My birthday is on Valentine's Day. It's the worst.

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In elementary school, I loved the fact that my birthday is on Valentine's Day. Every year, it felt like my class was throwing me a love-themed birthday party, complete with heart-shaped candy and dozens of handmade cards. My go-to celebratory outfit was a wedding style dress with cowboy boots. I ate chocolates all day and happily crowed, "My birthday Talentine!" (I couldn't pronounce the letter "v," and I was too excited to use verbs). Valentine’s Day meant the entire world loved and celebrated me.

Cut to my 23rd birthday: I’d been dating a guy—let’s call him Ryan—for about a month, and I invited him to a celebratory dinner my friend was throwing in my honor. She and her partner cooked up succulent pork chops, herb-roasted potatoes, and a salad made with organic local lettuce. Come dinnertime, we all sat around the dimly lit table, glasses of Cabernet in hand, ready to cut into our personal cuts of tender meat. There was just one issue, though: Ryan wasn’t there, and his absence was glaringly obvious since there were—you guessed it—only three of us at this small soiree. After I wept on the balcony and chain-smoked for about an hour, he finally arrived to his lone cold pork chop. Oh, I didn’t get a gift, either; as my manager at the time asked, “Not even a rose?” Nope.

Dating is hard, and Valentine's Day is practically abysmal if you're paired up with someone who shouldn’t have made it through cuffing season. Add your birthday to the mix, and you've got a chain of woeful memories. The misery kicks in mid-January, when there are dead-eyed teddy bears in every store reminding me that I am one year closer to my demise; equally scary are the dead-eyed boyfriends purchasing said bears. Friends tend to be busy with their partners on Valentine’s Day, or they are watching “Bridget Jones’s Diary” in the fetal position. Each year I somehow survive with cheesecake, a log of salami, and approximately 25 calls to my mother, asking her why she couldn’t have skipped the spicy lasagna in hopes of expediting my delivery into this cold, cruel world.

Even if I happen to land a date for the evening, there tends to be an inordinate amount of pressure on my poor suitor. Eating out is a logistical nightmare, complete with enough balloons to undoubtedly violate the fire department’s visibility regulations. And don’t even get me started on the overpriced prix fixe menus; kitchens want to crank out as much food as possible in one evening, and what better way to accomplish this Herculean feat than turning line cooks into lobster-smashing drones? After each birthday, I tend to feel as deflated as a “shareable” soufflé.

I first learned this lesson on my 19th birthday. My boyfriend at the time—everyone, meet pseudonyme-labeled Joseph—took me to a chain fondue restaurant (oh, to be young again). The menu boasted multiple courses of dippable delights paired with coagulating cheese and burnt chocolate. The main course featured a boiling broth to dunk slivers of questionably grey meat into. At the age of 19, though, it felt very sophisticated; the waitress even poured us glasses of complementary champagne! (Dear waitress: If you’re reading this, that incident was ten years ago, and I refuse to disclose the location, so your secret is safe with me).

Well, Joseph and I soon learned that nothing in life is free. After a two-hour meal surrounded by Dollar Store streamers and cutouts of Cupid, we received the bill. Approximately two seconds later, Joseph started to weep. The details are hazy due to that glass of bubbly, but he apparently didn’t realize that the prix fixe menu was more expensive than the normal fondue menu (a fact that bewilders me to this day). Joseph literally didn’t have enough money on his debit card to foot the bill, so I paid. He remained inconsolable the rest of the night, and I’m 95 percent sure I had to hold him as he cried himself to sleep.

My dating history is peppered with these anecdotes; perhaps I set my expectations too high, perhaps I chose wrong partners, perhaps a combination of the two. While self-awareness may not seem like my strong suit, I do know that “high-maintenance” and “Bonnie’s birthday” could presumably be used in the same sentence. When I was younger, I literally swallowed this pain by chugging cheap wine to get through the day. My 22nd birthday was a particularly booze-soaked affair; I drank glass after glass of Carlo Rossi in my Disneyland cup with a straw. In my other hand, I clutched my scratched-up Blackberry, waiting for a particular boy to call. He never did. To cheer me up, my best friend dragged me out of the apartment and we waddled to Safeway to buy another jug of Carlo. The cashier kept calling me Connie. That was the highlight of my night.

As I got older, though, I started to approach my birthday with an increased responsibility of my own emotions. I also got sober, which undoubtedly put a cork in my perpetual wallowing (I tended to be a Tom-Waits-and-weep kind of drunk). Instead of waiting around for some guy to slide into my DMs or slip me off my Birkenstocked feet, I now celebrate my special day with my friends. For my 26th birthday, I threw my own party, and told my friends that they are all my valentines. It felt like my elementary school days; I dressed up in some bizarre outfit, made handmade cards, and we all ate too much candy.

Finally, if I've learned anything, it's that I don't need a partner to celebrate my birthday. In fact, I had one of my favorite birthdays last year; I spent the day with my mom, who told me that 28 years before, she received the best valentine of her life: Me.