.
DQ coupled its reporting of the survey results with an announcement of a new Valentine’s Day treat for single people: The Singles Blizzard Treat. The clinical psychologist who helped with the survey said that “Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love and happiness no matter your relationship status.”
I have some qualms about attempts to wrestle more money out of the pockets of single people, but the Singles Blizzard is offered along with a sandwich for just $4.79. (What would you get for that at Starbucks?) I also had some initial misgivings about offering single people ice cream on Valentine’s Day, as that is the treat that, according to the stereotypes, single people use for comfort when they are feeling depressed about being single. But the DQ campaign can instead be a way of reclaiming ice cream as a symbol of pride in being single, rather than self-pity.
So now for that egregiously nasty story about the DQ survey and Singles Blizzard. It was on E! and it was heralded by the headline, “Dairy Queen Releases Loneliest Treat Ever Called ‘The Singles Blizzard’.” It was accompanied by two demeaning videos – one of a woman ugly-crying as she eats ice cream from the carton, and another of a baby eating ice cream with her mouth open and ice cream all over her face. Nice. The story title and videos were worse than the story itself, though the writer seemed to question whether ice cream could actually be celebratory for single people on Valentine’s Day:
“Though many a rom com has presented the idea of showing a recently dumped person crying into their ice cream, DQ insists they’re looking to celebrate singledom this Valentine’s Day.”
She mentioned that 50 percent of singles classify themselves as proud to be single on Valentine’s Day but did not note any of the other positive findings from the survey. She could have written a more intriguing and more accurate story about the research findings that challenge the prevailing narrative about sad single people, but what fun would that be? (Plus, it would involve some thinking.)
What’s really sad are not single people on Valentine’s Day but pathetic articles like the one on E!.
[On another matter, the Washington Post is running a week-long feature on Singlehood in America, with different writers invited to contribute on each day. My article kicked off the week. It is something I’ve always wanted to write, “Everything you think you know about single people is wrong.” For much of the day, it was one of the most-read opinion articles. The introduction to the series is here.]
Dry rose photo available from Shutterstock