Valentine's Day: Take it from traditional to amazing!

Speaking as a male, I have to admit that Valentine's day has always been kind of difficult. On those years when I wasn't in a relationship, February 14 was a reminder that I was a disaffected loner.

On the other hand, when I was in a relationship, the special day was fraught with meaning, portent, and dozens of possibilities for abject failure. After all, a poorly-executed Valentine's day would not just show me up as a total, uncreative loser, but could also suggest that I didn't really care about the relationship, didn't really know my significant other, or was generally inattentive. In short, it seemed like a lose/probably lose proposition.

In truth, as I learned later, it's really hard to totally screw up Valentine's day. Even the standard Whitman's sampler and single red rose is a sign of caring, and anything above tends to speak volumes. The big thing is, for all its commercialism, Valentines day is still a great chance to express your own creativity. With that in mind, here are a few Valentine's day suggestions that can help you take the day from basic blah to truly special:

To begin with, a single red rose is chintzy. I had a friend who used to play up the whole "a perfect red rose for a perfect woman" thing. It didn't work for him, and it won't work for you. If you don't want to pay a ridiculously overpriced $40 for a dozen roses, send the flowers a week before Valentines, when they cost about half as much. Alternately, you might go for a crystal rose, which generally ranges from $30-$40, and is fairly creative, and will last forever (or at least until the cat knocks it off a shelf). If you want to be a little more unique, think about another flower entirely. Orchids, for example, symbolize perfection, while mums symbolize "long life." Honeysuckle symbolizes love, and ivy symbolizes fidelity. A combination of carefully chosen flowers can show that you are thoughtful, loving, trustworthy...and incredibly creative!

One warning, though: you probably want to think carefully about giving a live plant. As with a pet, a live plant is a veiled symbol of a long-term commitment. If your beloved has a brown thumb, or if you are thinking about breaking up in the near future, a live plant is sure to backfire!

As far as chocolates are concerned, why stop with the basic Whitman's sampler? If you want to go with something a little more upscale, try picking up some Lindt, Guylian, or Perugini, all of which are probably available in your local drugstore. For a few bucks more, you can go the Godiva or Leonidas route, but if you really want to turn heads, think about contacting Christopher Norman. Based in New York's financial district, the chocolatier specializes in bizarre pairings, like blue cheese, goat cheese, and other savories. While their offerings may sound a little bizarre, I can personally attest to the amazing flavor of pretty much everything that they produce!

(As a side note, Godiva gets rid of its Valentine's day inventory during its big post-Valentine's sale. This takes place about two weeks after the big day, and is another opportunity to let your loved one know that he or she is always in your thoughts!)

Another option is doing something special at home. For example, a themed meal, chocolate fondue, or heart shaped pasta demonstrate forethought and concern. From experience, however, I can categorically state that beet soup, while the right color, is definitely the wrong taste, unless your beloved hails from Eastern Europe. Another nice touch is writing the menu in another language. French is traditional, but Polish is more likely to evoke a smile (at least in my experience).

There's also a lot of room for DIY on February 14. A "coupon book" of promised services, like backrubs, is handy in a pinch, as is a hand-labeled bottle of massage oil. My wife, who shares my somewhat dark and cynical outlook, swooned over a box of candy that I decorated in black silk, dried roses, and lace. Similarly, if your significant other is a fan of Wednesday Adams, then you can hardly do better than a blood-filled heart-shaped jello mold. There are a lot of recipes for this particular delicacy, but this one was the most entertaining.

The key thing to remember is that, regardless of whether you're a hard-boiled businessman or a bleeding-heart romantic, Valentines day is not just an opportunity to make your neighborhood florist rich. It is a chance to demonstrate your love for the special person in your life. Whether you choose to do that with roses or thorns, candies or crystals, the key is to remember that a thoughtful Valentines isn't just a matter of giving presents; it also lies in giving a little bit of yourself!
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