Omar Bustamante/FUSION

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! I’m so excited about this holiday. It’s the first one I get to celebrate with the newest love of my life—my two-month-old daughter—as well as the first in a long time I’ll spend near my best friend, who just moved close to me after almost six years of living in different states. And most important, I’ll get to hang out with my incredible partner and co-parent. I've got a lot of love in my life, and I adore having a day set aside to party about it.

Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap, and I can’t deny that the commodified version of the holiday pushed by Hallmark and jewelry commercials is pretty gross, sexist, and alienating to the uncoupled (and anyone who doesn't like pink). However, the joyful declaration of love is important, awesome, and well worthy of its own dedicated spot on the calendar. I encourage you to use the 14th (or any other day your heart desires) to express your love for your family, your friends, your work, your dogs, and/or yourself in a way that feels personal and genuine. Taking romance back from the culture of heteronormative consumerism is radical and queer and worthwhile. Let’s spread the love!

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I'm a 40-year-old queer female virgin who has never been kissed and never been on a date or had much interest in dating until I unexpectedly fell for a beautiful woman in 2014. There was no logic or reason attached to it (different mother tongue, different culture, different race, her Catholic parents, etc.), but it was the best thing ever that happened to me. I've had two crushes since then, one big and one small. I shared my feelings with all three ladies, but no luck in any returned feelings. So what now? Who would want to go on a date with a 40-year-old virgin anyway? And if I do manage to land a date with somebody, when and how do I tell her/him about my (lack of) relationship experience?

Lots of people might want to go on a date with a 40-year-old virgin! Maybe not with any 40-year-old virgin in the world, but a 40-year-old virgin whose intellect, sense of humor, hobbies, etc. is compatible with theirs? Hell yes. You told me almost nothing about yourself except for your lack of romantic and sexual experience, but you know—at least, I hope you know—that doesn’t define what you have to offer. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have (an extensive dating history), focus on what you do have—interests, talents, kindness, a killer lasagna recipe, whatever.

If you’ve been leading with your lack of experience, I suggest you stop, not because it’s likely to scare off potential dates but because it’s irrelevant to the creation of a relationship. Instead, talk about yourself, your crush, and the things you both find interesting about each other. Show the object of your affections the person you are, however shy, witty, adventurous, passionate, nerdy, etc. that person might be. Let them fall for the real you, not the length or lack thereof of your dating resume. If they don’t go for it, no big deal—it just means you two didn’t connect. They weren’t right for you, so move on.

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If you haven’t already, get out of the house and put yourself in the path of cool, available people. Don’t just go to work and come home and wait for the woman of your dreams to fall into your lap; change your scenery and try new things. Volunteer work, artistic pursuits, sporting events—all of those raise your odds of getting a date. If there’s an LGBTQ community center near you, attend an event there. Help out in the beer tent at Pride. Pursue what matters to you, and you’ll meet other people who care about the same things. You can also try online dating if you don’t have a lot of queer people nearby, or if you just feel that it’s easier to put your best foot forward in writing.

You didn’t talk about why you haven’t dated before except to mention that you didn’t have much interest in it until recently, which is totally fine. If, however, you do some soul-searching and realize that the reason you’ve never had a girlfriend is because you have Some Issues standing in your way (internalized homophobia? Dread of commitment? Profound insecurity? There are so many fun options!), I recommend that you talk to a professional about it. You don’t need to feel embarrassed for not getting around to dating sooner, but if the reason goes deeper than disinterest, trying to get a girlfriend without working on yourself could lead to disaster.

And, of course, there’s a really good chance that trying to get a girlfriend will lead to disaster anyway, no matter how well-adjusted you are before you start! Very few people find the love of their lives within their first week on the market. If lasting love is your goal, that’s great, but recognize that it will probably take a few missteps, some boring dates, mediocre sex, heartbreak, and at least one massively ill-advised U-Haul before you find it. Just kidding, dating is easy and low-stress! You’re going to have a blast.

