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Oh, crap, Valentine’s Day.

Every Kiss Begins With Kay

I grudgingly bought you this ugly necklace because commercials told me I was supposed to. Now you have to wear it and pretend to like it for the rest of time.

Hello, it’s time for the day where if you are single you feel pressure to be in a couple and if you are in a couple you feel free to do something “special” and romantic that will satisfy the other person’s secret unspoken hopes and expectations for what Valentine’s Day should be like.  The potential for Overthinking It + Trying Too Hard = CAPTAIN AWKWARD GOLD.

First, if you’d like to give Captain Awkward a valentine, you can go vote for my guest post (The Man Who Would Not Break Eye Contact) at Sexy Typewriter.  Or vote for one of the other posts – it was a carnival of hilarity!

Second, a reader writes:

Hey Captain Awkward, I’ve been seeing this girl for about three weeks and I kind of blanked on Valentine’s Day, but now it’s here, and we’re supposed to hang out later, and I don’t know if she has expectations that we should do something special.  I’m a college student and don’t have a lot of money to go to fancy restaurants, and everything’s super-expensive tonight anyway.  Any advice?

This kind of question is what sends otherwise brave men to the terrifying pink and red aisle of the pharmacy or grocery store.  Resist!  If you like this girl and things are meant to be with her, it will be okay for you to just say “Hi, I kind of blanked on the whole Valentine’s Day thing, but I do really like you and am really glad we got to hang out today.”   Then you should just do whatever you did those other times that you hung out over the past three weeks, maybe with some extra kissing thrown in.  If you really want to go over the top, a couple weeks from now, get her flowers (NOT RED ROSES, THEY ARE PLAYED OUT – think tulips or irises or lilies) for no reason other than “I’m really happy with how things are going and I thought you might like these.”

MehIf you’re the guy who blanks on Valentine’s Day, but she is a girl who expects les fleurs et le chocolat and dinner at a place with prix fixe and fondue and gets disappointed when they don’t appear because you didn’t magically read her mind or save up hundreds of dollars to celebrate a “special” day in exactly the way that everyone else celebrates that day, every single holiday is going to be a study in disappointment.

A good guiding principle:  If it’s not fun for you and doesn’t come naturally, don’t do it on Valentine’s Day or any other day.

Let me also say:  Except in the minds of all mainstream marketing and media outlets everywhere, Valentine’s Day is not some holiday where men “prove” their devotion by buying crap for ladies.  However, the questioner is a man thinking about whether to do something special for a lady, and I’m going with his flow.  Hopefully his lady also has some butterflies in her stomach and will be doing something nice for him tonight.

I think the best gifts are ones that showed that you pay attention.  I read a lot of student screenplays where the writer is at pains to represent romance visually, so they are full of generic symbols like flowers and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and stuffed teddy bears holding hearts and engagement rings (that are thrown in the lake when the relationship sours, which seems expensive and wasteful to me).  Probably the most romantic Valentine’s gift I’ve ever received was an external hard drive that I still use to this day for video editing.  It was a new relationship and the person (Intern Paul, if you must know) showed me that he understood what I was about.

In the past, when a boyfriend sent me a big bunch of roses at work, it felt a) like he was territorially peeing on me by displaying to everyone that I was ‘taken,’ and b) like everyone in the office was way too interested in the whole thing.  I was in a special Club now, the Club of Women Who Get Roses on Valentine’s Day, and who are somehow Special and Chosen, and women who were not in The Club were looking at my flowers and feeling bad about themselves or about me, like “Wait, I’m single and she’s not?  But she is so fat and crazy and weird!”  I don’t know, maybe for some women it’s really important to be in The Club, and what men do by sending Valentine’s Day flowers to work is give them the gift of being in The Club.  Having been in The Club, I’ll take half a terabyte of video storage from a dude who knows my deep abiding love of Final Cut Pro.

If you did leave things until the last minute, and you do feel like you want to make some gesture, here are a few inexpensive catch-all suggestions.

1.  If your Valentine is a romantic, literary type, find a poem.  Copy the poem in your nicest handwriting onto a nice blank card or piece of good stationery, put it in an envelope, and give it to the object of your affection.

Not all poems are created equal, for example:

You fit into me

like a hook into an eye

a fish hook

an open eye

- Margaret Atwood

Unless you are seriously into the S&M scene this might not be sending the message you want, though, if you are seriously into the S&M scene this might send exactly the message you want.  What I’m saying is that just like any other gift, the choice of poem should be tailored to the individual.  Your local bookstore has a poetry section (it does, I swear!), there are tons of poems available on the web, and if you don’t have nice stationery your mom or one of your friends probably does.

