Valentine’s Day is a date that scares people who are alone, people like military wives whose husbands are deployed. Birthdays, Easter, Christmas and anniversaries seem equally as depressing as Valentine’s Day for these people. In theory, at least.
When a military wife hears her husband’s new deployment schedule, the first thing she usually does is catalog all the “important” dates he will miss. “Oh, no. You’ll miss our 10th wedding anniversary,” she might say. Or, “Another Valentine’s Day spent alone.” We compensate by celebrating in new, creative ways. (Christmas in July, anyone?) Even before our husband has left, we are thinking about all the ways we will make up for lost time — lost celebrations — when he returns.
Ironically, however, the hardest days to be alone are in fact not the “important” dates. The loneliest days are the regular days. Especially the weekends. People remember you and call on the special days. But on the regular days — every day in between holidays, birthdays and other celebrations — people are busy with their own lives. They think that you are, too.
I have been on both sides of this situation. I remember to call my grandmother on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, her birthday and holidays, yet on an ordinary Monday, when I’m chasing kids and making dinner, sometimes I forget that my grandmother is just as lonely — perhaps even more so — on the days that no one has marked in red.
It also could be said that these so-called “important” days become even more notable when you are alone, maybe because of it. Take Valentine’s Day, for example. Dustin has missed several of them during our marriage because he was deployed overseas. I’m sure that on those occasions, I felt somewhat cheated (although now, the memory of one lonesome day is far outshadowed by the thought of months spent alone).
On this Feb. 14, however, while Dustin is home and readily available for a night out together, he and I have planned nothing. This would have been unthinkable to me during one of those times that he was deployed. In fact, I probably would have resented my friends if they didn’t take advantage of their spouse being at home.
However, I envied those friends so much more on the other days — the regular Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but especially Saturdays and Sundays. On Valentine’s Day when Dustin was deployed, people usually called to say they were thinking of me. On Feb. 15, people had other things on their minds. And so it would be that Feb. 15 and other days like it were the loneliest of all.
I don’t write this to complain or ask for sympathy. After all, my husband is home this year, and we have chosen to do nothing to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Rather, I write this to remind people that for their loved ones and friends living alone (whether due to a deployment, death, divorce, etc.) on these special days, it’s not a date on the calendar that makes someone feel more alone. It’s being, well, alone.
When Dustin was deployed, I missed him every day. Not just on holidays. I would have traded all the missed anniversaries and birthdays for a handful of regular days, days like we will have this Valentine’s Day sitting at home together. So call your widowed grandmother or your neighbor whose husband is deployed to tell them that you are thinking of them. Then call them again on Feb. 15 and tell them that you are thinking of them still.
I write this also to remind people who are alone — again, no matter the circumstances — that Valentine’s Day is just a day. It’s just a date on the calendar. I know from experience that it’s hard to see people, especially couples and families, together when you are alone.
Weekends were the worst time of all for me when Dustin was gone. Sometimes, the loneliness made me want to hide away in my house so I wouldn’t see those happy families walking down the street together.
But Monday always rolled around, as will Feb. 15 and every other regular day, and people get back to their regular lives. So will you. And hopefully, just when you’ve forgotten all about silly holidays like Valentine’s Day, someone will call to say that they were thinking of you — simply because they were, not because of a date — and you will be glad.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Smiley’s new book “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. Contact Smiley at firstname.lastname@example.org.