I know that a lot of people think that Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday made up to sell more cards, flowers, and candy, but I love Valentine’s Day completely and totally, with no reservations. I love that we have one day a year that we can be totally cheesy and sappy and in love because I’m a diehard romantic and am not ashamed to admit it to the world. I also don’t think that Valentine’s Day has to be about buying things, unless that’s what you’re into, probably because my dad has three rules for his Valentine’s Day gifts to my mom: they have to be cheap, public, and embarrassing.
The first time my dad went all-out for Valentine’s Day, he was just out of college, I was a baby, and my parents were broke AF. Considering the fact that they were still using milk crates as furniture, there was no way he was going to be able to afford to treat my mom to any of the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts or experiences. Nope, there would be no fancy jewelry (not that my hippie mom would be into it, anyway) or lavish dinners for Joanie. Instead, he made hearts out of wood, painted them red, wrote love notes to my mom on them, and stuck them in the snowbank out front. The next year he created a heart-shaped skating rink in our backyard, dyed it red with non-toxic paint, a move he’d actually mimic years later when he and a high school friend of mine snuck out to the hill next to the highway and painted a billboard-sized heart in the snow declaring his love for my mom for the entire town to see. Then there was the time he had me and my brother help him paint hearts and messages all over our houses walls with finger paint, only to realize later that — oops! — it didn't actually wash off.
So yeah, Valentine’s Day was always exciting and fun in my house growing up — and I never once saw a cheesy card. Instead, it was a day that was all about being creative with the resources available to you, whether that meant scrap wood, snow banks, or your kid’s finger paints. And I’ve brought that joy into my adult life each year when Valentine’s Day comes around again, celebrating with my full heart whether I’m partnered or single, and I want to help everyone drop the commercialism of Valentine’s Day too!
With that in mind, here are 10 ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day that may not be cheap, public, and embarrassing but definitely aren’t going to make Hallmark richer. Some are moves straight out of my dad’s playbook, some are from my current partner, and some I came up with on my own — but they’ll definitely all thrill more than a box of chocolates.
1. Create A Handmade Scavenger Hunt
If your partner likes mysteries or games, a scavenger hunt can be a great way to show them you care. Go for serious romantic effect by focusing the hunt on on things specific to your relationship, like places you had important occasions. Or, alternately, have it end in your bedroom, which you’ve decked out in full Valentine’s Day drag, complete with cheesy AF roses and red sheets.
2. Make Memory Cards
Our first Valentine’s Day together, my boyfriend gave me little note cards throughout the day that had hand drawn, specific memories from our time together on them. Each one came with a little gift, none of which were extravagant but all of which were incredibly thoughtful. The last card of the day wasn’t a memory but instead a hope for the future, which basically made my heart melt in my chest. He also took a card from my dad's playbook and embarrassed me by putting the message you see above up on the projector in our coworking space.
3. Wire A Sandwich Board To Their Car
This is one of my favorite’s in the my dad’s Valentine’s Day archives. He painted a sandwich board sign (like the kind you see outside of coffee shops trying to get you to come inside) with a heart and “Stu Loves Joan” on either side and then wired it to the top of her car. This particular embarrassment lasted for a week, as he refused to take it down and my mom was too small to do it herself.
4. Make An Extravagant Meal At Home
If you don’t want to deal with the crowds or you just can’t justify hundreds of dollars spent on a restaurant meal this year, make a baller dinner at home. And the best part about doing it yourself? You can combine all of your partner’s favorite foods into one massive, crazy meal because you’re not limited by a menu. Fried chicken with pad thai? Yes please!
5. Paint A Heart On Your House With Whipped Cream
Another one from the Dad files. He decided to “paint” a massive heart on the front of our house with cream, complete with his and my mom’s initials in it. He wanted to do it with whipped cream but couldn't afford it, so he bought the cheapest shaving cream in the store instead. You can imagine his surprise when he washed it off and found that the shaving cream had cleaned the hundred year old brick fronting our house, leaving a shadow heart for years to follow. The "giant heart on the front of the house" motif was repeated a few times through the years, including in 2010, when he made the "key to my heart" Valentine above.
6. Plan A Themed Day
Last Valentine’s Day my boyfriend swept me away on a rented motorbike to a bunch of random places around Guatemala, where we were living at the time. He told me from the get-go that there was a theme to the day and with each subsequent gift or location, he had me guess what it was. It took me a while but by about midday I knew it was “different is good,” a theme he’d chosen because we’re very different people and he knew that stressed me out sometimes.
7. Leave Handmade Love Notes Around The House
This one is cheap and will definitely put a smile on your partner's face. Little love notes in unexpected places are a great way to show your feelings without breaking the bank. They’re also awesome for days other than Valentine’s Day when you just wanna show how much you care.
8. Commit To Telling Your Partner 100 Reasons Why You Love Them
Spend some time brainstorming all of the reasons, big and small, that make you love your partner. Then, on Valentine’s Day, tell them at random points throughout the day. You can send your love in texts, call them over the phone, tell them in person… The important thing is that they feel showered with attention and love. (Oh, and this one is obviously totally free!)
9. Send Them Sexts Throughout The Day
Nothing like an unexpected sext to get your partner worked up for some Valentine’s Day sex! Send them dirty messages and pic throughout the day to titillate and keep them thinking about you. However, obviously make sure that they’re into sexting before you embark on this one, otherwise you could end up with a seriously pissed off partner.
10. Take A Hike — And Bring A Bottle Of Bubbly
If you’re an outdoorsy-type, do a sunrise hike timed to the sun appearing right when you get to the apex. Toast the new day — and your love — at the top. That will get your S.O. swooning for sure.
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