This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday (FYI: It’s tomorrow), making it awfully convenient for those of you planning a romantic weekend getaway and a three-day headache for the rest of us. Let’s face it: This holiday isn’t the greatest no matter your relationship status. (The media/retail onslaught of vapid, pink-tinted, Hallmark-advocating mush alone is exhausting.) Expressing love for the people in your life should be a daily ritual, am I right? No need for a symbolic teddy bear or the validation of spending a gaudy amount of money on eating food with another person, right? Ugh! Ack! Whatever. Valentine’s Day is a dumb thing that happens to us every year against our will. Here’s some advice on how to deal with it.
If you’re single
First off, know that Valentine’s Day is a holiday with historical Christian roots that was co-opted by large corporations to prey on Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers and/or the trolls who need a universally pronounced day to show that there’s love or hope or happiness in the world. It’s just February 14th, just a date when some people are born and other people die and the world continues to rotate around the sun like always. If you’re bothered by the fact that every attached person you know has plans, make some of your own. (There’s a terrible new movie out this weekend that you might like.) If you like the idea of spending money on a fancy dinner or present but have no one in particular you want to spend it on, go ahead and #TreatYoSelf to something you really deserve instead. ALSO, buy your grandmother flowers, because everyone seems to forget that old people get lonely easily and need to be reminded that they’re loved, too.
Avoid spending your day on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. It will be filled with cutely captioned posts from the same people whose constant baby photos and vintage-furniture finds stress you out. Don’t be a downer, either. I know for a fact that you love some people and they love you back. Don’t hate, don’t mope. If you must, buy the new Drake album and let him do the moping for you. It costs as much as a cheap bottle of wine, anyways.
If you have a crush on your friend and don’t know what to do
You’re both single! You’re probably going to hang out, because it’s the weekend, and you hang out on the weekends anyways! You obviously are into each other, but are afraid to do anything about it! You feel empowered by knowing that, and also terrified! No, this is not the day for a big, romantic gesture. But it is the day to flirt and be charming and treat her like she’s a Real Woman instead of one of your bros. Love is in the air and scheduled right there on the calendar, and so you should maybe, subtly try to riff on that. Open doors for her, compliment her for no reason, don’t text with people or actively try to plan to meet up with other friends while you’re together.
Go to a dive bar. The diviest dive bar that also has a jukebox. Load that jukebox up with fun, dance-y music and the occasional feel-good, love-y pop anthem. (We’re talking Lisa Lisa and not Sam Smith here.) Buy each other drinks and play any bar game available. (But absolutely not this one.) When Whitney’s “How Will I Know” comes on, watch her shriek with glee as you bounce around stupidly and free of shame to the best song ever. Ask her to dance and smile a lot as you do so after she says yes. Don’t be a creep and try to French her in public or go home with her—you’re playing the long game here. (Note: This is a real account of the best accidental Valentine’s Day date I’ve ever had, and so it comes highly recommended. If you’re not crushing on each other hard afterwards, it’s not meant to be.)
If you’ve been a couple dates with a person you recently met
Sorry, but no Valentine’s Day date for you this time. Getting to know someone is hard enough without having to navigate the weirdness of hanging out on International Love Day. Skip this one.
If you’re casually seeing someone you actually like
Make some effort to show that, hey, maybe this could be a real thing! Valentine’s Day is one of the rare holidays where awkward, stumbling gestures from someone you’re dating can be pretty endearing. Offer to cook her dinner (it lessens the pressure of being in a holiday-restaurant setting) and clean up for the occasion. Meaning, actually clean your apartment, buy some flowers (bodega flowers at least) for the dinner table, do your laundry (specifically your sheets and towels), and go ahead and give yourself a shave. Try making something beyond the bare-minimum sustenance-only meals you prepare for yourself: no rice and beans, no glorified sandwiches, no pasta unless the sauce is some secret family recipe. Pick something from here. You’d be surprised how far the tiniest display of effort can get you.
