How To Avoid V-Day Disasters

There are plenty of folks who believe that Valentine’s Day is a date designed for perpetual disappointment. But it doesn’t have to be that way — provided you follow this wise advice.

By Jane Ganahl

t may be all about hearts, flowers, romance and chocolate, but Valentine’s Day — the one day of the year that’s supposed to be dedicated to love — also fills people’s hearts with angst, dread and sadness.

Yes, just like death and taxes, Valentine’s Day is just another inevitable part of life. At best, V-Day experiences can be sweet, fun, sexy and romantic — but at worst it becomes a stressful, pressurized artificial holiday that’s exactly the opposite of
Valentine’s Day can be ripe for relationship disasters and major disappointments.
the hallowed day of amour it’s supposed to represent. Long-term couples might feel anxious about needing to put effort into sprucing up the romance factor. New couples stress about how to best acknowledge the holiday — what kind of gift is called for at this relationship stage? And how much is too much? Meanwhile, those of us without a significant other can get especially gloomy when the annual bombardment of Hallmark and floral arrangement ads begin assaulting our senses.

At its very worst, Valentine’s Day can be ripe for relationship disasters and major disappointments. Yet February 14 doesn’t have to go down that way this year if you take a little time for planning and communication, says Lani Klaphaak, a dating and relationship coach based in San Francisco.

Stereotypical gestures (like roses and chocolate) often miss the mark
“There seems to be this myth that you should automatically know what would please your partner,” says Klaphaak. “But that’s not often true! Start a conversation with this person. Find out what your partner needs to feel loved. Is it through acts of service — like spending a day cleaning the house? Is it through shared experiences? Buying your partner something he or she really wants? Going to dinner at a special place together? To me, communication is really the key.”

Many men mistakenly believe that a dozen expensive roses will wow any date, but Klaphaak says that’s often not the case. “Flowers can be viewed as an easy out!” she laughs. “Aim for something more personal. For example, I am a very verbal person, so if someone were to write me a poem or a song, it would mean more to me than an expensive piece of jewelry. Others love having a shared experience, so if your partner loves the outdoors, pack a picnic and go for a sunset hike before dinner.”

Ignoring the holiday can be the biggest disaster of all
What are the biggest mistakes someone can make when it comes to Valentine’s Day? “Not acknowledging the holiday or brushing it off,” Klaphaak says. “Or giving someone something you would want, rather than thinking about what the other person would like to receive.” (I’ll never forget getting a vacuum cleaner from my ex-husband. I was young and emotional then, leaving him quite puzzled when burst into tears. “You said we needed one!” he tried to explain. I pointed out that needing something and wanting something are two quite different things — and V-Day is meant for those things that you want.)

At the opposite end of ignoring the holiday is having unreasonably high expectations of it. Women are usually guiltier of doing this than men; I’ve seen many friends get terribly
There’s no reason to think you have to go overboard with the gestures.
excited that perhaps this Valentine’s Day will be the one that results in the big diamond ring! And when it doesn’t happen, they are crushed, and their unsuspecting (and well-meaning) boyfriends are bummed.

How can this kind of disaster be averted? Pre-emptive planning, says Klaphaak. “Plan something for your date. Make it a surprise, if [he or she is] into that. For hetero couples, women really love men who take the lead — like when they say, ‘wear a nice dress and show up; I’ll take care of the rest.’ It’s nice for today’s multi-tasking woman to surrender a bit of control. And it can go the other way, too — men also like to be let off the hook and be surprised.”

Making the right plans for every relationship stage
She acknowledges that Valentine’s Day can be very different depending on someone’s relationship status — whether it’s being in a new relationship, a long-term one, or without a significant other. “If you’re in a new relationship, I recommend a simple invitation to your romantic interest for the two of you to celebrate it together: ‘I’m liking this so far, how about spending V-Day together?’ It opens the door for some planning,” Klaphaak explains. “There’s no reason to think you have to go overboard with the gestures — keep it simple.”

For a couple that’s been dating for a while, Klaphaak says it’s all about tuning in to your partner’s wants and needs. “Review the conversations you’ve had in the past with that person as to what he or she likes, and then create something just for those specific tastes. If music is important to your date, making a CD of favorite songs would be sweet. My boyfriend showed me how tuned in he was when he got me a sparkling water machine — he noticed that I always ordered it at restaurants.”

Valentine’s Day suggestions just for singles
And if you’re approaching V-Day as a singleton, there’s no reason to feel bereft! Here’s a few ways to make the most of the holiday:
  • Invite some of your single friends to lunch and do a chocolate exchange.
  • Visit an assisted living facility/retirement home and spread the love to residents and staff.
  • Volunteer at your local animal shelter. (Fact: It’s impossible to feel like the world is loveless when you hear a caged cat purr at your touch or take a dog on a much-needed afternoon walk.)
“There are many ways to manifest your love on V-Day, and giving a gift is just the easiest way,” says Klaphaak. “Approach the holiday as an opportunity to spend time with someone you love, and don’t let your expectations get too high. Keep it simple. Hope to make a connection and inspire delight in another person — and anything above and beyond that is a bonus!”

Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival.
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