As my partner Lance (no, not my romantic partner, though you know I love ya, Lance!) points out, there are a great many people out there who think that the traditional Valentine’s Day activities are totally lame. Inexplicably, however, there are a great many people out there who set a huge stock in whether or not these things occur on this particular day. Why is that, and how can you figure out what to do?
For me, it all comes down to the definition of romance. According to the dictionary, romance has its beginnings in the romantic genre of literature, which started in the Middle Ages and was characterized by pageantry (i.e., silly, over the top crap) and heroic deeds. Similarly, while one definition of romantic is “displaying or expressing love or strong affection,” another definition is “fanciful; impractical; unrealistic,” and that’s where I think we get into problems in our relationships (or beginnings of relationships, as the case may be). If one or both people have an impractical or unrealistic idea of what Valentine’s Day represents or what’s genuinely important (or not) to the other person, then everyone’s going to be disappointed, and we all know what that means:
No one gets laid.
It would seem, then, there is a third definition of romance/romantic floating around out there, and that’s cliche. Think about it: why do you buy flowers, or candy, or a sappy card, or a stuffed animal, or whatever? Because Hallmark (God bless ‘em) told you to. So you pick the pre-existing item or items that remind you most of your (potential) significant other and call it a day. Let me stress that there’s nothing evil or ill-intentioned about this–it’s just not my personal definition of romance, and even for people who do appreciate those sorts of things (both giving and receiving), here’s a word to the wise:
You can do better.
For me this means that in order to do something that I consider romantic, my BF can’t just buy me roses because it’s Valentine’s Day. He can’t get away with doing exactly what every other dude in America is doing on exactly the same day and expect me to consider it a genuine expression of his affection for me. Now does that mean that he (or you) can’t celebrate Valentine’s Day? Of course not. To really get your lady wet (or to get your fellow hard, ladies), try following these guidelines.
Romance means knowing that my partner…
1. …Knows me well enough to know what I enjoy and value.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stray away from “traditional” Valentine’s doings. Just make it personal–are red roses really her favorite flower, or is there something else that you know she digs? My BF, for example, knows all about my preference for orange Gerbra daisies.
Or maybe she prefers potted plants. Of course, this also means that you can think outside the box, get away from the flower thing altogether, and ask yourself what your partner enjoys doing. Maybe there’s a movie coming out starring her favorite studmuffin (suck it up if it’s a chick flick, she’ll be more than happy to transfer her happy endorphins to a sackfest with you later). Or perhaps he loves to play video games and you could charge up his Dave & Buster’s card (nothing gives a guy a stiffy like shooting things). IMO, it’s not adhering to the holiday guidelines that gets you those brownie points–it’s showing that you pay attention to what your partner enjoys and genuinely want him/her to have a fantastic time. Plus, sharing an experience is almost always more meaningful than opening a gift.
2. …Pays attention to what is going on in my life.
Okay, so the fact that Valentine’s Day falls on February 14th is a constant, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make your gift specific to something going on in your partner’s life–something that has nothing to do with the holiday. Has she been stressing out lately? Maybe you could induce some relaxation with a mani/pedi. Did he recently join a gym? Maybe you could get him a heartrate monitor (with the added bonus of the puns, oh God, the puns!). Tying occasions together like this is a great way of (1) showing that you’re paying attention, which is always sexy, (2) making one gift apply to two occasions, helpful if you’re in a tight spot financially, and (3) making the note you scribble into your Valentine’s card more meaningful than “love you, baby” or “nice ass.”
3. …Is as invested in my happiness as his/her own.
I’m with Lance 100% on the idea that the ladies should have surprises a-brewing for their men this V-Day. However, I happen to believe that a gift is by definition “something given voluntarily without payment in return,” and the fact that gift was hyperlinked and my definition is in quotation marks means that http://www.dictionary.reference.com agrees with me. What this means in practical terms is that while you may expect that your partner will be doing something special for you, too, that’s not the point. The point of giving a gift is making the other person happy–and if their happiness isn’t satisfaction enough, then something is wrong and it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.
Of course, once you’ve been together for awhile, you’ll probably develop your own Valentine’s Day traditions (although Lance’s point that the unexpected is sexy is a fantastic one). However, what do you do if your relationship is just beginning? I recommend really thinking about what you already know about this potential Significant Other. People talk a lot in the beginning of their relationships, so I’d be willing to be he/she let something slip that you could put to good use. And if not, then hey–a dozen red roses and a note that says “Looking forward to getting to know you better. Hopefully by this time next year I’ll know what your favorite flower is” would work for me.