You can pretend otherwise all you want, but Valentine's Day is a perfectly fine holiday: You don't actually have to buy anything if you don't want to, and you can still spend the day observing that love is, in fact, cool and righteous, who knew. At this legato-ass period of the pandemic, it might even provide you a flash of alluring novelty in a world that is alternatively humdrum and harrowing: In horrifying, gnarly times, it makes good sense to dissolve inside Romance for a day, or part of a day, or an hour.
Use this holiday to recall that you don't have to spend every minute of your life consumed by the sick whims of governors. You can instead put on “Love Is the Drug,” revive S.W.A.K. culture, and have sex on camera. Feel love for the person or people you have the luck to be getting a little tired of, if you can. (If you're single, you can phone a friend or stranger and adapt many of these ideas to your heart's desire; consider all of these prompts, not mandates, doye.) I feel romantic about all of this already.
– If you think Valentine's Day is corny as sin, you're right. It's sublimely hack shit. Within that, it affords you the opportunity to eat a heart-shaped Reese's peanut butter cup in red lace underwear. To have champagne and toast “to us.” To give head by candlelight. To spend too much time selecting the flowers you want to say it with. Immerse yourself in tropes and treat Valentine's Day like an extreme sport. (Somehow, this is also an attractively easy approach if you often leave things to the last second or don't want to spend a grand at Zales or whatever.)
– Since every piece of our days is sort of whirled together indefinitely, it stands to reason that many of us are taking a deconstructed approach to eating: on your feet, one hand on your phone, cobbling together some flailing sweet potato thing accompanied by the last of the Italian sausage or BBQ-style seitan, and maybe some bites of hummus. Fine! All the better for differentiating your Lovers' Repast.
Setting everything up as actual courses will feel fantastic. Make a cheese plate of your own to precede a meal kit from a restaurant, or consult the super-foxy inventions on @notfolu's Instagram for inspiration. I'd choose something unusual-to-you—anything outside your habitual meals counts, as do special holiday takeout menus.
– Eat on porcelain: I have my grandmother's set of fake china from Fortunoff passed down by my mother that I use on holidays, but if I didn't, I'd hit a thrift store and coordinate two of each: dinner plate, salad plate, teacup and saucer, bowl. If you find serving dishes that also go well, those would also feel thrilling. They don't have to totally match, or even be prissily elegant—let alone expensive—but they do have to appeal in whatever sense is right to you. Figure out your own approach based on what's available and looks good together. You can pick variations on one color, mix patterns, or go with a clashing/complementary scheme, and any of that would look rad.
– Desserts are at their finest when they're either homemade and/or have some customization to them, whether that's in how you serve them (on your supplicating, nude form???????) or what lovey-dovey/funny thing the icing spells out.
– Have a drugstore chocolate tasting. Open one of the Russell Stover hearts and cut one of each kind of candy in two. Really get to the bottom of which ingredients are motivating those whipped baby-pink fillings and fruit and nut caramels. Find a new favorite. Thrill at the sorta-cloying iteration of peanut butter cups included in boxes of candy. (Why such a smooth filling? It almost reads more honey than peanut butter. Weirds me out.) Get into sweet little arguments about everything.
– I have always wanted to love someone so much that I could and would write their biography (or at least enjoy hearing every last thing about them on a drive that keeps on going like a fermata). So that's sort of what I do, OK!
One example: Last year, I put together a tiny manila envelope with fake spy lettering on it called “THE JONATHAN FILES,” which, inside, had even smaller notes that encompassed all the great things he said that I'd written down in my phone, alongside the details of his life that I wanted to remember early on but couldn't fully entrust to my Swiss cheese brain (the name of his uncle's defunct head shop; his favorite wines). Plus every inside joke I could stop laughing for long enough to misspell in shorthand, in order to be able to, later, sit down to my heart and scroll back through it all.
Can you make some kind of index of what you love most about them, and give it as a gift for the holiday? To put mine together, I just kicked Jonathan out of our bedroom while I lettered everything and put on a pleated skirt for Valentine's dinner, so I can assure you it's still possible if you're under the gun, time-wise. My colleague Rachel Miller, who knows a thing or two about mash notes, recommends, if you're stuck, making a bulleted or numbered list—sort of like how I cut up demented spy-themed confetti for the person I love most in the world. Maybe you draw your crushed-out taxonomy. You could always just say it.
