Romance isn’t defined by what chocolate companies say it should mean; it’s defined by you and, if applicable, the person or persons you love.
I have to admit something—something that, in the artsy, queer, liberal, countercultural social circles I inhabit, is practically anathema to say out loud.
I love Valentine’s Day. Like, I love it. Hearts and flowers and glitter and chocolate? Sign me up. Of course it’s easy to enjoy a holiday in honor of romantic love when you’re happily married, but I want it on the record—and my longtime friends will corroborate—that I displayed the same unseemly level of enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day even when I was single.
Whether or not you’re partnered, love is the best game in town. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, or sexual love, or requited love, or monogamous love; it can be the love you feel for yourself, your family, your friends, your community, or your very favorite potted cactus. It’s a day for expressing the deep genuine affection in your heart. And eating chocolate.
You don’t have to embrace the Hallmark heteronormativity of it all to have an amazing Valentine’s Day, whether it’s with the object of your affections or just with yourself. It doesn’t have to mean consumerism, bouquets of roses, or diamond rings. You can love Valentine’s Day even if, like me, you loathe diamonds and emit low-level flower-killing rays. Romance isn’t defined by what chocolate companies say it should mean; it’s defined by you and, if applicable, the person or persons you love.
Here are some ways to celebrate the holiday without blowing your budget or totally disappearing into the Capitalist Romance Hivemind:
Exchange homemade gifts. You don’t have to be crafty or have a lot of money on materials; the Valentine’s gift that my partner has loved the most and gotten the most use out of was a mix CD of love songs. If you want to and have the ability to knit a cozy scarf or whip up a batch of chocolate truffles from scratch, rock the fuck on and may the gods bless you with the appreciation you deserve. But even if you’re a total amateur like me, you can still give your sweetie something they’ll treasure. Print out your favorite picture of the two of you together, make a frame out of Popsicle sticks, and write an inside joke on it in Sharpie. Boo ya: instant cherished keepsake.
Learn something together. Is there anything more romantic than encouraging each other to grow and flourish? Whether you spend the holiday at a gourmet French cooking class, a sultry tango lesson, or fixing your own dishwasher with the help of Youtube videos, learning it together will make it fun and memorable. And now you’ll think of her whenever you reach for your pliers! Awww.
Go someplace new. This doesn’t have to mean a fancy new restaurant where a margarita costs your second-favorite kidney; it could mean a beautiful hike in the mountains or that used bookstore you’ve been meaning to check out. Any place that you visit for the first time becomes your place, whether it’s a five-star hotel or a hole-in-the-wall dive bar. For bonus points (and if you have some cash to spare), hop in the car and take a spur-of-the-moment road trip together. On your deathbed, you’re not going to be like “Remember that weekend we stayed home and caught up on the laundry?”
Do something scary. Push your boundaries a little—nothing’s sexier than a little bit of adrenaline. If you’re not the type to spend a romantic day zip-lining across canyons or rafting down rapids, try cheering each other on as you rock some karaoke, or ordering your Thai food “hot” instead of “medium.”
Revisit a cherished memory. My favorite Valentine’s tradition with my partner? Horror movies for hours on end. It’s a flashback to the date when I knew for sure he really liked me: He accompanied me to an all-night horror screamathon at the local arthouse cinema, despite not being that into scary movies himself. Curling up on the couch with popcorn and zombie flicks reminds me not only that he’s come around to the pleasures of gore-spattered cinema under my good influence, but also that he was once willing to sit through eight hours of his least favorite film genre just to put his arm around me. What was the first thing you and your partner or BFF ever did together? Monster truck rally or night at the opera, a do-over is sweet and sentimental.
Have a picnic. All you need for the world’s most romantic dinner date is a loaf of bread, some cheese, some fruit, and a bottle of wine (or a six-pack). If the weather is nice, spread out a blanket under the stars, but in cold weather it works just as well to cuddle on your living room floor in front of the roaring radiator. Lean on each other and read out loud, or just talk about your lives and make each other smile.
Be a secret admirer. Write little notes about how much you appreciate things your nearest and dearest does, and leave them in significant hiding places. In the kitchen: “Making me coffee every morning reminds me that you care.” In the car: “Thanks for always leaving the radio on my favorite station.” In her underwear drawer: “Hey, nice butt.” You can also leave secret admirer notes for your friends and non-romantic loved ones—no one ever dislikes hearing how much you mean to them and why.
Love yourself. Whether you’re single or partnered, spend the day with people you care about—including yourself—doing things that make you feel good. Don’t put crazy high expectations on Valentine’s Day to be the most rom-com-perfect day of your life. Make yourself and your loved ones happy for your own sake, not because you feel like you need to compete with everyone on Instagram. If you enjoy yourself, you win. Everyone can win. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer writer who lives in Denver with her partner, an ever-growing collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. She is the author of Ask a Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls who Dig Girls (Plume 2016).