Surveys show that couples exchange 36 million boxes of chocolates, and growers produced 257 million roses on Valentine’s Day, according to statistics from aboutflowers.com. But when you’re in a new relationship, chocolates and roses may not always be the right gift to give. “Valentine’s Day means different things to different people,” says Toni Coleman, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker in McLean, VA and founder of consum-mate.com, a relationship counseling site. “Doing too much or too little when the other person doesn’t feel the same way about February 14th could spell trouble for a new relationship.”
If you’re unsure how to handle Valentine’s Day dating and gift etiquette, read on for advice for when you’ve just met someone, when you’ve been dating for a few months and when you’re in a committed relationship.
Scenario 1: You just met someone new
Planning the day: It’s unrealistic to expect a big, romantic celebration at this stage of the game. “If you’ve had a date or two, it’s OK for one of you to say, ‘Hey, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and even though we’ve only gone out a few times, I thought it would be fun to do something together, like catch a movie.’ If the other person wants to do that, that’s great,” says Coleman. However, if the other person hems and haws, you should back off and schedule a date for a different day. It could be something as simple as this person has already made plans, or maybe the other person isn’t ready to be with someone on Valentine’s Day, since the day comes with a lot of expectations.
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Getting a gift: What if you two do get together that day — should you bring a present? “It’s fine to give something small,” Coleman says. For example, if you know your date collects things with pigs on them, giving her a pig refrigerator magnet says, “I pay attention to what you like.” Similarly, if a guy has mentioned that he loves reading Stephen King novels, picking up the latest one for him is thoughtful, not a huge profession of undying love. Just remember that you should never give a gift with the expectation of receiving one in return. Be prepared for the fact that the other person may not have thought to get you something, and make sure you can handle that before offering up your gift.
Scenario 2: You have been dating each other for a few months
Planning the day: Sometimes you spend a few months with someone and you know: “I’ve met The One.” Other times, things are going well, but you couldn’t say for sure that you would expect to spend the rest of your life with this person. Nonetheless, if you’ve been going out for a few months, it is reasonable to expect that you’re going to make plans to do something for Valentine’s Day. Coleman suggests broaching the topic lightly: “You could say something like, ‘Valentine’s Day is in two weeks… do you want to pretend it doesn’t exist or do you want to do something?’”
How the person reacts to the idea of spending Valentine’s Day together is a good litmus test for a budding relationship. It may be an important occasion for your sweetie… or perceived as a bogus, commercial holiday. Just another day on the calendar. If your opinions differ, try to compromise out of respect for each other. “If your date says, ‘For me, Valentine’s Day has always been kind of hokey, but if it matters to you, let’s do something together,’ then that’s great,” advises Coleman. However, if he or she refuses to acknowledge a preference to spend the day together or refuses to budge from the typical wine-and-roses plan to celebrate the day, then this couple has more to worry about than what to do on February 14th. Adds Coleman, “It’s all about how you negotiate this stuff where you don’t see eye to eye.”
Getting a gift: No matter how giddy your sweetie makes you feel, give something meaningful but not inappropriately extravagant. So giving the sports buff tickets for the two of you to attend a Big 10 basketball game would be wonderful; renting out a skybox at a stadium and catering it would be completely over the top. Also, giving a gift that the two of you can enjoy together — tickets to an event, a night away together — can guarantee more shared good times ahead.
Scenario 3: You are in an exclusive, long-term relationship
Planning the day: A funny thing happens on the way to Valentine’s Day once you’ve been dating for a long time — people tend to take the emphasis off of it and treat it just like any other day. Coleman says that it’s important not to take a relationship for granted at this point and not making an effort to do something special is a mistake. Take the opportunity to celebrate together. It doesn’t have to be a classic candlelit dinner. Maybe it’s going shopping together at your local farmers’ market and putting together a little picnic while watching a good movie you two missed in the theater. Anything that can make the night about enjoying each other’s company will be a valuable gesture.
Getting a gift: Probably the biggest minefield when you’ve been dating each other for awhile is whether or not to get engaged on Valentine’s Day, a popular time for popping the question. The expert advice is, don’t give in to the pressure unless you’re really feeling it. “If there is any doubt in your mind about whether or not proposing is appropriate, pick another day to ask that question,” says Coleman.
If you’re not at that stage yet, a gift that shows how well you know each other’s lives can be wonderful. It may not be the most romantic thing, but some silk long underwear for a partner who’s always cold or pre-paid golf lessons for a someone who’s always wanted to learn the game can be a terrific way to reflect how in touch you are with each other.