“I’m staying off social media tomorrow,” my best friend said on February 13, 2016. “Too much PDA going on.” I laughed. There was some truth in her statement.

February 14 is a day set aside to celebrate love, yet it’s a difficult day for a lot of people. Many will spending the day alone. Some may lament the lack of a partner. For others, it’s a reminder that love isn’t perfect and it doesn’t matter what the movies portray or what others promise you, people will leave.

It’s a day that’s cliched and not at the same time, because when you’re in love, you become the very person you envied. But when you fall out of it, love becomes this elusive thing, out of reach.

Valentine’s Day is hard for me personally. I’m reminded of family, of love that’s lost, and that this thing called love that’s so worth celebrating can be rather bittersweet.

On Valentine’s Day 2016, I met with a friend for lunch.

“So, what’s your story?” she asked.

And so my story began with a boy whom I met in church. I noticed his silhouette first, before his smile. Hellos exchanged became long conversations and before I could catch myself, I fell in love with his laugh, his half-smirk whenever I told a bad joke, his way with words and everything he was.

I’ll save the long story for another day but in short: It ended with a marriage proposal that didn’t culminate in a wedding.

I grew up in a family with a few dysfunctions (though to be fair, every family is dysfunctional in its own ways). 

Despite that, I’d stayed hopelessly optimistic about love until it didn’t work out.

Mary Oliver once said: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” I swam in the darkness for a long time, and I’m not sure I wanted out.

I buried myself in work, talked myself hoarse about how it ended, and refused to go to church. Everything in my life became about my pain. And with that, I lost sight of everything else that God had gifted me with: Family. A job I love. Loyal friends. A supportive community.

It took me a year before I lifted my head to thank God and thank him for setting me free. For loving me enough to let me go.

I stuck my head in the box filled with darkness but love made a way. It came with honest conversations and cups of coffee. It presented itself on Sundays even when I turned up to church sulkily refusing to sing O Praise The Name, and it showed up when I shared part of the story on a new friend’s couch, watching as she grew progressively more horrified.

If you’re feeling the pain of singlehood: No, there’s nothing innately wrong with you.

Where there is light, no darkness can exist. But I wonder if they have to co-exist for some time before one wins. I’d like to believe that whatever we choose to feed will emerge victorious. Maybe it’s something I have to believe in, because people shoot other people, because people make bombs and place them in shrines, because disasters happen and we can only meekly ask: “Why?”

I have to believe that we get to choose, every single day, to feed this world with a little more light, or dark. And nobody said choosing the light was ever going to be easy.

It will mean loving when it hurts and hoping against hope and sending up prayers desperately hoping they will be answered. It will mean forgiving those who have hurt you and choosing to love them the best way you know how – be it by extending your heart, or walking away. It will mean loving your neighbour as yourself (whatever that means to you).

It will entail sacrifice. A lot of the time, there’ll be more questions than answers.

So for those who find February 14 difficult, I get it. I really do.

If you’re feeling the pain of singlehood: No, there’s nothing innately wrong with you. We all have lots of things that are wrong about us but I like to think there’s someone rightly wrong for us all, if that’s what you’re looking for. A friend has a far more eloquent answer on Quora that is a brilliant read.

And for those of us where lots more weighs heavily on our hearts, the good news is this: We’re all living stories. We can choose to make them living love stories. We don’t have to let the gaping hole in our hearts consume us. Filling the hole with boys, girls and things will only plug it for a little while.

Don’t buy into the lie that if you’re not in love, you’re not worthy.

There is a love that hogs the limelight on Valentine’s Day. That love is demanding – impatient and unkind. It envies what others have. It boasts. It is proud, self-seeking.

So on February 14, 2016, I finished my story, the one about the boy and his laughter and how I got love so wrong that time, and calmly picked at my (now-cold) pasta.

It was my friend’s turn. She, too, spoke of indecision and brokenness, and being plunged into the dark.

I realised then that we need to meander through the darkness in order to find the light – because that’s how we know the difference between the two. We were both given the impetus to write new chapters for ourselves, and that was the greatest gift of all.

There is a love that hogs the limelight on Valentine’s Day. That love is demanding – impatient and unkind. It envies what others have. It boasts. It is proud, self-seeking.

Then there is real love. This always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Its joy is drawn from the truth. It never fails. And it isn’t limited to two people, to February 14.

This is real love: Throw kindness around like confetti, be grateful for what’s been placed in your hand. Believe that yes, you’ll be given beauty for ashes, that ruins can indeed come to life.

And use that to shake your world. Smile to a stranger. Do some good.

There is a year to go before the next Valentine’s Day. Don’t wait till then to start your story. You can start now, because there are new mercies every morning.

Let love win.