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An Alternative Guide for Valentine’s Day

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Whether you’re dating someone new or have been partnered for years, there can be a ton of pressure in planning an elaborate and romantic Valentine’s Day date. In 2024,  Americans are expected to spend $14.2 billion to celebrate this day of love, according to a new report by the National Retail Federation. With gifts ranging from candy and greeting cards to evenings out and jewelry, the question becomes: what does all of this pressure and spending really get us? After sitting in over-crowded restaurants, exchanging boxes in pink and red wrapping paper, then rushing home just to fall fast asleep from exhaustion, where is the romance?

If Valentine’s Day feels perfunctory (or you would rather skip the whole thing entirely), you’re not alone. Many people ditch Valentine’s Day and opt out of what some see as just another consumer holiday. But, if you’re a hopeless romantic, or just like the idea of a day dedicated to love, here are ways to celebrate that will not only break you out of your normal routine, but also bring you closer to your date.

Skip the dinner reservation

Great restaurants tend to book up quickly for Valentine’s Day, which means unless you already have a reservation, you may be left with less-than-optimal choices. Even with a reservation, it can be a lot to go out on a night when so many others have the same idea and the pressure is mounting. Restaurants are filled to capacity. Wait staff can become overwhelmed by the deluge of patrons and may not be at the top of their game. Busy restaurants mean lots of noise, which may make conversation strained or impossible. All of these factors contribute to a less than romantic atmosphere—for you and your date.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a romantic dinner date on Valentine’s Day. A couple of low key but special ideas are staying in for a meal at home or revisiting a spot that has meaning for the two of you. If you’re in a new relationship, cooking (or even heating up a premade version of your date’s favorite meal) can set a romantic tone for the evening—especially if you throw in setting a nice table, lighting candles, and choosing music that you will both enjoy. You may also try being device-free for the evening. All of this shows effort and a genuine interest in spending quality time with each other.

For those who have been partnered for a while, think about special moments you’d like to revisit. Did you have a fun bowling date early on in your relationship that felt like a turning point in your love story? Is there an ice cream parlor that the two of you love to visit, but it’s been a while? The trick with Valentine’s Day dates for couples in long-term relationships is to do something different from your regular date night. Avoid your usual haunts or neighborhood go-to’s and expand into activities that will break up your routine. Exploring together can reignite those first-date feelings all over again.

Have sex before you go out

Valentine’s Day has a certain innocence to it. It’s a popular day to get engaged. The beginning of the date is all about connecting with and wooing your partner, sharing emotionally intimate moments, and being vulnerable by sharing your deepest feelings. We all know that the end of a Valentine’s date can also have amorous intentions.

Lovey-dovey feelings aside, a lot of couples look forward to Valentine’s Day for the sex. What we don’t talk about is that the set up for a Valentine’s date could make having sex at the end of the night difficult, if impossible. Eating a heavy meal, enjoying fancy cocktails or several rounds of drinks, and being energetically drained by going out can all put a damper on sexual interest for one or both parties. If you’ve ever had this happen, on Valentine’s Day or any other major date night like an anniversary or birthday, you’re not alone.

In fact, advice columnist and host of Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage, has been extolling the benefits of having sex before a date night for years. If you plan on having an indulgent meal either at home or at a restaurant, consider having sex before you eat. This will ensure that you get to connect sexually on Valentine's Day. Savage also mentions how it can help build your appetite so that special dinner will be all the more satisfying.

For many couples, romance doesn’t just begin and end with kisses and cuddles. Sexual satisfaction is a main driver for overall relationship satisfaction, and ultimately, benefits you long-term to invest in your sexual connection.

Watch a romantic (or sexy) movie together

If you’re staying in on Valentine’s Day, watching a movie together can be a sweet addition to your evening. Romantic movies can be fun, and there are so many sub genres to choose from like rom-coms, romantic dramas, and even romantic fantasy. But if you’re feeling spicier and want to set a sexy tone for your night, you can watch ethical porn together—a known medium that can help boost communication and intimacy within a relationship. Erika Lust, Make Love Not Porn, and Crashpad Series offer great alternatives to mainstream porn.

Somewhere in between romance and porn lies great erotic films you can find on streaming services now. A few notable ones are Saltburn, Call Me By Your Name, the Magic Mike trilogy, Carol, Secretary, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Bros, or even Fifty Shades of Grey. These will be sure to turn the heat up on your night and provide some fun inspiration for the after show.

Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what turns you on unless you see it depicted. If you’re feeling inspired by what you see, switching up your routine to a more visual experience can increase excitement and anticipation for sex.

Play a game that brings you closer

Part of having a fun Valentine’s Day date is breaking out of your normal routine and finding new ways to connect with your partner. Most couples who cohabitate see their partners so frequently that it can feel like there are no surprises. Their behaviors and patterns may become so predictable that it’s easy to think you know more about them than you actually do. Changing up what you do together allows for both of you to show different and unexpected sides of yourself, which can drive attraction.

There are a ton of games that can help you use your brains in a different way, play together, and engage in some healthy competition. These include classic games like Truth or Dare, Scrabble, and dominoes. If you’re looking for something more physical, try a game of strip poker or strip Twister. And if you prefer to be mentally stimulated, try 20 Questions, Would You Rather, or even make up a trivia game about your partner. Some games for couples even allow you to talk more openly about sex, like The School of Life’s Pillow Talk. This can be an opportunity to get closer by talking about your desires and turn-ons.

Build romance into your everyday life

Rather than having huge expectations for Valentine’s Day, it’s important to remember that having regular date nights that bring in a little Valentine’s Day spirit on a more regular basis will only benefit your relationship. Any of the above ideas can be used for inspiration for a monthly or even weekly date night that sparks romantic connection.

If date nights feel inaccessible, consider different ways to maintain your romantic interest in your partner. This could be as simple as taking a daily walk together or spending time each night before bed chatting about what really matters to each of you. In recent years, apps like Paired have found ways to boost and maintain romantic connection by supplying questions and conversation starters.

Romance doesn’t have to begin and end in one day. This Valentine’s Day, consider breaking free from traditional date ideas and expanding your romantic repertoire with your partner.

Contact us at letters@time.com.