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posted: 2/14/2017 5:10 AM

Constable: Reality of Valentine's Day for singles is virtually endless

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  • There is nothing wrong with buying yourself a nice Valentine's Day flower arrangement, says psychologist Claudia Pitts, who has a practice in Lake Zurich and teaches at National Louis University in Elgin and on other campuses.

      There is nothing wrong with buying yourself a nice Valentine's Day flower arrangement, says psychologist Claudia Pitts, who has a practice in Lake Zurich and teaches at National Louis University in Elgin and on other campuses.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Valentine's Day can be stressful for people in happy relationships, let alone for people without a romantic partner, says Claudia Pitts, an associate professor of psychology at National Louis University. But there are ways to spread the love.

    Valentine's Day can be stressful for people in happy relationships, let alone for people without a romantic partner, says Claudia Pitts, an associate professor of psychology at National Louis University. But there are ways to spread the love.
    Courtesy of National Louis University

  • Video: Virtual reality dates tricky

  • Video: Society closer to 'Her'

 
 

That mysterious Valentine's Day flower arrangement delivered to you at work today with a blank card should have your office buzzing and make you feel happy -- even if you sent it to yourself.

Just be sure you do it the right way.

"Don't be dishonest. You want to avoid that," says Claudia Pitts, a psychologist with a practice in Lake Zurich who is an associate professor of psychology for National Louis University, which has campuses in Elgin, Lisle, Wheeling, Skokie and Chicago. Instead of pretending the flowers are from Zac Efron, Rihanna or even that new cutie in human resources, there is no harm in keeping a secret.

"There is a notion of radical self-care, that it's shocking to take good care of yourself," Pitts says, adding that you should treat yourself every once in a while. And what better excuse than Valentine's Day, when the pressure can get to some people?

"It's all about expectations," Pitts says, explaining how people often expect "grand, romantic gestures" when that might not be realistic. "It's all supposed to be magical."

When Valentine's Day is not as magical as you might want, Pitts suggests you can improve the holiday mood by focusing on all the good things you do have, such as friends, family members, vacations, a good job, a loyal pet, a fun hobby or an exciting trip in the offing. Even better, contact someone else who appreciates love.

"If you have a need to reach out, don't call your no-good ex. Call someone who would like to hear from you," Pitts says, noting that many seniors would appreciate a phone call or visit on Valentine's Day. Or you could offer to baby-sit for friends.

"You get the affection and gratitude of the parents, and you get to spend Valentine's Day with someone who thinks chocolate is a miracle and loves spending time with you," Pitts says. "Little-kid love is pretty strong stuff. Valentine's Day is about love, and why do we have to restrict it to romantic love? There are a million kinds of love. Why does it have to be boy, girl, box of chocolates?"

For that matter, why does it even need to be real? In Japan, virtual reality dating rivals the real thing, with one government survey showing that nearly 30 percent of single women and 15 percent of single men in their 20s admit to falling in love with an avatar or character from video games. One online porn business started offering 30 virtual reality videos last April, reported 38 million virtual-reality searches in nine months, and featured 1,800 such videos by the end of the year. Sex robots are on the rise.

In the 2013 movie "Her," Joaquin Phoenix's character built a virtual dating life with the artificial intelligence of Scarlett Johansson's voice coming from his smartphone. A movie expected out this spring, based on Ernest Cline's 2011 novel, "Ready Player One," features a cast of characters who spend all their free time exploring a virtual reality world.

"There are lots of people who are shy and don't want to go out," says Steven Paterson, an expert in virtual reality who works in and writes about that field from his home in California. It's easier now to create virtual reality video games with fantastic beasts and exotic planets than it is to create a video game with a lifelike romantic interest who joins you in your living room, Paterson says.

Even if your wife is in Paris on business, cutting-edge virtual reality technology could make it seem as if she were with you at your favorite restaurant in Naperville. But most virtual reality dates now involve cartoon characters and avatars.
Even if your wife is in Paris on business, cutting-edge virtual reality technology could make it seem as if she were with you at your favorite restaurant in Naperville. But most virtual reality dates now involve cartoon characters and avatars. - Courtesy of The Peninsula Hotels

But if virtual reality can let us "visit" museums, explore the oceans, rocket into space or sit courtside at an NBA game, it can let a real husband in Naperville enjoy a virtual Valentine's dinner with his real wife on a business trip in Paris.

"But it would probably be easier to take that flight home," says Paterson, who notes virtual reality may someday merit a $2 billion investment from Facebook but is not quite ready yet for the consumer just looking for a date.

But that world is coming.

"Creating a virtual boyfriend or girlfriend, I think that will be reasonable in five years," Paterson says.

Then, you could just have your new virtual reality love interest send virtual Valentine's Day flowers to your virtual office. In the real world, we still have plenty of ways to celebrate.

"It's up to you to choose to be loving," Pitts says. "It's a matter of trying to figure out how to have a good day."

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