– Print out famous love letters and scatter them all around your bedroom like rose petals. (You can also strew them through your whole place, roommates permitting.) My favorites are Orson Welles's to Rita Hayworth (“You are my life—my very life. Never imagine your hope approximates what you are to me”) and Virginia Woolf's to Vita Sackville-West (“Always, always, always I try to say what I feel. I have missed you. I do miss you. I shall miss you. And if you don’t believe it, you’re a longeared owl and ass”).
– Write a love poem (seriously) and leave it on their pillow or next to the coffee maker. Or underneath the toothpaste, or taped beneath the door handle. Pinned to the dog's collar, whatever. Some thoughtless-thoughtful place that they can proceed to associate with your letter in the daily-style future. If you need inspiration that doesn't make you want to swallow a bottle of Love's Baby Soft perfume, investigate Tom Waits' interviews for his stated opinions of his wife, Kathleen Brennan:
She's something else—tree surgeon and a ventriloquist, astronaut and private eye. You're always looking for those two things. A newspaperman and a bathing beauty. It's a combination that works for us, ’cause a lot of times, I'm in a stroller waiting to be pushed out into traffic. She's the one that'll do it.
Oh my god.
If that's not your style, just tell them what you like about their butt and eyes.
– If it normally feels like a chore or a non-starter, diplomatically be Player 2 in their awful favorite video game—yes, the first-person shooter with a dubious relationship to your very seriously held political opinions, Professor Morals!—for an hour or two. Don't say your opinions. Actually try!
– Coordinate stick-and-pokes. I recommend that you give and get each other's initials. I once had a great time earning a “B” underneath my bra strap. The letter was for and by my second ex-fiancé, and so bad it looked like a figure 8. I loved it, and now, years after our split, it has become the word “Bitchin’” in the Barbie font. A romantic tattoo throughout its whole life! As I mentioned, it's in an unobtrusive place, which I also think you should consider, love or no love. (He got an “A.” God knows what ever comes of that. Continued peace and a Happy Valentine's Day to everyone with whom I've mushily shared tattoos.)
– Some of the arguably most romantic music written in the United States hails, like me and other trashy sentimental curios, from New Jersey. (Dion and his Belmonts can tell you more about this, if you are curious to know.) I'm sure you have your own forceful opinions about the songs that contribute to the conditions in which you're likeliest to feel desperately in love.
Maybe you think Jazmine Sullivan is God's manifest theory of and answer to the human heart, as well as sexuality. And who could blame you?
Can you, without overthinking it, play the songs you traditionally feel tripped-up romantic about—not insistently, just as a lightly suggestive backdrop for talking? The conversation is more so the point.
– Take Steve ESPO Powers's virtual A Love Letter For You art tour, presented by Mural Arts Philadelphia. ESPO, an artist known for his lettering and city-ornamenting murals, has a wealth of charisma and an entrepreneurial, poetic, roving eye. He's all about L-U-V, can you tell:
This tour appears to be, like so much of ESPO's work, about loving a place. I can get into that always, including right now, when we're so committed to the ones we've chosen for ourselves. Could be really fortifying to hear someone else tell stories about theirs.
– Do shots of liquor and promise each other something. The stakes and tone are your decision—all you have to do is mean it. I think it would be nice if your aperitif leaned a little baroque, like Fernet or Kickin’ Chicken.
– Surprise them by preserving something they already love. Have a busted antique, holey article of clothing, or broken clasp repaired, or a beloved picture reframed, or a falling-apart book rebound in orange leather and embossed with their initials in gold on the spine. (Careful—you need to know that they're dying to have it fixed, due to constant verbalized strife and bellyaching. If only they got around to it!! That's where you come in, bitch. If you're not sure you wouldn't actually be ruining their keepsake, stay far away.)
– Make a voice recording in which it's clear you're touching yourself. This is especially good if you're a hair too shy for videos, but still want to impress a faraway or new lover.
– Watch a movie that's preoccupied with sex. Bertolucci, Almodovar, In the Mood for Love. Shortbus—yes, those actors are actually fucking—or She's Gotta Have It. Let your hand sort of drift over to theirs on the couch.
– Also, I meant it: Have sex on camera. (If you're alone, here are some ideas about that practice.) Fuck Bertolucci! Make your own instant classic. Maybe down the line, it'll reframe your memory of staying home as hot and romantic, instead of drab and wack. Well… maybe let's not count on it. Nonetheless, have an excellent Valentine's Day, however you do it. S.W.A.K!
Follow Amy Rose Spiegel on Twitter.