Surviving Valentine’s Day: Tips and tricks for the romantically challenged

 Yes, assigning love a specific day is a bizarre and insidious corporate tactic, but just know that you can take The Man’s attempt to oppress you/force you to buy chocolate and use it to your advantage.

valentine's dayValentine’s Day. Some call it a holiday. Others call it a nightmare. it’s that time of year when we are technically required to show our love, or wallow in the fact that we’re unlovable losers. I’m generally not a fan of holidays, because I feel like they’re thinly-veiled reasons to spend money, not genuine celebrations of a legitimate event. Valentine’s Day is no different: Should there really be a day assigned to something as all-encompassing as love? I vote no.

On the other hand, I guess there’s nothing wrong with setting aside one day above all others to celebrate your significant other and let them know how much you care for them. So in the spirit of resigning yourself to something you can’t change, here’s a brief survival guide to getting through Valentine’s Day unscathed, whether you’re single or hitched:

1. Don’t Stress: This may seem like a simple piece of advice, but it’s probably the most important one, as all other pieces of advice will immediately become null and void if this isn’t followed. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is not supposed to induce a sense of stress or anxiety, and if it does, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re single, stressing about the fact that you’re single isn’t going to help your situation. Accept the fact that you haven’t found The One yet, but you will someday. As the Supremes (and later, Phil Collins) said, “You can’t hurry love, no, you just have to wait…”

If you’re in a relationship, worrying about whether you got the right gift, cooked that V-Day dinner on the right setting or sprinkled just the right amount of petals on the floor is counterproductive. The day is supposed to be about enjoying your partner and celebrating your relationship. This is hard to do when you’re on the verge of an anxiety attack.

2. If you’re in a relationship, do get a card: Gifts are optional, but getting your loved one a card is a basic and important gesture that likely will not be forgiven if you fail to come through. Even better, make your own card, as my boyfriend did for me several years back. The time and creativity he put into the card far outweighed anything he might have bought for me (and he did buy me a realllly nice chess set), and brought tears to my eyes.

Even if you get a card from the store, don’t just let the card’s message do all the talking for you. Include a personal note about what your significant other means to you. Even better, if you’re a poet, write your partner a poem. I guarantee you this is tearjerker territory that will earn points you may be able to cash in later, say during a future fight when she wants you to sleep on the couch. “But what about that poem i wrote for you on Valentine’s Day?” you ask sweetly. And poof! All is magically forgiven.

3. Have a plan, and set aside time for said plan: Running out to the 24-hour CVS at 3 am to get a card and a box of chocolates is not a good look. Have a plan in advance, and make sure you’ve cleared space in your schedule to put this plan in place and shower your partner with attention. Telling your lover how much they mean to you while you check e-mails on your BlackBerry is not going to work.

If the two of you haven’t planned a night in the city or a weekend getaway, then analyze your finances and use your smarts to figure out what your partner would most appreciate — and what you can realistically afford.

Even if finances are tight, put some thought into your plan to make up for your lack of funds. If you can hold your own in the kitchen, cook a nice meal. If you’re culinarily-challenged, plan a romantic evening that includes take-out and some lovey-dovey tunes. Run your lover a bath. Or offer to lighten the load – do the laundry – or whatever their least favorite chore is – for a month.

4. Pamper your significant other – or if you’re single – yourself: Valentine’s Day, like so many other holidays, has unfortunately been reduced to materialism, but when all else fails, forget the fancy gifts. If you’re in a relationship, attention is the single most important thing you can give on Valentine’s Day. With hectic schedules, couples don’t always have the time to show each other the kind of affection and attention they’d like to. Valentine’s Day is a time to drop everything else and make your partner your first priority.

If you’re single, don’t mope around the whole day. Take some time to reflect on past relationships and why they didn’t work – and why you may actually be lucky that they didn’t work! When all else fails, read through old journals if you have them – you’ll likely get more than a few chuckles.

List out all the qualities you’d like in a partner and establish goals for your romantic life, including where you’d like to be romance-wise by this time next Valentine’s Day. Then put that aside and go enjoy your day. If you have other single friends, get together with them for a fun outing or a night on the town. Or spend the day treating yourself – go get a manicure, pedicure, facial and massage then order your favorite take-out and have a movie marathon.

5. Gift wisely: If you have the finances, a thoughtful gift that shows you’ve been paying attention can earn you serious points. Clearly, jewelry never hurts. But gifts don’t always have to be expensive to please your mate, and more often than not it’s the gifts that require time and thought, not money, that make the biggest impact. Consider making a scrapbook of key memories and photos of your relationship, or a mix CD of your favorite, most meaningful songs. Have a picture of the two of you, or an especially meaningful souvenir, framed, and present that as a gift.

Yes, you can do the chocolates, the flowers and the teddy bears, but those take about zero thought to come up with. They’re better than nothing, but in terms of really expressing the depth of your love for your partner – assuming there is some depth to your love – a cookie-cutter gift probably isn’t the best way to go.

The idea for Valentine’s Day is to use it as a time to celebrate your relationship and bring joy to your partner. And if you’re single, try to get through the day without being too depressed. Yes, assigning love a specific day is a bizarre and insidious corporate tactic, but just know that you can take The Man’s attempt to oppress you/force you to buy chocolate and use it to your advantage.

Love is a beautiful, valuable commodity, and if you have it, you certainly should cherish it. Now you have a specific day to do so, along with all of the other days you do so, perhaps in more subtle ways. And if you don’t have love just yet, realize that’s only a temporary condition and you will someday. Start envisioning exactly the type of love you want and accurately assess whether you’re ready to receive it. If not, then make plans for how you will get yourself into a condition to be ready to find and receive true love. And then start planning a Valentine’s Day to remember.

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