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.”
If 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:
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.
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?