When I look back with my mind's eye upon Valentine's Day in the '90s, I see myself in a flouncy red dress and black patent Mary Jane pumps (very Cher Horowitz) — simultaneously nervous and excited enough to nearly sweat off the glitter-infused body lotion from Claire's that made my skin glisten in a way I was sure would make everyone swoon. Why was I so anxious? Over the things every '90s kid hoped for from their crush on Valentine's Day, of course. As the years have come to pass, I've often found myself dreading this heart-shaped holiday, depending on my dating status at the time. But back in the '90s, every Valentine's Day seemed rife with romantic possibility.
Was this an overly sentimental-slash-idealistic perspective to have? Sure. Can you really blame '90s kids, though? We grew up watching John Hughes movies with grand romantic gestures. We idolized cutest teen TV couples like Boy Meets World's Cory and Topanga. And, truth be told, dating in the '90s was — dare I go there? — da bomb. It was as though the universe conspired to convince our generation that dating would always be that thrilling. (Fast forward to the Tinder years, when we realized we don't always get our John Hughes endings).
So regardless of how you feel about this holiday now, slip on your rose-colored glasses and remember for a minute, if you will, how wonderful it was to wait in nervous anticipation in the '90s to see what your crush might surprise you with on Valentine's Day.
1A "Secret Admirer" Carnation
You know the deal: anyone could pay to have a carnation delivered in class to their crush from a "secret admirer" as part of some school program. And while you feigned embarrassment when your name was called, you were secretly floating on cloud nine.
2The Mix Tape to End All Mix Tapes
Making one of these gems usually entailed sitting by the radio for hours on end to record all the perfect songs, so that in and of itself was enough to make your heart flutter. If the mix included heady makeout songs like Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You," your crush was bringing their A game.
3A Rice Grain Necklace
You were definitely a thing if your crush gave you one of these trendy necklaces with either their name or their initials and your initials engraved on a tiny grain of rice in a vial of water. 'Cause what says true love like a grain of rice, right?
4A Locker Surprise
Teen movies and TV in the '90s would have you believe that many, many romantic things happen whilst opening or simply standing near your locker. While I never had any seminal locker experiences, I did always kind of hope I'd open my locker one Valentine's Day only to have obnoxiously huge heart-shaped balloons pop out. Thanks for nothing, '90s crushes.
5A Basket from Bath & Body Works
Any crush that took the time to understand and appreciate your obsession with all things Sun-Ripened Raspberry and Plumeria-scented was a keeper. No doubt.
6THE Beeper Message You'd Been Waiting For
You know you dreamed of seeing "143" pop up on your pager screen.
7A Letter Jacket on Loan
I sense this isn't a thing anymore, but back in the '90s, it was a big deal to give somewhere your letter jacket to wear. Even if they hadn't officially asked you out yet, it was an unequivocal sign your were going steady.
8A VHS Copy of 'Romeo + Juliet'
Or Titanic. Whichever dreamy Leonardo DiCaprio movie floated your boat (er, no pun intended). This was a gift that kept on giving, since it would undoubtedly lead to cuddle sessions on the couch.
9An All-Expenses Paid Trip to... the Mall
Fancy restaurants, schmancy restaurants... buy a '90s girl an Orange Julius and a soft cinnamon pretzel from Auntie Anne's and she'd go weak in the knees. Throw in a trip to Spencer's to laugh at dirty jokes and Sam Goody's to listen to the latest Alanis Morrissette, and you'd have her heart forever.
10That Lloyd Dobler Boom Box Moment
Say Anything hit theaters in the late '80s, and we swooned over Lloyd Dobler hard in the '90s. Who didn't want their crush to recreate the moment when Lloyd stood outside Diane's window, blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" from the boombox he was holding over his head? Seriously, SWOON.