Here is one of my favorites:

Love Poem

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing

Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before apopleptic streetcars—
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease;
In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gaily in love’s unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.

Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses—
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.

–John Frederick Nims

2.  Mix CDs, made thoughtfully and with care, are inexpensive but take time and thought.

3.  May I suggest the gift of Axe Cop?  Because there is a book now.

Lovely readers, as you know, I love stories.  What’s the best Valentine’s Day you’ve ever had?  What’s the worst?  What is the most mediocre?

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25 comments
  1. Virginia said:

    It is not a Valentine’s Day story, but one of the best ways that Dingo Jones showed his dedication to me, relatively early in our relationship, was by unkinking my catheter line in the hospital so my pee would not get backed up.

    • JenniferP said:

      AWESOME. I feel like Intern Paul would say that one of the most romantic things I’ve ever done is pack his wound twice a day for several weeks after he got his appendix out.

      If you’ve ever thought “Are people really made of meat?” the answer is Yes.

      • Intern Paul said:

        You also emptied out my pee jar. *LOVE*

  2. Fran said:

    Of all the Valentine’s Days that have come and gone, the most unique one that I can remember is when the then current love of my life took me to dinner at his Mom’s house on Valentine’s day. He introduced me to her for the first time as the “light in his eye, the pep in his step”. His Mother was a delightful woman who said to him “Honey, if she is the light in your eye and the pep in your step, you could have sprung for a dinner at a restaurant, instead of making me cook.” A wise woman for sure, a short lived romance indeed.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love it! When a man’s own mother thinks he is undateable, that’s a sign right there.

  3. Sid said:

    I have spoken to you before about how the Gentleman and I celebrate an entire holiday season known to us as AnniValeBirthmas, seeing as how Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and the anniversary of our very first meeting are within 16 days of each other.

    As such, we offer trinkets of our affection, but it’s generally two weeks of mutual appreciation.

    This year, I asked him to give me a number between 10 and 50. Then I wrote out that number of things I loved about him. (Like the fact that we can talk about how cool numbers are. He chose “27” which we both decided is a very good number: it’s a cube of 3, and if you add 2 and 7, you get 9 which is the square of 3. NERDZ IN LOOOVE.)

    In response, the Gentleman wrote me a very short, adorkable poem which contained both a pun and an inside joke. I have threatened to learn needlepoint to put it on a pillow.

    AND we are going to a prix fixe meal this night, at the restaurant of our second date, and it is going to be just as excellent as the last time we went there. But stopping at the poem would have been just aces.

    • JenniferP said:

      I would pay cash money to read that poem, and as you are not no-job-having college students and you have talked about your expectations/desires/food you like, prix fixe sounds LOVELY. Go, you, and have a fantastic time, you adorable married people.

  4. Sid said:

    P.S. I happen to think that double-hearts necklace looks like a torso that has two butts. But what do I know?

    • JenniferP said:

      Every torso with 2 butts/mutant swan begins with Kay.

    • Niemandsrose said:

      I agree, I think it loks like butts too.

    • Kate said:

      True story- I used to do all the copywriting for the company that makes those necklaces. I privately called them ‘The Butts Line’.

  5. Iris Vander Pluym said:

    We’re going out tonight for a low-key dinner at a neighborhood restaurant…which is exactly what we’d be doing if it were not February 14.

    If you’re doing *love* right, every day is Valentine’s Day.

  6. Lexicon said:

    My Valentine’s days have always been unremarkable and this one promises to be no different. That’s fine with me though.

  7. Majorlady said:

    Apparently Mary-Louise Parker writes for Esquire from time to time, and she’s a good writer. And funny. This is my favorite piece, though, and is the valentine I gave this year.

