There's nothing inherently wrong with going on a date on Valentine's Day. Love, bulk candy purchases, bizarre little cards with Batman making romantic puns on them — all the basic elements of a Valentine's Day date are delightful, things you'd have to be a monster or the reverend from Footloose or something in order to have a problem with. But there's Valentine's Day itself ... and then there's the way you're expected to celebrate Valentine's Day. The night often gets built up into a set of impossible expectations — and the pressure to get fancy dinner reservations, expensive gifts, and have the most magical night ever can kind of be a buzzkill. You can't force yourself to have the most magical night ever! Didn't you learn that at prom?!
And that's not even touching on the way certain "friends" may try to read your Valentine's Day plans, like they're some kind of Magic 8-Ball of your relationship's future ("He's taking you to Applebee's?...Um, no, I'm sure he still likes you"). It can be tempting to just tap out of the entire thing, and spend the night alone, watching grim BBC police dramas and planning your eventual withdrawal from society.
Which is fine, if that's what you want to do. But if that's not what you want to do, don't let a bunch of Valentine's Day bullies push you around. The nine alternative Valentine's Day ideas below involve no expensive jewelry that you're never going to wear, zero $120 prix fixe menus, and infinite opportunities for you and your honey to celebrate your love your own way. Don't let the Valentine's Day standard-bearers dictate how to spend your special night! I mean, they invented those gross chocolates with the cherry liqueur in the middle, they clearly know nothing.
Watch a Movie ... Any Movie
Though V-Day is a popular night to pop in ye olde copy of The Notebook, you can celebrate the real essence of Valentine's Day — spending time with the one you love most, and eating vast quantities of food stuffs — without necessarily watching something romantic. In fact, your evening may benefit from watching something non-romantic — sitting around on Valentine's Day, watching Ryan Gosling hang off various unstable structures in the name of love can put a lot of undue pressure on a relationship, and lead to the dreaded "where is this relationship even going?!" Valentine's Day throwdown.
So cuddle up and watch any damned movie you please — you already know that you like each other; you won't forget it over the course of 90 minutes if you watch Hellraiser instead of Titanic.
Go To a Museum
Basically all restaurants (except maybe Taco Bell?) are kind of a mad house on Valentine's Day. So why not take a pass on that, make a quick dinner at home, and go use the evening to hit a museum? Restaurants are filled with annoying things like couples trying to prove how in love they are, but museums are full of cool things like mummies and space rocks and Abraham Lincoln's long johns! Many museums have special late hours on V Day, special holiday programming, unique museum events, and private tours.
Go Out to Dinner With a Large Group of Friends
Okay, yes, I just said that restaurants are a sh*t show on Valentine's Day. But I've had surprising luck in the past getting reservations for large groups on Cupid's night. Everyone is looking to get a table for two, and thus, there's a lot less competition for that table for six. So if you're not crazy about the "stare deeply into my beloved's eyes for nine hours straight" component of Valentine's Day, organize a group dinner of your favorite people — couples and single folks alike — and remember all the people you love on V Day — not just the ones who touch your fun-time parts.
See Some Stand-Up Comedy
If the sap of most Valentine's Day fare turns you off, hit your local comedy club. Trust me, every person who crosses the stage that night is going to have something to say about the holiday, and none of it is going to be suitable for reprint on a family-friendly website. But for the love of god, do not sit close to the stage, or you will absolutely become the butt of some extremely invasive crowd-work jokes.
See a Burlesque Show
In almost every major city, there's at least one burlesque show going on on Valentine's Day. It's more fun than going to some classical music concert that you're secretly bored at, and classier than just staying home and watching Skinemax (though I do 100 percent support anyone who makes the decision to stay home on Valentine's Day and watch Skinemax).
Go to a Rock Concert
In my opinion, the best place to avoid the preciousness of Valentine's Day (while still having fun and hanging out with your boo) is at a rock club. Arena or stadium shows are an iffier bet, since the performers know that a lot of people are there on V-Day dates and will feel the need to work some major schmaltz into the set. But the band playing at your local rock club doesn't care that it's Valentine's Day. They may not even know that it's Valentine's Day (or even the actual day of the week, necessarily).
Take advantage of this relaxed atmosphere — and if you feel moved by the spirit of the season and start to suck face, you won't be a gross couple showing off for Valentine's Day; you'll just be yet another buzzed couple groping each other in the back of a rock club. Which, at this point, is probably the closest you're ever going to get to being in a rock band.
Create Something Together
Are you sick of giving AND receiving the same standard Valentine's Day gifts each year? In fact, are you kind of convinced that you and your love have been re-gifting each other the same stuffed Valentine's bear since 2011? Then why not make this year the Valentine's Day when you create something cool together? Something that you both like; something that'll last way past February; something that'll be an actual real symbol of your love and ability to make cool things together (as opposed to a symbol of what was left at the mall by the time you got there).
Spend the night making a craft to embellish your home. Make little presents and give them to each other. Hell, make a new stuffed bear, but, you know, one that you really feel this time.
Plan Your Own Perfect Day
The world says that any couple's perfect romantic day involves an expensive dinner, a romantic movie, flowers, champagne, jewelry, and some downright comical sex-related undergarments. This might be your style. But if it's not, don't let the world's tastes take over your Valentine's Day.
Spend the evening doing the things you love to do as a couple, but maybe don't always have time for — take a hike or drive to a certain picturesque part of town, go to the planetarium, go fishing, go to the arcade and then eat pizza til you're physically ill. Give yourself carte blanche to put responsibilities — including those from society about how you should act on Valentine's Day — aside, and do what you really feel like doing.