So, I am a cis gay woman with really short hair. I don't feel that I look androgynous, but the days when I don't wear dresses and opt for baggy clothes, maybe I do? I have OCD, the obsessive kind, not the compulsive kind, and fixate on words and actions and behaviors for years, which makes me really sensitive to my interactions with other people. I take things really personally and have some internalized homophobia and I know it's detrimental to how I view myself and other people, but it's who I am!

So, I was in line to get food today, wearing baggy clothes and I guess looking androgynous? I was standing behind a male/female couple and the male turns around, looks at me, whispers to his girlfriend, and then she turns around and gives me the up and down look before leaning over and whispering back to her boyfriend.

My immediate thought is that they were talking about how I look (cue internalized homophobia). I have no idea how to react in this situation and I know that it will bother me and make me feel bad for a long time. This situation happens pretty frequently as I don't shave my legs and have really lovely thick leg hair and enjoy wearing short skirts. I'm happy with who I am and how I look, but I am really sensitive to other people's perceptions of me. Yes, I am rubber you are glue, etc., but I'm really absorbent rubber! Like a tar pit!

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How do I navigate these situations? How can I stop assuming that people are saying horrible things about me? Help!

The problem here is neither your appearance nor even the people whispering in line (who might have been commenting on your baggy outfit, but might also have been saying “I need a pair of shoes like that” or “wow, doesn’t she look exactly like my cousin?”), but your tendency to fixate on the comments and let them affect your self-esteem for the foreseeable future.

You already know that 1) there’s nothing wrong with looking androgynous, and 2) your hair, body hair, and clothing are true to who you are and therefore awesome, so I don’t think I need to reassure you of that. I also don’t need to tell you that even if those people were saying the cruelest, most personally insulting things they could think up, it doesn’t matter the teeniest little bit because you still rock. You know all this! It’s just that you have a mental health condition that makes it difficult to implement what you know.

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So, are you going to therapy? Do you have coping techniques you can turn to when a recurring thought about what someone might or might not have been saying about you threatens to fuck up your day? As someone with a mental health condition myself, I am so, so pro-therapy. A good therapist won’t “fix” your OCD, but will work with you to develop the tools you need to coexist with it. If you don’t have insurance, see if there’s a clinic near you with a sliding-scale pay setup or other mental health resources that will work with your financial situation.

And if you’re already in therapy and it’s not making a difference, you may want to consider looking for a new doctor. I know, I know, therapist shopping is the absolute worst. It’s like bra shopping: a good fit is essential, but also super personal and idiosyncratic and hard to find. It’s also like bra shopping in that the wrong fit can bring you to near-unimaginable levels of misery. But it’s so important and so worth putting time into, and I swear, in the end you’ll be glad you did it.

If, for whatever reason, therapy just isn't an option for you, at least work on developing your repertoire of self-care and distractions that you can implement when an insensitive word or gesture won’t leave your mind. What makes you happy? What pulls your attention back to the moment? Make a list of those things (a shower, a walk, a snuggle with your cat, masturbation, a cup of coffee… it can really be anything), and pull it out when you need it. Try to include a few things you can do anywhere (text your BFF, hum your favorite song) for when you’re out in public and need to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts. And yeah, really do write it down on a list. On good days I’m always like, “Duh, I’m not going to forget that drinking a glass of water and listening to Queen makes me feel better,” but then when I’m having an anxiety spiral I’m like “WHAT DO HUMANS DRINK, SOMEONE REMIND ME.” So put your plan in writing for the next time you need it.

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And whatever you do, remember that you’re awesome and deserve to live your beautiful, authentic life. If anyone gives you shit about it, give them your very best Withering Glare (because even if they’re saying something innocuous, whispering while staring is hella rude) and go about your day.

Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme tattooed fat chick who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, an adorable baby girl, and two very spoiled cats. Her first book, Ask A Queer Chick, was published by Plume in February 2016.