Single and Happy on Valentine's Day

Thirteen years ago, when his longstanding relationship broke up just a few days before Valentine's Day, Ken Scudder discovered he was on the brink of degenerating into a melancholic mess.

"That year, Valentine's Day happened to fall on a Friday, and I thought that if I have to get through this, I need people around," says the 36-year-old New Yorker, who is a public relations executive by day and a comedian by night.

In his desperate bid for a Valentine survival strategy, Scudder hit upon what seemed at the time a novel plan: an anti-Valentine's Day party.

More than a decade later, his stick-it-to-Cupid party has turned into a February fixture with his ever-expanding circle of friends, including some of his old pals who have since married or are in long-term relationships.

And tonight, on Friday, the 13th, they will once again gather at his Manhattan apartment to celebrate Scudder's 13th Annual Anti-Valentine's Day Party.

Along the way, a set of formalized fun party rules have been put in place. These include regaling the bartender with a derogatory anecdote about a past lover in exchange for a drink and refraining from wearing red or pink garments.

Once again, Valentine's Day is upon us in a rosy puff cloud of commercialism. There are candy boxes in the stores, red roses on the stands, heart-shaped pillows, jewelry cases, greeting cards and trinkets for the taking. There are restaurant meals, mushy movies and ferry rides at sundown.

There are even technological options — unheard of years ago — to address the inconvenience of singleness, from up-close speed dating to online personality matches and virtual relationship counselors.

But for a number of single people, the lead-up to Valentine's Day is the most anxious time of their lives. And in recent years, a growing number of lonely hearts are opting to buck the fetishism of love and go it alone this Valentine's Day — happily.

‘The Tyranny of Coupledom ’

On a freezing New Year's Day five years ago, Sasha Cagen bleakly contemplated her seemingly perennial state of singleness on a Brooklyn subway platform and coined a term to describe people in a similar situation: the quirkyalones.

The name, much to her surprise, has since garnered a fair measure of fame. A Web site devoted to the cause — www.quirkyalone.net — receives an average of 1,000 clicks a day from like-minded souls. And earlier this year, Cagen's book, Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (HarperCollins) was released to rapturous reviews.

In what Cagen describes as "a social movement of people who resist the tyranny of coupledom," the 25-year-old San Francisco native serves as a sort of high priestess of people committed to friendships and pursuing "relationships based on real feeling rather than obligation."

On Valentine's Day this year, Cagen's supporters intend to celebrate "International Quirkyalone Day (IQD)," when singles and their supporters in an estimated 40 U.S. cities and towns — as well as some cities in Canada, Britain and Germany — will host parties for lonely hearts.

The first-ever celebration of IQD last year featured parties in New York, San Francisco, Providence, R.I., and Glasgow, Scotland, where Cagen estimates a total of about 400 people joined in the celebrations. This year, she predicts the roll call of revelers will be "in the thousands."

Penalized for Being Single?

With increasing divorce rates, delayed marriages and higher rates of cohabitation, unmarried people are a fast-growing demographic in the United States.

According to the 2002 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, 49.5 percent of U.S. households are headed by unmarried people.

With an estimated 86 million unmarried and single adults in the United States — including domestic partners, roommates and unmarried families — Thomas Coleman, executive director of Unmarried America, a Washington-based advocacy organization, calls unmarried Americans, "one of the biggest demographic blocs in the nation."

But according to Coleman, it's also a segment of the population that tends to be "invisible" and "economically shortchanged."

Millions of unmarried Americans, according to Coleman, are penalized by the federal tax laws that are stacked against them, they are shortchanged in terms of workplace benefits, they have a much greater risk of losing health coverage than married people and they often face housing and workplace discrimination.

Furthermore, says Coleman, unmarried people are a demographic that is rarely recognized as a political constituency. "It would be nice as a Valentine's Day gift for single people in an election year if politicians can at least say the word 'single people,'" says Coleman. "It's as if single people are invisible and they don't vote. All we're asking for is equal rights."

High Expectations, Then Disappointments

But Bridget Maher, an analyst from the Family Research Council, a national conservative organization, believes marriage should be a privileged institution.

"Marriages should enjoy benefits because marriages benefit society," says Maher. "Marriage is not just a lifestyle choice. It's the foundation of the family and the most basic social building block structured to raise children — and that's the future of society."

While Maher concedes that Valentine's Day can be hard on single people, she believes it's "an opportunity for couples — especially married couples — to renew their relationships."

But far from singling out singles who suffer on Valentine's Day, Cagen believes the commercialism and pressures of the holiday also affect couples.

"For couples, there's a feeling that it's a formula," she says. "And expectations are so high for people in relationships, there's bound to be disappointments."

Judith Coche, clinical psychologist and owner of the Philadelphia-based Coche Center, believes that people's feelings about Valentine's Day depends on how they feel about their love life at a given time.

"If you've broken up with someone, you may be relieved and giggly at your freedom," she said in an e-mailed response. "If you were broken up with, you will hurt — period. If you have been frustratingly single for a while, the holiday can feel like 'bah humbug.'"

And that's just the sort of sentiment Scudder plans to tap into this year.

Although he's been in a relationship in recent years, he says his girlfriend not only understands his anti-Valentine's Day party, she shows up, invites her friends, and has a good time.

"I don't throw the party anymore," he jokes. "It throws me."

This year, Scudder intends to play a key role in the evening's activities. "I play the bartender," he says. "It's the old stereotype of telling the bartender everything. And the storytelling becomes the most amazing part of the evening. It's cathartic. It helps get the venom out."

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