By: Maralee McKee, The Etiquette School of America
People seem to have either one of two thoughts about Valentine’s Day. Some see it as the most romantic, glorious day of affection, gifts, and expressions of love of the year. Others view it as a day they wish they could sleep through so they didn’t have to look at even one gushing, bouquet-carrying, heart-shaped-chocolate-eating, drunk-on-love person.
I’ve been on both sides of the Valentine’s Day love fest, and on both sides feelings are deep and emotions are high.
There’s a problem with the way we celebrate Valentine’s Day. It should never hurt, because it should never be an either-or day.
Valentine’s Day should be a day when no one feels left out.
That’s because everyone is loved by someone, and that someone (or lots of someones) should express it.
The day would be sweeter if there were less stress about gifts, dinners, and flowers. It would be sweeter if there were more connecting through smiles, compliments, and kind words; all three of which can linger in the person’s heart forever and cost, like most of the best things, not a penny.
Here are the five manners of Valentine’s Day that will help you make the day special for others regardless of their romantic status.
While I’m all for romance, love rises far above it, in a big way.
The Five Manners of Valentine’s Day Everyone Should Know
1. The Spirit of the Day
While Valentine’s Day does hold a special place for lovers, it’s meant for everyone. It’s not just a day for passion. It’s a day to lift others out of the cold drab of February and warm them with a dash or more of your kindness and attention.
It’s a day to say to them, “My life is sweeter because you’re in it.”
You, of course, will show your fondness and thankfulness for different people in different ways (let’s hope!), but your friends, relatives, pastor, coworkers, neighbors, teachers, favorite barista, hairdresser, the lady or man you pass in the aisle at Target who looks sad, and anyone else who comes to your mind, are perfect people to be your Valentines.
If we all got out a piece of paper and listed the people we’d like to thank, and then this week (it doesn’t have to be on February 14 only) actually thanked them with our words and maybe a small remembrance (a card, a single flower tied with a small bow, a few chocolate kisses wrapped in burlap and tied with gingham, or one of about a million other things you can find by doing a simple Pinterest search), not so many would feel like there wasn’t any love baked, sliced, and served just for them.
Grace Note: Remember those boxes of 24 Valentine’s Day cards children often exchanged as part of their Valentine’s Day parties at school? I don’t know any forty-year-olds who wouldn’t smile like they were nine years old if they found one of those cards and a box of animal crackers on their front step or office desk. (You know those sweet cookies of childhood. They look like a circus train car and have a little string on the box for carrying.)
2. The Flowers
The florist would love it if you plunked down $200 for an over-the-top arrangement of long-stem roses. However, unless this has been the norm since the start of your relationship, you can have a great Valentine’s Day without the flowers. If you are buying some, here are a few things you’ll want to know.
~Consider buying a big bouquet of carnations or other flowers, and tie a bow around each stem. Hand them out to friends, coworkers, and total strangers. It’s a sweet and inexpensive way to be someone’s Valentine.
~Roses are generally reserved for romantic love. If you’re giving a flower (or a bouquet) to a friend, use a different type of flower or a mix of roses with other flowers.
~Flowers are equally sweet gifts for men as they are for women. Let the florist know they’re for your guy, and they’ll make up a “manly” arrangement of foliage.
~Have the flowers sent to work. That way, the person can enjoy seeing them all day. Plus, it’s fun when other people ask who they’re from and compliment about how pretty they are. For bonus points, deliver the flowers personally! Make it a quick visit so you interrupt the office work flow as little as possible. But it will be the BEST five minutes of the person’s work day. Be careful of public displays of affection at someone’s workplace. If you want, you can share with the person that a kiss is forthcoming this evening. Sweet anticipation!
~Ask what her favorite flowers are. If they’re roses, fine. If she thinks roses are OK but tulips or hydrangeas are the most beautiful flowers on Earth, buy her tulips or hydrangeas. They’re now your own private language of love!
3. The Cards and Gifts
A card or handwritten note is appropriate and nice for anyone as long as the sentiments aren’t too romantic, or not romantic enough, for the stage of the relationship. We mentioned tokens of appreciation you can give to anyone in item number 1 above, but what about gifts for married couples, serious relationships, or if you’ve just started dating and don’t know where the relationship will take you?
It can be tricky.
Both men and women buy gifts for one another, and you want your gift to represent where you are now, and not scare the other person off by giving a gift that signifies through intimacy or cost that the relationship is further along than the person feels comfortable with it being.
These tips will help you shop with confidence.
~You’ve had a few dates, you’re going out on Valentine’s, but you haven’t talked about a future yet, and you don’t have a mutual commitment to date only each other: a book or two, a couple of the best films of your date’s favorite actor, a winter hat, scarf, and/or gloves, something representing a favorite sports team, a tech-gadget, a nice pen or portfolio for work, or a new bag for the gym are good idea starters.
~You’re boyfriend and girlfriend, but you don’t know whether he or she is Mr. or Mrs. Forever: tickets to an upcoming concert, sporting event, or festival (this shows you hope to be in the picture in a few months when the event’s date rolls around), a nice addition to a collection (always okay for a collector), or something one-of-a-kind like a piece of art, an item from an antique store, or a piece of jewelry (not a ring).
