But I would also agree that Valentine's Day is one of the holidays that has the highest potential of having something go wrong. The data says so! One of the most common times for people to break up, other than Spring Break and the two weeks before Christmas, is around Valentine's Day.
It makes sense, right? A day that is meant to celebrate romantic love is inevitably a day that makes people re-examine the relationship they are in. It's also a day that can make people who are not in a romantic relationship feel kind of bad.
There are also some deeper psychological reasons why people are often sad or disappointed on Valentine's Day. In this post, I will explore some Valentine's Day pitfalls -- and ways to avoid them.
1. DON'T do flowers, chocolates and/or dinner.
In a previous post, I wrote:
Valentine's Day isn’t about paying $50 for a $12 bouquet of flowers. And it’s not about some mass-produced Hallmark poem. If it were, I suppose I would hate it, too.
Valentine's Day would feel contrived. Artificial. Boring. Obligatory – sort of like a chore.
But no! For me, Valentine's Day is an opportunity to be insanely creative and silly and over-the-top with my partner.
It doesn't even have to be expensive! For example, I had a Valentine who was about to whitewater kayak down the Grand Canyon. There's this amazing, exciting, 5-star book called The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon, which he had purchased for himself to read before the trip.
He's not the kind of guy who would spend money on the audiobook version of a book he already owned... ever. So I bought it for him.
While this doesn't sound like a very romantic idea, he totally loved it. For this particular guy, at this particular time, it was the perfect present.
Flowers, chocolates and dinner are interchangeable. If you want to make your partner feel special, choose a gift or experience that shows you really know them. In five years, I'll never remember which guys gave me flowers or chocolates. But I will always remember the guy who gave me a new copy of Billy Collins' Aimless Love after an ice sculpture melted all over my old one. I will always remember the guy who showed up with a slackline and insisted we try it out immediately.
2. DO consider sharing an experience, rather than a gift.
As I wrote in Money CAN Buy Happiness -- If You Know How to Spend It:
Don't take my word for it. Decades of psychology research show that experiential purchases bring us way more happiness -- and for way longer -- than material ones. For several reasons, including:
1. Anticipation of an experience drives happiness -- whereas anticipation of a possession drives impatience. Think about people waiting in line for a Hanson concert:
Vs. people waiting in line to buy THINGS on Black Friday:
2. Experiences tend to be social. Possessions tend to be... well, possessions.
3. Most people stop appreciating THINGS over time. Doesn't matter if it's a Tesla or a Versace dress or a nice couch. Over time, it'll make you less and less happy. Think about it -- when you ask someone what one item they would save if their house were on fire... would you expect them to choose their Coach bag, or their photo albums?
4. We're less likely to measure the value of experiences by comparing them to those of others. Again going back to the evolution-wants-us-to-be-jealous-of-other-peoples'-things thing, we tend to judge the value of our things relative to our peers' things.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert illustrated this beautifully when he asked study participants if they'd rather have a higher absolute salary that was lower than that of their peers, or a lower absolute salary that was higher than their peers'. Participants were largely unsure.
But. When asked if they'd rather have two weeks of vacation when their peers only got one, or have four weeks of vacation when their peers only got eight... it was a universal no-brainer.
So have a great experience together for Valentine's Day. Rent a kayak and go crab fishing! Rent some wetsuits and go snorkeling or scuba diving! Buy a beautiful picnic basket and have a feast in the wilderness! Make a champagne toast from a hot air balloon!
Or, if the great outdoors isn't so much your thing, check out a concert or comedy show. Take a dance class (seriously, everyone should take at least one dance class in adulthood -- it will be useful for the rest of your life!), go to the video arcade, or check out San Francisco's 7d Laser Shooting Shooting Experience!
3. DO Make the most of President's Day!
I like say that my love does not fit into a single day -- hence Valentine's WEEK. Or, at least, Valentine's Three-Day Weekend! Since, you know, Valentine's Day is usually within a few days of President's Day.
Take a break from the week-to-week routine and do something different. The WHOLE weekend. For about $300, you can fly to Cabo for the weekend. Stay in a resort or camp on the beach. Scuba dive, surf and swim with whale sharks.
Check the weather conditions -- and consider snow camping, snow shoeing, skiing -- or even just hiking a popular trail in the off-season.
Or do what I just did (Valentine's Week came early this year!) and plan a three-"sport" weekend: Monterey Bay aquarium, biking 17-Mile Drive and surfing Carmel Dog Beach. Bring plenty of warm clothes so you can do some sweet night photography in Big Sur!
(Also, fun hint: many sunset, as well as midday, outdoor photos could be greatly improved by using a flash or strobe. Sunset photos are often backlit, causing silhouetting, and a strobe would help correct that. Midday photos are often unflattering because of direct, overhead lighting, which causes harsh shadows. A flash, even in the sunniest part of the day, can help correct that. The one we use is the Canon Speedlite 430ex, and we've had a lot of luck with it.)
4. DO Be silly, fun and adventurous about it.
One of the saddest discoveries ever, in all of psychology, was this one:
High expectations are the key to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
So instead of setting high hopes and expectations for your big day (or weekend, or week)... just expect this holiday to be campy, silly and ridiculous.
For example -- get excited about your baking/art/cooking project... but understand there's a 90% chance it's going to end up looking like this:
Go ahead and order one of these very sexy Love is Art kits
Make your plans and buy your gifts for the experience of doing it -- not with some specific, perfect outcome in mind.
Be silly! Be fun! Try something you haven't tried before. Be thoughtful. And make the holiday totally you. And finally:
5. DON'T compare your Valentine's Day to other peoples'.
Doing so would make no sense. Each couple is so incredibly different, and each relationship, no matter how seemingly "perfect," requires work, compromise and effort.
Some relationships are just getting started. Some people are about to get married. Some couples fight continuously when they're alone, but always put on a smile for the camera. Some couples are made of introverts; others, extroverts. Some people are dating someone who's at the busiest, most stressful point of his/her career; others are dating someone with more free time than they've ever had before.
Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate your unique relationship with this partner. It's between you and that person, and no one else.
Readers: What are your Valentine's Day tips? Singles -- what are your Valentine's Day plans? Let me know in the comments!