I won’t sugarcoat it: I loathe Valentine’s Day. Forget that Feb. 14 is just one more cliche-soaked, co-opted spot on the calendar. The thought of a single day dedicated to lounging around in matching Snuggies, eating Chunky Monkey and watching “Love Actually” for the 15th time makes me sicker than a night of hot tubbing with Smirnoff marshmallow vodka.
So you can understand why I balked when my editor approached me, the only single reporter on staff, with the idea of writing a Valentine’s advice column. I planned to do little more today than mine my Humphrey Bogart collection for a few classic war films. He promptly reminded me that, with my Christmas gift guide idea of a date in a box, I’d previously come off as something of a romantic. It’s not that I disagree with the celebration of love. Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t believe romance should be reduced to the level of getting drunk off green beer, plowing through mounds of wings during the Super Bowl or removing unsightly knuckle hair with festive rounds of bottle rockets.
But I get it. Your S.O. is expecting something—anything—to mark the big day. And if you’re like most humans, you only got the Facebook reminder this morning. Sure, you could pick up a flashy gift after work or pass off a night at the Red Bird as something you’d planned weeks ago. Or you could take a few tips from me, the date-in-a-box guy, as I try to temper my cynicism.
Romance, like fine dining and job interviews, is all about presentation. Flowers and chocolates just come off as cheesy when gift-wrapped and left on the kitchen counter. Don’t just hand them over, work them into the evening. Pluck the petals and leave a trail from the front door to the bathroom. Use those chocolates to line the tub, and while the lady’s soaking in bubbles, croon a little on the guitar. Think of it as a Manhattan with a black cherry: cheap, traditional, with a twist.
In more of a movie mood? Screw it. You’ve got Netflix 365 days a year. The web is teeming with MP3s of old radio dramas. Throw a few on your iPod, pack up dinner and park someplace secluded with a good view of the sky. You might have to use your imagination, but a few scratchy episodes of “Suspense” beats the hell out of another Michael Bay disaster. Plus, if high school taught us anything, it’s that a car is vastly more “romantic” than a couch.
The smallest gestures usually get the biggest results. If you’re going with the old culinary standby (read: Chinese delivery) think of a 10-minute distraction to keep your S.O. busy. Use tweezers to pluck the fortunes out of the fortune cookies and insert a few of your own. It’s tastier than those chalky Valentine’s message candies, and you can get more, err, creative.
I could rattle off a host of other tried-and-true suggestions—kinky scavenger hunts, doing the five chores you hate the most, reenacting the iconic Lloyd Dobler scene from Say Anything. But this is all just to jump-start your creative process. As much as I may hate the holiday, there’s no denying its power. According to Facebook alone, Valentine’s Day 2011 saw 49 percent more new hookups than breakups.
Consider this: President Obama is spending Valentine’s Day visiting pre-kindergarteners and air base personnel in Georgia, before sitting down for an online “Fireside Hangout” about his State of the Union Address. Even with such a busy schedule, you just know the leader of the free world is going to find some small way to treat Michelle. In other words, a PajamaGram isn’t going to cut it.