You love her
But she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win

And so it goes
Till the day you die
This thing they call love
It’s gonna make you cry

—“Love Stinks,” by the J. Geils Band

Does Valentine’s Day have you feeling less than romantic? If you’re new to the Lonely Hearts Club or even a long-time single, February 14th might have you dreading — or boycotting — the nationally recognized day of love rather than celebrating it.

Love and Tragedy: An Early History

Perhaps there is no better story to set the stage for love’s sometimes unfortunate consequences than that of Saint Valentine, the man who originally inspired the day.

In the third century, love and marriage weren’t quite as in favor as we know them to be today. The Roman emperor at the time (who, for the record, went by the name Claudius the Cruel) prohibited marriage because he believed single soldiers fought better than their married counterparts. Valentine, a Christian priest, defied this decree and married people in secret. When his transgressions were discovered, Valentine was beaten to death with clubs and eventually beheaded. And although he was eventually received sainthood, February 14th — an event we now observe as an amorous holiday — was the day he met his tragic end.

While most modern-day tales of love and heartbreak are not quite as tragic, we asked our community to share their own stories, and we received several worth retelling. Imagine a buffet dinner date with someone who continually refers to you as “kid” or discovering the hunk you’re dating was just arrested for attempting to run over an ex-girlfriend with his vehicle.

Whether outright alarming or slightly comedic, sometimes love stinks. Because for as many times as Cupid’s arrow hits its mark, it seems to miss its intended target ten times over. But if nothing else, romantic relationships, even when they end poorly, give us reasons to laugh, — and hopefully learn — along the way.

Dating: Comic Relief or Dodging a Bullet?

Whether you choose to pass Valentine’s Day in the throes of love or flaunting your singledom, it’s hard to deny that dating can be frustrating and difficult. Grace*, despite now being happily married, acknowledges the perils of dating she experienced in her 20s.

This really hot guy asked me out — and I couldn’t believe it. After we hung out enough times I went back to his place. It was dark so I couldn’t see anything. I woke up to a bright light in my face and a man in the doorway. Apparently, that man was his dad! And he was not impressed I was there. Also, there were kids’ toys all over the floor — which I also did not know were there. (Now I know why he didn’t turn on the lights.) I was so mortified… he didn’t even tell me he had a kid! I remember not thinking much of the no lights thing because he said we needed to be quiet so we didn’t ‘wake up his roommate.’ So bad…”

When Monica began dating after her divorce, she found plenty of available single men — but often found herself in less-than-favorable situations (read: unintentionally dating criminals).

I was working remotely in a coffee shop one afternoon when a dark-haired, muscled man came in and sat at the table behind me. I could see him in the reflection of my computer screen, which I was trying to stealthily hide while I gossiped about him to my friends on Facebook messenger. I’m really not one for hitting on strangers in public, so it worked out perfectly that the friend he was apparently meeting for lunch was a bartender I recognized from downtown.

That weekend, my friends and I had a little impromptu ladies’ night. Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw Mr. Muscle Man’s friend behind one of the bars we visited. I threw back some tequila and asked the bartender about his friend, whom he told me would be coming in later that night. JACKPOT.

Mr. Muscles came in. I waltzed over. I boldly confessed I had seen him at the coffee shop. He shyly confessed he had seen me too and even told me the color shoes I had worn that day. SWOON.

We dated for a month. He was so damn sexy. And did I mention his muscles? But then, one night, we had a date planned. We were going to meet with a group of friends downtown. And he just didn’t show up, which was very unlike him. Not only did he not show up, but his phone was going straight to voicemail, which was also unlike him. I went to his house where everything was in complete disarray. I was worried and panicked, and thought about checking the hospitals when one of my girlfriends from the Facebook messenger conversation announced she had found him — on the County Sheriff’s Arrests page.

Apparently, he had tried to run over his ex-girlfriend with his truck and actually had a restraining order against him from a couple of weeks ago. You would be correct in thinking that I never went out with that guy again.”

“I have terrible taste in men, apparently,” she continues. “A boyfriend right after him not only told me his ex was pregnant (with his kid) on our fourth date, but that his OTHER ex got him arrested, too. And, a boyfriend after those guys also later got arrested,” Monica says. “Moral of the story: Don’t date me, you’ll get arrested.”

Love Lessons

Marie, now in her 60s, has a different perspective about relationships that has come with age and experience. “Love doesn’t stink,” she says. “Love comes our way to teach us lessons so we figure out what we thought was love was actually a life lesson.”

However, she realizes that it took time to find a good relationship — and not just a lesson in disguise.

I didn’t find a true love that was based on respect, friendship, laughter until I was in my late 50s. I also know now I kept getting into relationships that were not fulfilling. Oh, they were fun but non-committal. Not going there ever again.”

Loving Yourself

In her story, The Life of Ryan, writer Charmagne Westcott talks about the misunderstandings she faces as a single woman, and the stigma associated with her lifestyle choices.

I am a female in my mid-30s, single with no children. From what I have come to understand about today’s society… it is perfectly acceptable to be me and there are plenty of others like me… I read. I exercise. I attend cultural activities and social gatherings. I have friends, a positive relationship with my Mother. Life is pretty good. Yet sometimes, for no apparent reason, people I hardly know pat me on the shoulder sympathetically and say, “Eventually everything will turn out okay.” In Boise, Idaho, it is not really okay to be me. Maybe I could get away with my kind of behavior in New York or Los Angeles, but here I am a freak of nature with no concept of my own dysfunction. I am out of touch and others feel compelled to remind me how miserable I really am. Those people on television, they tell me, they’re just pretending to be single in order to keep the storyline going — they’re actors, you see. In real life they’re happily married, with kids and a Golden Retriever.”

She describes in detail a painfully awkward outing with a man who was recommended to her by a friend. The date began early, when her suitor showed up a half hour sooner than expected, and the evening went downhill from there. By the time the night was over, she’d had a buffet dinner with a loud-talking stranger, received a tedious play-by-play of a movie she’d already seen, and had been called “kid” enough times by a man her own age to make her wonder why she agreed to be set up in the first place. Westcott continues:

On the ride home he turns down the radio but continues to talk as loud as humanly possible. He pats me on the shoulder hard, laughs his cartoon laugh, and proceeds to tell me about a great money-making scheme he has. He plans to save up some cash in order to buy a charter fishing boat. Then he will round up some ‘pretty college girls’ to work on the boat to serve beer and appetizers. He thinks this is a great idea because ‘old farts’ like to fish and watch pretty college girls in bikinis. He asks what I think of his plan.

I don’t like that plan at all,’ I say.

As I shut my front door behind me, the silence of my home fills me with joy. I think about all the actors on television ‘pretending to be single in order to keep the storyline going.’ It’s true. Whenever a character gets married or has a child on a sit-com, you can bet the show will be canceled the next season. ‘Happily ever after,’ that’s where the show ends. I’m not so sure I want my show to end.”

Whether you’re single, married, divorced, or heartbroken, we wish you a Happy (or at least tolerable) Valentine’s Day. Even if the holiday is less than the never-ending marketing hype, one thing is for sure: your show — your story — hasn’t ended. In the meantime, may your love life be filled with more comedy than tragedy, so that one day you may be able to share a laugh with us and toast to lessons learned and better days to come.

Because that’s what love is really about.


*some names have been changed.