    A Thank-You Note to Men
    By Mary-Louise Parker
    To you, whom it may concern:
    Manly creature, who smells good even when you don’t, you wake up too slowly, with fuzzy, vertical hair and a slightly lost look on your face as though you are seven or seventy-five; you can fix my front door, my sink, and open most jars; you, who lose a cuff link and have to settle for a safety pin, you have promised to slay unfortunate interlopers and dragons with your Phillips head or Montblanc; to you, because you will notice a woman with a healthy chunk of years or pounds on her and let out a wolf whistle under your breath and mean it; because you think either rug will be fine, really it will; you seem to walk down the street a little taller than me, a little more aware but with a purpose still; to you who codifies, conjugates, slams a puck, baits a hook, builds a decent cabinet or the perfect sandwich; you who gives a twenty to the kids selling Hershey’s bars and waits at baggage claim for three hours in your flannel shirt; you, sir, you take my order, my pulse, my bullshit; you who soaps me in the shower, soaks with me in the tub; to you, boy grown-up, the gentleman, soldier, professor, or caveman, the fancy man with initials on your towels and salt on your chocolates, to you and to that guy at the concession stand; thank you for the tour of the vineyard, the fire station, the sound booth, thank you for the kaleidoscope, the Horsehead Nebula, the painting, the truth; to you who carries me across the parking lot, up the stairs, to the ER, to roll-away or rice mat; to you who shows up every so often only to confuse and torment, and you who stays in orbit, always, to my left and steady, you stood up for me, I won’t forget that; to you, the one who can’t figure it out and never will, and you who lost the remote, the dog, or your way altogether; to you, wizard, you sang in my ear and brought me back from the dead, you tell me things, make me shiver; to the ones who destroyed me, even if for a minute, and to the ones who grew me, consumed me, gave me my heart back times ten; to most everything that deserves to call itself a man: How I do love thee, with your skill to light fires that keep me warm, light me up.

    • JenniferP said:

      Love it! She is a genius.

  8. theLeon and i awoke to his alarm yesterday cuddled up and warm. he whispered in my ear, “i know i’m supposed to get up right away when the alarm goes off, but i just hate to leave you in the mornings.” that’s the sum total of our valentines celebration, and it will probably do me for the next ten years.

    • JenniferP said:

      Adorkable, as always.

  9. Margaret said:

    We ended up exchanging video game pre-orders. Because we are nerrrrrrds. Happy nerrrrrrds.

    I think the worst Valentine’s I had was when I was still stuck on the “we must go out and do $ROMANTICTHING as part of this day!” approach and thus made us look for a restaurant at the last minute. Urgh. Since then, I think I’ve started to enjoy the moments of romance-for-no-reason much more.

  10. Best gift ever? Fuzzy green bathrobe, 1996 I think. Or 1997. We broke up in 1998, still friends. My current boyfriend wears it, loves it.
    Weirdest valentine ever? Eating dinner with my poly FWB at the time (I am mono) and his stressed out girlfriend (at a lesbian bar, too) who just wanted to vent about work but had to play nice meeting me for the first time. And I was wearing paint clothes.

  11. Javiia Evelyn said:

    I was staying at my boyfriend’s house and had a whole lot of schoolwork to do. He was out all day, and left me little ‘keep going’ notes to open every hour. The last one read something along the lines of “stop working now, go check in my closet”. He’d worked with my mum to get formal clothes for me, then picked me up in a tux and took me to McDonalds with some of his friends as waiters. He then gave me a pomegranate (inside joke) and a necklace that was “my colour” (he had synesthesia).

    Another was when a group of friends and I exchanged gifts in a kind of “secret santa” with a $10 limit.

  12. rachel said:

    An ex of mine and I used to pick a day in Valentines week and declare it ‘International Andy and Rachel Love Day’. We’d do something fun, like go to the zoo or the beach and hang out.

    Then on the day after v. day we’d buy up cheap heart-shaped boxes of chocolates to use as gifts throughout the rest of the year (Mothers’ day! Anniversary! Friend breaks up with partner!) and cheap flowers which we’d drop off at the old peoples home where his grandmother lives.

    I know that Valentines is basically “Arbitrary Demand for Fiscal Demonstrations of Affection Day” or “International Commodification of Love Day” but it’s always nice to have a reminder to appreciate the people around you. And the discount chocolate helps.

  13. Heather said:

    To offer a different spin on flowers in the workplace- my bf has snuck into my lab a couple of times-not necessarily on Valentine’s (we’re both grad students at the same school), and put flowers at my desk, since his logic is that I spend way more time in lab than I do at home, so I’ll be able to enjoy them more, which is kinda sweet and not over the top.

    A couple Valentine’s Days ago my bf and I gave each other the flu for Valentine’s (so that made for lots of romance), so he staggered out for a Gatorade run at the nearby Walgreen’s and also surprised me with some flowers that he was able to find there (both were greatly appreciated, since the flu totally sucks, and since I’m a huge fan of fresh flowers but buy them rarely since they’re frivolous, and I don’t make a ton of $$).

    • JenniferP said:

      Small, thoughtful gifts for no reason rule.

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