Being single is hard enough - let alone on the most romantic day of the year.
But as flowers and chocolates are being bought and dinner reservations are being made, local psychologists and proponents for living a healthy single lifestyle encourage those without a significant other not to let this Valentine's Day pass them by.
Jeff Goss, 53, of State College and founder of Single Adult Ministries that puts on dances and other events for singles in the area, said his advice for single people on Valentine's Day is to go out and make connections - even if it's by doing something as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee or going to the grocery story with someone.
Violet Kunkle (left), Jeff?Goss and Patty Reilly pose at the Single Adult Ministries’ dance on Feb. 10. The singles’ dance drew more than 80 attendees.
"Being single is certainly a challenging journey," he said. "You need social support, social outreach and a social environment that encourages and enhances that."
To help foster that environment, SAM sponsored a Singles Sweetheart Dance on Friday, which Altoona resident Violet Kunkle attended. Kunkle has been attending the SAM dances for three years, as well as getting together with a local singles group in Roaring Spring, called Sea Salt. She plans to celebrate the holiday - which is also her birthday - with friends.
"[Valentine's Day] doesn't have to be just for couples," she said. "I think it's all about love. Love goes a long way. It's about family, and it's about friendships."
Despite this, it can be hard for singles to ignore the images, pressures and commercialization surrounding Valentine's Day.
Dr. Robert L. Matchock, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Altoona, wrote in an email that today and all other holidays have the potential to negatively affect us.
"Society in general, and especially the media, can set high and unrealistic standards for what is expected of us on Valentine's Day, emotionally and even financially," he wrote. "When these unrealistic expectations are not met, it is natural to experience changes in mood or well-being."
But Patty Reilly, 54, of Altoona doesn't think Valentine's Day is too commercialized even though she's single. In fact, she respects the fact that one day a year is set aside for "lovers to express their feelings, more so than any other day."
"If I had a mate, I would be more than happy to make great plans," she said.
Reilly attended the SAM dance on Friday, and plans to surround herself with friends tonight. She sent Valentine's Day cards to her son and grandson - highlighting her belief that the holiday isn't just about romantic love.
"We all have different kinds of love," Reilly said. "Your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your children, it's just all about love."
Kunkle encourages other singles not to "sit home feeling sorry for yourself."
"Get out and meet new people and you might meet that special person," she said. "God has a way of putting people in our lives. If you don't put yourself out there, he can't do that."
Goss also would like to continue helping local singles put themselves out there. He and a friend, Gloria McGuire of State College, recently launched www.singlesmakingconnections.com, through which they hope to offer more social events, chat features and services similar to an online dating site.
But for those who find themselves without a Valentine tonight, Goss urges them to live today and every day like it is "a gift."
"Every single day is a gift. Make the most of it," he said. "Recognize that you're not alone and live life to the fullest."
Matchock had similar advice, encouraging single people to think of Valentine's Day as just one of the countless days we have to express love for the people we do have in our lives.
"The true meaning of Valentine's Day centers on the expression of love to our fellow human beings; it doesn't have to be romantic love," he wrote. "Celebrating life and strengthening social bonds with significant others is at the very crux of Valentine's Day. We should live every day as if it's Valentine's Day."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.