Let’s be honest here for a second. You have one of two attitudes toward Valentine's Day, and that attitude likely depends on your relationship status and gender.
Men with partners (not all, but most) feel a low-level resentment toward the holiday, which they view as a form of romantic extortion: express your love or else.
Women with partners (not all, but most) welcome V-Day as an occasion for them to be publicly adored.
Feb. 14 doesn’t have to be about flowers and chocolates and that dreary feeling of being worked by clever capitalists. It can, and should, be about setting aside a single day for love.
Those who are not in a relationship, or are in an unhappy relationship, just pretty much wish the holiday would go away. I don’t blame them.
But as a man with a partner, I’ve learned over the years that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this holiday. Which is why I’m offering a quick (and free!) five-point guide to not screwing up Valentine's Day.
In a world with total gender equity, this list would be intended for men and women. But until such a time as women receive equal pay for equal work, please consider this list as primarily aimed at dudes.
Stop whining. Start reading...
Rule #1: Ditch Hallmark
Don’t hire a corporation to do your wooing for you. After all, anyone can choose a card. What your partner wants, most of all, is something personal.
For instance, when he was courting my mom, my dad, who is a notorious punster, wrote long, crazy stories for my mom, all of which ended with some wacky pun on the phrase, “Be My Valentine.” Doesn’t exactly scream sexy — but I’m living proof that it worked, folks.
Rule #2: Pay Attention
Attention is the first and final act of love. It’s what all of us want, deep down: to know that the person we’re with actually sees us.
You don’t have to be a poet or a professional musician to bowl your partner over. You just have to muster the courage to tell her (or him) why you love them. And ditch abstractions like “pretty” and “smart.”
Instead, tell them in precise detail about all the little things you notice. For my wife, it would be how she soothes our kids. And the awesomely lame raps she performs if you get enough wine in her. Or how she looks stepping from the bath. Or the feeling of the skin at the small of her back.
I could go on.
Rule #3: It Ain’t About the Sex
Really. It’s not. Because romance, for most women, isn’t about bumping uglies. It’s about establishing the emotional connection that makes them feel cherished, not just desired.
Believe me. I’ve ruined a half dozen V-Days by putting the focus on the glands rather than the heart.
Rule #4: Game Plan
If you’re paying attention to your partner, you know that she (or he!) loves certain things: bands, books, restaurants, colors. These faves should factor into your plan. If she loves shrimp and grits, by God, go online and find out where the best shrimp and grits are in town and take her there! And even if you don’t have the time or money to buy her a ticket to see Wilco in concert, you can at least make sure it’s cued up on the car stereo. Little things matter.
Rule #5: Don’t Fake It
Because women, unlike most men, can tell. If you’re trying to make V-Day special because you know it’s expected of you, or because you figure it will get you laid — well, I’ve been there. And it rarely works.
Remember: February 14 doesn’t have to be about flowers and chocolates and that dreary feeling of being worked by clever capitalists. It can, and should, be about setting aside a single day for love.
In other words, you have to surrender to V-Day. Accept it for what it is: a chance to affirm that you love the person you’re with, and to express that love in as personal and creative a way as you can.
I’m talking to the dudes, mainly. But you dudettes shouldn’t fall into the trap of seeing yourselves solely as recipients. The happiest relationships are always founded on mutual affection, and effort.
Which is why (trust me) I’ll be forwarding this along to my wife...
Just in time for Valentine's Day, Steve Almond has just released a set of six tiny books called "Writs of Passion," which you can check out here.
This program aired on February 12, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.