If you’re in your first year of a real relationship
Dudes, buy your girl a card. Or make her a card. Say some nice things—one or two or three—about your feelings. It’s okay if it’s awkward or cheesy or feels forced. This card will make both of you very happy. As Nick Offerman recently and very wisely pointed out:
Cards are not that hard. Go to the printer. There’s paper inside the printer. Discern how to get the paper out of the printer. Take one sheet and fold it in half and draw a heart on it. Sign your name and write ‘I love you’ on it. A bonus tip is to go outside and get a piece of nature; a shell, a leaf, a chrysalis if you’re good. Adhere that piece of nature to the center of the heart and then get stretched out because you’re going to the ride of coitus.
Jokes aside, this is the time to delve into the nicer, grown-up Date Arena. Buy flowers, but don’t bring them on your date, because she doesn’t want to carry them around. (Making someone walk around with a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day is pretty self-aggrandizing, no?) Agree on the vibe you’re going for (Big Night Out vs. An Adventure vs. A Nice, Intimate Time), and do something you love doing together. Ideas: a day-trip to a museum or out-of-town place you’ve been meaning to check out. A nice dinner out with some nicer-than-usual wine. Maybe get tickets to go see a play, an exhibition, or live music. (These can be presented on Valentine’s Day with the intent to use later!) What you’re going for here is to avoid being a Try-Hard while still showing that you’ve been thoughtful. Remember: Write A Card.
If you’ve been dating for a few years now
You’re more practical now, and a little more grounded, and a little more cognizant of where you guys are and where you’re going. That said, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to go on vacation and break up your routines. Make plans for a weekend trip … one that doesn’t have to actually take place this weekend, but can be symbolic of it. If you don’t live together (and/or have roommates), take a staycation at an AirBnb or hotel in the city just for kicks and kinks.
This is where presents come into play, too. I’m an advocate for avoiding jewelry and lingerie and sexy-time playthings unless you know exactly how your partner will react. (Related: If Valentine’s Day is the only day you’re getting laid, you’ve got some re-negotiating to do.) Buy the things that you know they wouldn’t buy for themselves, but you know they’ve been craving desperately. (Bonus points for harkening back to some of the more thoughtful, creative things you did back when you were still newbs in love: making each other mixtapes, commissioning an art print from an artist your s/o admires, etc.) Call me crazy, but it’s a great time to buy practical stuff you both want too: that fancy-pants juicer or espresso-maker, a cleaning service for your apartment, subscriptions to a bunch of magazines, etc. Just know that you’ve got to top it off with a date-night dinner and a card. Always write a card.
If you’re married and have kids
Get a babysitter. Be at a great distance from your children for an extended period of time. Do not speak about the children unless absolutely necessary. Your children know you love them. Do not feel guilty. Write a card. Have your kids write a card, too.
If you’re my dad
Stop panicking, Dad. This is a silly holiday. No need for a huge gesture. You’re not boring—just a little old! Stop thinking you might be boring! Mom doesn’t want or need anything, and that’s cool and not weird! You’ve been married for 30 years. You’ve done a lot together. You’ve got some pretty rad kids. Calm down.
I guess you should take Mom to her favorite Indian or Lebanese place, because even in celebration, she likes routine. Buy her those Godiva chocolate-covered strawberries, because the Edible Treats ones are kind of gross, to be honest. I know she thinks flowers die too quickly and that makes her sad, but if you get her some and cut them and put them in a vase yourself and leave them on her desk, I think she’d like that. We know she hates surprises, so maybe just suggest going to see a movie this weekend; anything that has explosions and hunky middle-aged men fighting bad guys would be the one to pick. Write her a little note with the same sentiments that you express regularly: You’re very lucky to have her, and she keeps you young, and you love her very much. It’s all true, and she’ll cry just like she does every year. You’ve always been really good at writing cards.
If you’re a ghost looking down on your lover from another realm
Haunting people’s bodies or memories is not very chill. I’m not sure if this counts as haunting, but, if it’s possible, you should think your most tender thoughts and descend like a warm breeze around your living, breathing love when they are in a resting state. On this day, you may infect his or her brain one (1) time with a happy memory of a time that you held hands during springtime. Do not write a card.
Puja Patel is a writer and editor who lives in New York and loves you very much. Find her shouting into the ether over here.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
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