Most holidays have only one Mood Setting: Fun. Christmas, the Fourth of July, Groundhog Day—these holidays don’t depend on your relationship status, they’re just moments where everyone pauses to celebrate, appreciate, and render themselves more or less unconscious via feasting (well, maybe not so much Groundhog Day, but we’re working on it).
Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, is the one holiday that is either the Most Exciting Day of the Year or the Most Dreaded Day of the Year, depending entirely on whether you’re single or not. If you’re feeling a bit down because you don’t have a significant other for this year’s Valentine’s Day Massacre, cheer up—here are six books that will remind you being single might be your best option, because hell is other people.
Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
All relationships begin in glory, with endless possibility. Not all relationships—or individuals—cash in on that potential. Yates’ novel remains a powerful exploration of how a marriage—indeed, a life—can go so quietly and tragically wrong in tiny increments, starting off with bright-eyed excitement and ending, after a series of soul-crushing compromises, in despair. Next time you’re feeling jealous of all your married friends celebrating Valentine’s Day in the suburbs, read this book and turn that jealousy into pity.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Perhaps the obvious choice, but no less powerful for it, Flynn’s breakout novel isn’t so much a crime story as it is the story of what happens when you marry someone you don’t know as well as you think you do. We all start off as strangers, after all, and how well can you ever truly know someone? As explored in this incredible novel, the answer might not be to your liking. This Valentine’s Day, if you’re wondering why you never get a “meet cute” moment that leads to the perfect marriage, read Gone Girl again and be reminded your chances of marrying a crazy person are more than zero.
High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby
Relationships are a form of insanity. Think about it: Any conversation you have regarding past relationships tends to be held in tones of stunned disbelief, as if you simply cannot imagine what drew you to that person in the first place. High Fidelity is an enormously entertaining, funny, and sweet novel about a man who, following his girlfriend’s departure, embarks on a messy course of self-discovery involving past relationships and an obsession with music and pop culture. This book will remind you that being in a relationship often means sacrificing your sanity, your sleep, and your identity.
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Satan with your demon baby and a creepy group of elderly cultists. Valentine’s Day wants you to believe love and marriage are the most important things in life, but let’s not forget the expression of doom and despair every new parent wears for at least the first year or two of their childrens’ lives. Wishing you were married with kids this holiday? Read (or reread) Levin’s horror classic and remember that actually having babies is only slightly less horrifying and life-destroying.
The Ice Storm, by Rick Moody
If you’ve ever heard the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” and haven’t thought it applies primarily to personal relationships, this book will prove it to you. If Valentine’s Day is making you feel like you want a settled, long-term relationship or marriage, let Rick Moody show you what it might look like ten or twenty years down the line, when boredom and the tiny irritations of daily life drive you to the brink of hating the person you supposedly love the most. You’ll be free to hang out with your married friends and feel privately, silently smug for having dodged the bullet.
Deep Water, by Patricia Highsmith
Any of Highsmith’s books can be used as romantic antidotes, especially this study of a loveless marriage that leads to murder and insanity. The Van Allens are married, and Melinda is allowed to take as many lovers as she wishes so long as she doesn’t leave Vic and their family—but Vic’s apparent satisfaction and unconcern with this arrangement is hiding a deeply broken psyche. This book so subtly leads you toward a growing sense of dread that if you can read it and still consider love and marriage a viable option, you’re superhuman. So don’t let the tyranny of happy couples ruin your Valentine’s Day—great books, a tumbler of whiskey, and some great music and you’ve got the perfect evening, free from lover’s spats, screaming kids, or having to resist the urge to stab your significant other with a butter knife.