Ask a single person what Valentine’s Day means to him or her, and you’ll get a flurry of responses. Some view it as a day to avoid, or to bury their sorrows, as time passes by and they have yet to find the partner they seek.
This year, Christians also celebrate February 14 as the start of Lent, a time of fasting and penitence that hopefully does not serve as a commentary on anyone’s love life. But Valentine’s Day shouldn’t just serve as a time to celebrate romance. It should also celebrate the search for romance.
Six years ago, an experience helped change my outlook on dating. At the time a career-obsessed Capitol Hill staffer, I hadn’t made time for dating or romance in several years. When compared to the personal satisfaction that always came from professional effort and achievement, I viewed dating’s uncertain outcomes, awkward encounters, and ever-present possibility of heartache a gamble not worth pursuing seriously.
Then I rediscovered a letter from a former girlfriend. Written to my mother, it recounted the ways in which my ex had found our relationship helpful and comforting while she went through a series of personal transitions and traumas.
Upon reading it, a rush of tears came to my face. Even now, thinking of its contents makes me well up. Distance meant the relationship ended, but reading the letter emphasized how the impact remained.
Over time, the letter prompted an important bout of self-reflection. Having seen anew the ways in which my presence as a life partner had aided someone at a difficult time in her life, my desire not to explore the dating world seemed less a rational choice to prioritize my career than a cowardly act of selfishness. If I could measurably improve one woman’s life, yet chose not to do so because of the age-old fear of “What if she doesn’t like me?” what did that say about me? In short, I recognized that I needed to get over myself, and get back in the dating pool.
At their core, the best relationships do not focus on what one receives, but what one gives. Admittedly, in most cases the giving element comes later in relationships. At first, people focus on finding themselves a Ms. Right or Prince Charming, with more selfless acts coming after emotional bonds form between partners.
But there remains something noble about contemplating the giving nature of a relationship even from its infancy. I won’t begin to claim that in searching for a mate, I seek to satisfy a partner’s needs to the exclusion of my own.
On the other hand, I do view dating from a new perspective—offering of oneself as a gift to others, and doing so freely, in the hope of finding that special someone whose life I can change for the better. This new perspective has removed much of the sting from the rejection inherent in dating, because it makes the journey—the searching for that partner, and the giving of oneself during that quest—just as important as the final destination all serious daters seek: A romantic partner for life.
So to all the single people out there who might view Valentine’s as a reminder of their failure to find that perfect partner, I offer my encouragement, and my thanks. Please keep dating, and in so doing, working to make the world a better place—not just for you, but for others as well.
Mr. Jacobs is a writer and consultant based in Washington. He is on Twitter: @chrisjacobsHC.