Is there any holiday more controversial or more fraught than Valentine’s Day? If you’re not in a relationship, Valentine’s Day can feel like a big, angst-ridden slap in the face; a holiday designed specifically to make people feel terrible, excluded and alone. If you are in a relationship, Valentine’s Day can seem like a convoluted obstacle course, a web of internal expectations and external pressures designed to make everything as awkward as possible. Everyone approaches the holiday a little differently: Some people want flowers and fancy dinners, while others want nothing more than to pretend Valentine’s Day doesn’t exist. It can be difficult to navigate at the beginnings of a relationship, but is, fortunately, something that becomes a bit easier over time. In a long-term relationship, the way you celebrate also changes from year to year—it’s natural that your Valentine’s Days evolve just as much as the relationship itself does. Here is my (entirely subjective) take on the many stages of Valentine’s Day in an LTR.
First Valentine’s Day Together
This is the toughest one. You’ve been dating for less than a year, so there is a lot of pressure for things to be just the right amounts of romantic, fun, and sexy. You two have never done this together, so naturally you have a lot of questions about what the other person is expecting: Is your date into gifts? Does that mean you need to have a gift? What if you have a gift and then s/he doesn’t, and it’s awkward? Are you going out to dinner? Is the restaurant fancy enough? Is it too fancy? Are you taking this all too seriously? What if your date thinks you’re not taking it seriously enough??
OK, take a deep breath. It will all be fine. If you like each other enough to spend Valentine’s together, then you probably like each other enough to muddle through some potentially awkward moments. And maybe the best thing to do is simply to gather up your courage and start a conversation. Just say, “Hey, Valentine’s Day can be sort of crazy with pressure and emotions and expectations. How do you feel about it?”
Second Valentine’s Day Together
Your second Valentine’s Day together is awesome because 1. You haven’t had to worry about having a date on Valentine’s Day for a whole freaking year, and 2. You are comfortable enough with your S.O. to discuss the holiday in advance and game out what you’re going to do. You can decide together whether you want to go out and have a big dinner, or stay in and cook, or go drink wine on the beach. You also have a better sense of whether your S.O. is into big gifts and romantic gestures in general.
Long-Distance Valentine’s Day
So you’ve been dating for a couple of years and your S.O. gets a fellowship in a foreign country (this is purely hypothetical, of course). Valentine’s Day apart is only one of the many joys you get to experience in your new long distance relationship. For this Valentine’s Day, you send each other cards and make time for a long Skype convo and are a little sad. That night, when your love is asleep way off in another time zone, you hang out with friends, and are reminded that your romantic relationship isn’t the only source of love in your life. The intimacy and love you share with close friends is worth celebrating, too.
Valentine’s Day When You’re Engaged
You keep Valentine’s Day low-key when you’re busy planning a wedding. Having a quiet dinner that involves no discussion whatsoever of seating arrangements is a gift in itself. Also, chocolates and roses seem sort of unnecessary when he or she has recently, er, put a ring on it.
First Valentine’s Day as a Married Couple
You’re first Valentine’s Day post-wedding is as low-key as the last one. After all, you’ve only recently had a big party in honor of your undying love for each other—you and your new spouse are thrilled to stay in.
I don’t know! I’ve only been married for a year and a half! But I imagine that the way you celebrate Valentine’s Day continues to evolve over time. Maybe some years, you’ll feel the need to spice things up, and you’ll go on a trip or to a concert or to a crazy fancy restaurant. Maybe other years, you’ll be exhausted from having kids at home, and simply hiring a babysitter for the evening will seem like the most romantic, indulgent thing you’ve ever done. The longer you’re together, the better you’ll both understand how your partner feels about Valentine’s Day, and how he or she wants to incorporate romance into your lives.
And, regardless of where you are in your relationship, be sure to follow the First Rule of Valentine’s Day, courtesy of Dan Savage: Have sex first. (That’s not exactly how he phrases it, of course). If you start out your Valentine’s Day celebrations by some satisfying knocking of boots, whatever happens afterwards will probably seem pretty great.
Images: ilovebutter/Flickr; Giphy (4)