Long Reads

How a solo Valentine’s Day taught me to be alone without feeling lonely

Welcome to Stylist’s first ever Love Week, where we’re celebrating the relationships that matter the most to us with a series of beautiful essays. Here, writer Bre Graham pens a piece about the power of being alone.

I was never really someone who ‘did’ Valentine’s Day.

Instead, it was always a day that just seemed to pass me by. Regardless of whether I’d been single or settled down, I’d never placed much importance on the event (although I had always enjoyed the discounted flowers and chocolates that appeared in supermarkets the day after). To me, Valentine’s Day had never carried much weight.

That was until two years ago, when 14 February rolled around again and found me totally miserable, stuck in icy London while working at an uninspiring office job and trying to recover from a recent heartbreak. In the build up to the 14th, I watched the desks around mine become decorated with cards and flowers, while the only conversations I overheard were of date night plans or dinners with other single friends. I knew I had neither.

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In that moment I suddenly realised the power of making positive plans for February, when it can feel like there’s nothing to look forward to until the first signs of spring. So I started a search.

reading books

Valentine’s Day didn’t just have to be about romantic love – I could make it about self-love, or the love of a good film or book

I knew I needed to do something that would stop me feeling so sad, and that another night on the sofa with my cat Jones giving me pitying looks was not the answer. I reminded myself that Valentine’s Day didn’t just have to be about romantic love – I could make it about self-love, or the love of a good film or book. Valentine’s Day could mean whatever I bloody well wanted it to mean.

So I googled ‘Things to do London 14 February’ and started sifting my way through the speed dating events and set-menu meals. That’s when I saw it: a ticket to a Van Morrison gig, priced at £99. Without thinking, I pressed purchase. 

I tried not to let thoughts of cuddled-up couples and happy groups of friends cloud my mind. This was exactly where I needed to be – this could be my escape. Let me explain: Van Morrison is the anchor to my childhood, and a musician who is intertwined in my mind with my dad. He was the first dance song played at my parent’s wedding, the soundtrack to every family holiday we’d ever had, and the music my dad used to sing to me when I was a child.

I had seen Morrison perform twice before, and both times he was flawless. Both times I had also been sitting next to my dad. “How lucky are we,” he had said each time.

I’ve always known that, when it comes to my dad, I am indeed lucky. He’s always been a constant in my life, and has been unwavering in offering support, advice, and perspective when I seem to lose it. We’re both so similar that at times it can seem like we’re the same person. We have the same struggles and the same strengths, and both think Astral Weeks is Morrison’s best album. 

“My dad has always been a constant in my life”

Once I’d bought my ticket, Dad and I chatted on the phone about how exciting it was that I could go and see Morrison perform for a third time. The phone is where we do all our talking now because my parents live in Sydney, over 10,000 miles away from me. This makes moments like this much harder. If my dad was only a few hours away, this would have been something we could do together, but instead I was going alone.

That night I bundled up in a big coat and scarf and made my way over to Kensington. I sent Dad a photograph of the sign in front of the bar. It was going to be an amazing show, even if it had cost me a lot of money that I didn’t really have to spare.

But from the moment Morrison sung his first note, I knew it was worth it. I was transported back to all those weekends I had growing up when Dad would open the doors to the house and blast Van Morrison songs out. Back then, everything smelt like Sydney’s sea salt air. I felt love, and felt loved, that night as I stood alone in a room full of swaying strangers. I felt close to home and closer to who I was.

beach sydney

“Back then, everything smelt like Sydney’s sea salt air”

Just as the band started the first beats to Gloria I Facetimed Dad, not knowing if he’d pick up from the other side of the earth. But he did, and together we watched Morrison sing. 

I got teary-eyed and cried because for the first time in a long time I was alone but didn’t feel lonely. It made me feel like maybe Valentine’s Day has a point. After all, love in all its forms, not just romantic love, should be celebrated in all its power, in an unashamed way. Even if it’s just for one day of the year. 

Images: Getty, Unsplash, courtesy of author

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