Singles generally approach Valentine's Day one way or another - holed up at home with a container of ice cream or cursing the occasion as mass romance-driven hysteria, or something to that effect.
But if you're single on the so-called most romantic day of the year, there are plenty of ways to cast off the shackles of relationship-obsessed society and have fun.
There are plenty of people and places out there to remind us that love is a universal concept that doesn't just apply to significant others.
Single and proud of it
Of course, you can love being half of someone's whole - but you can love single life just as much.
After 20 years of looking, Angela Manfredi, a West Orange native, became disenchanted with dating, so she set up her own personal Hire a Husband project (www.angelahiresahusband.com), interviewing applicants for the jobs she needed a man to fill - escorting her to events, performing handiwork, and providing help in her everyday life.
But "husband" is just the job title; marriage isn't her goal - she very much enjoys being single.
"There's nothing wrong with being single," Manfredi says. "I think we have to get away from those thoughts. Being single is something to be celebrated. It's not something to feel bad about."
An entertainment reporter in Los Angeles and former relationship columnist for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, Manfredi believes that being single doesn't mean she can't appreciate the value of having a man around in this professional and platonic way.
"I find going to a mechanic to be very stressful," explains Manfredi, who says she learned a lot from her hired husband. "I just needed some backup. I needed help, and I also wanted a man's insight to situations as they came up. And I thought it would be nice to have a man accompany me to events, [especially because] I think when you're single, people think they have to fix you with a fix up."
Manfredi believes the key to being a confident single is acting like one.
"Don't let [Valentine's Day] dictate how we're feeling about our lives and ourselves at that moment," Manfredi says, adding that on this day, she likes to try a new restaurant and take herself out in style. "Don't save [your best, sexy] dress! Wear it! Have a good time!"
Manfredi suggests going out with friends and paying no mind to the seemingly happy couples everywhere, since, as she emphasizes, "Just because someone is out on a date with the opposite sex, it doesn't mean that they're always having a great time. You don't know what's going on with their world."
Have a singles night out
For singles who want to go out, but still want to avoid the couples crowd, the Whiskey Bar is hosting a Valentine's Day "Love Sucks Party," where all are welcome, "especially the single, broken-hearted, divorced, separated, and alone" to come for live music by the Benjamins and giveaways, including Victoria's Secret gift cards and dinner for two. Cover is $7; ladies get in free before 11 p.m.
On the other end of the spectrum, Symposia Bookstore is hosting its usual conversation group on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. with a Valentine's Party theme, but there's a twist:
"It's all inclusive," says Carmen Rusu, who manages and runs Symposia with her husband of 25 years, Corneliu. "Everybody regardless whether they're having romantic love or other kinds of love can come together, take off a little bit of this pressure that is on Valentine's [such as] somebody having to have a romantic relationship in their life."
Originally from Romania, Carmen and Corneliu, Hoboken residents since 2001, were inspired by a friend of Carmen's who loved Valentine's last year when she was seeing someone, but this year she's single and down on the holiday.
"I was thinking about asking everybody to share maybe three or four minutes about love in his or her life; not necessarily romantic, just love. Some time when an object, a person, or a supernatural being showed love to the person," Carmen says, adding that all are welcome to attend the free evening. "They can come single, with a partner - doesn't matter. They can bring a pet!"
Looking for love in all the wrong places?
Think you've looked and looked with no luck? Maybe you're looking too hard.
"We have regular meetings, conversation groups, and they discuss a subject," Carmen Rusu says about Symposia's conversation salon every Wednesday. "And I know at least two couples [who] met and married [because of the meetings]."
Manfredi believes that looking is part of the problem, not the solution. She's convinced you can meet people at Starbucks, in an elevator, walking down the street - in everyday situations without searching, just by living your life.
"I think you can meet anyone anywhere," says Manfredi. "I think it's more about the attitude that you have when you leave the house. It's the way that you think about meeting people ... I think it should be more about bringing new people into your world than 'I have to get a date.' I think the problem is that we put an awful lot of pressure on ourselves to create a romantic scenario right away. I think you have to focus on being platonic with someone and get to know who they are first."
There are several urban legends of dating around the everyday scenario; tales of hotspots to meet people being the gym, grocery or video stores, coffee shops, Laundromats, etc.
Maria Delgado, of Jersey City, shops at Garden of Eden in Hoboken, and she says she's never met anyone in a grocery store. Is it a good place to pick someone up?
"I don't think so. You go to shop. I never pay attention to who's around me. If I was going to miss the biggest love of my life, the supermarket would be the perfect location, because I would not be paying attention to anybody, just the food."
Delgado didn't meet her husband of five years in any of the fabled aforementioned places - she met him through friends at a birthday party, an ordinary scenario where she wasn't even looking.
Sharon, of the Bronx, works in Hoboken, and she's met people in the course of her everyday life, just as naturally as Manfredi suggests it can be done: "Maybe as I'm walking down the street or something like that ... One time at church."
Amanda Kateman, who lives and works in Hoboken, shops at Barnes & Noble, and she's never met anyone at a book store, but she sees more potential for meeting someone worth talking to there than at bars or any of the other supposed hotspots.
"I do think it could be actually an excellent place because people have some substance," says Kateman, who is currently single. "[There,] the guy wouldn't be taking the time out to talk to you if he wasn't interested."
Kateman, who will be getting together with her single friends for dinner on Valentine's, says she does go to bars, but it's difficult meeting someone there.
Of course, it's a different story when the bar is full of singles who want to really make a connection.
The Hoboken Happy Hour Club, with over 800 members, hosts a singles event around Valentine's every year with another one in late summer.
Tiffany Shenman, club founder and president, has tried online and speed dating among other forced dating situations, and she organizes these events to get singles into a social, more comfortable and confident barroom environment.
"A lot of people are single but don't want to be, but they don't know what to do about it," says Shenman, who prefers being in a relationship to being single. "I'm one of those people, I can be very independent, but it's just nicer to be dependent on somebody."
Shenman isn't single anymore, but she was for a long time, so she's no stranger to the Valentine's blues.
"I'll never forget how sensitive single people are to the couples situation," Shenman says, suggesting that singles celebrate the day. "If you don't want to go to a formal Valentine's Day event, then go out with your friends and turn it into love of friendship."
A believer in creating your own luck, Shenman says, "Nobody's going to fall through your window."
But Manfredi asserts that trying to push or force romance is bound to disappoint.
"I think putting that kind of pressure on ourselves is actually kind of a setback rather than moving us forward," says Manfredi, who suggests volunteering, taking up activities or hobbies, and focusing on enhancing your own existence, and anything else will come naturally. "Do something on a regular basis that you enjoy, and do it for the love of doing it, and you will meet people ... You're really enriching your own life while expanding your social circle which is the key."
Comments on this story can be sent to Mpaul@hudsonreporter.com.