Table for one, please

Valentines Day is fast approaching as we all scramble to make plans. What’s worse is having to make the tough call between taking your girl out to Olive Garden or cooking at home.

Of course you choose the lazy option, as any man does who can’t resist the electric atmosphere of middle class romance melded into the aroma of endless breadsticks. While there, in between short bursts of underwhelming chit-chat and overcooked shrimp scampi, the haunting realization dawns on you that you’re sinking ever deeper into a mediocre relationship.

But you think to yourself “At least I’m not single … right?”

It doesn’t have to be like this! Valentines Day, as we all know, was invented to sell cards, roses and Olive Garden meals. The fervent marketing to couples this time of year pays off to the tune of $13.2 billion in related merchandise sold. The companies behind the holiday might want to start thinking of an exit strategy, however, as the singles revolution is fast approaching. There’s a huge untapped market for the rest of us on Valentines Day and it must be taken seriously!

The times are changing and cultural shifts are making being single the new hot trend. For the first time in America, single people now outnumber married individuals (50.2 percent vs. 49.8 percent). More and more people are single and they are increasingly OK with it.

To me, being single used to be a sign of being a loner or even borderline narcissistic, not wanting to share emotions with anyone but oneself. Now I see a single person and assume they are focused on their career, school or other life goals before settling down with anyone. Even the ‘independant woman’ being a positive role model for girls has been ingrained into our zeitgeist in recent years and will continue to be influential for years to come.

For the first time, society is telling us, “It’s OK! You don’t have to be with somebody right now and you don’t have to get married before you’re 25 if you don’t want to.”

Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at NYU who has authored a book on this subject, says it is now easier than ever to be pickier than ever with whom we dat. This, coupled with changing the negative perception of being single, is a reason for the growing number of those disassociating with relationships. “It’s become legitimate and viable to be single for a long period of time,” he said in a recent interview with Public Radio International.

Sociologists refer to this as the ‘paradox of choice,’ a recent phenomenon in the world of dating and relationships. With so many options and ways to meet new people, we see the flaws and imperfections in everyone we come across, making us more inclined to wait for Mr. or Mrs. right who could be one click, swipe or breakup away.

Along with this paradox of choice comes a cultural shift that is appearing in Japan. What many in the country are calling “celibacy syndrome” is sweeping the nation. Japanese men are more interested in advancing their careers than going on dates and having children. Even a survey in 2014 by the Japan Family Planning Association revealed that 45 percent of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.”

This could be an issue for not only hopeless romantics in “The Land of the Rising Sun” but also for the Japanese government. From an economic development standpoint, Japan is facing a shrinking birth rate. As the population ages, there isn’t a young labor force to replace it. While here in the US this isn’t likely to happen, it is important to realize that trends are shifting away from the typical courtship of centuries past.

So Valentines Day is coming up and all I’m talking about is being single. Don’t worry — I’m not doing this because I feel that life is unfair or that seeing couples secretly makes me jealous. I simply see that trends are slowly moving towards the singles culture having a larger market share and I am surprised companies haven’t caught on yet. Sure, there’s things like National Singles Day to allow singles to meet up and celebrate their singleness, but why haven’t marketers latched on to this growing market and taken advantage of this audience?

Single people are out there and they are out there in droves. The problem is marketers think they might offend people by directly targeting the singles, but this isn’t the case anymore! As I mentioned earlier, it’s no longer some taboo subject that we don’t talk about — people are single and proud now. I’m sure they would love products and services directed at them — other than eHarmony ads for once.

The possibilities are endless. You could do discounts at sporting events for single people, solo night at a local bowling alley or even 25 percent off at buffets and restaurants (like Olive Garden!). While this won’t be the most lucrative thing right now, it’s a neat idea to think about. Besides, I as a millennial would appreciate a company who cares about my relationship status!

Not only might fresh ideas like these get singles to spend more, but as a side effect it will get them out in social settings where, who knows, they might meet their future soul mate. Call me Cupid.

So maybe this whole being single thing is a real cultural trend. Or maybe it’s just a way for me to justify my own being single instead of accepting my spiral into this inescapable loneliness. I’m going to go with the less Edgar Allen Poe-y possibility. So happy Valentines Day to all the singles out there — keep the spirit alive. And for all of you with a hot date lined up, take my sage advice: Don’t take them to Olive Garden.