~You’re married: it’s whatever you and your spouse have decided that the day should be. I know couples who give extravagant gifts, and I know couples, like Kent and me, who celebrate with no cards, no gifts (except for a small box of Godiva chocolates with nut-filled centers he lovingly gives me each year; he’d buy me a big box, but I’d eat it all, so I prefer the small box!), and dinner around the kitchen table with our boys. Then, maybe, if there’s a nice movie on, we might treat ourselves to a movie on demand. It’s not an extravagant Valentine’s Day, but it’s our Valentine’s, and it suits us, especially for now.
Seasons of life bring changes. The carefree long weekends away you enjoyed before the kids came might disappear for the next two decades. Every year have a quick conversation about what you want THIS Valentine’s Day to be. It’s okay to change it up or keep it the same year-to-year, as long as it’s a mutual decision. Even if necessity takes precedence over romance and there are concessions you wish you didn’t have to make, when you’ve made the decision together, you can more easily find the silver lining.
4. The Special Meal of the Day
Don’t let the Hallmark or Hollywood version of Valentine’s Day make you think that a Valentine meal served in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by the people you’ve been blessed to call family, isn’t the perfect way for you to spend Valentine’s this year, or any year!
If you are going out to eat, keep in mind that restaurants are packed and they probably have special menus at a significantly higher cost for the evening (often for the day or so before and after Valentine’s, too), because the kitchen is so busy that they can’t cook from their whole menu.
These tips will help make your meal memorable:
~If picking up takeout, decide together in advance what you’d like to eat. And order early. Your favorite restaurant will be extra busy with takeout orders on Valentine’s night and the two or three evenings before and after it as well.
~If eating in a restaurant, make reservations. Make reservations. Make reservations. Make them weeks early if at all possible.
Restaurant Grace Note: When making reservations, make them in person, and pick out the table where you would like to sit. The one by the big bay window? The one in the romantic corner? You decide and let her know during dinner you came in early and picked out the table. Impressive!
~For added romance, hand-deliver flowers to the restaurant earlier in the day and have them waiting.
~As for the restaurant you chose, whether you’re dining in or picking up a to-go order, sometimes people want to try the new place everyone is talking about. Sometimes people want to go back to a place they went when they were first dating. Sometimes they want formal. Sometimes they want casual. Talk. Ask. Inquire. It doesn’t make it any less romantic. It makes the meal something in particular to look forward to.
~For a meal at home, ask what he or she would like you to prepare. Gentlemen, offer to cook! Ladies, you know his favorite meal, but is that what he wants for Valentine’s? Ask. Inquire. Talk about it. (See the tip directly above.)
~In the past, when our boys were younger and both liked cartoons, I would have a romantic dinner with Kent in the dining room, and the boys would enjoy Pixar and pizza picnic-style in front of the TV in my oldest son’s bedroom. It was always a great evening for all of the McKee family. Just like everything, where there’s a will, there’s usually a way. Put thought into your evening, and you’ll be able to enjoy some one-on-one time with your Valentine.
5. The Little Things That Make a Big Difference in The Day
Little things add up into big things. These add a special something to the day.
~Dress up a bit. Whether you’re running errands or going out on the town, give everyone the gift of seeing you looking great today! Hair, makeup, maybe even some heels, ladies. Come on! Gentlemen, a tie, cufflinks, polished shoes. Oh yeah! It will show the ones you’re with that you put extra effort into looking good for them! When you’re complimented, reply with “Thank you! That’s very nice of you to say!” Even if you’re not dating now or you’ve been married twenty years, dress with the attention to detail we all put into dressing for first dates! You’ll feel special, and that feeling will flow out of you towards others.
~Don’t buy your flowers from just anywhere. Develop a relationship with one florist in your town and buy all of your flowers from that shop. The florist will get to know you, your expectations, and the likes of the people you regularly purchase flowers for.
~Valentine’s Day is not the day for first dates. Not even coffee in the afternoon. Go two days before or after.
~You can ask someone to marry you on Valentine’s Day, but don’t intentionally break up with someone. That’s cruel.
~When you’re thinking of a gift, don’t go to what you know they always like or they buy for themselves anyway. In other words, you might think, “I’ll buy her a gift certificate for clothes where she buys most of her clothes.” It’s a nice thought, and she certainly won’t mind the gift, but the best gifts make memories. Instead, buy her a gift certificate to something she normally wouldn’t treat herself to, like a spa treatment. Or better yet, tickets for the two of you to see a concert she’ll love, book a future weekend getaway, a gift certificate for a restaurant to show that another date night is upcoming, or a year’s membership to a local museum so the two of you have shared experiences to look forward to.
~Don’t forget the children. It’s important to give a card, a small gift, and a huge hug, and to talk about what this day is about, the history of it, and how your child(ren)’s words and actions make others feel about themselves. Make sure they have a card for everyone if their school class is participating in a Valentine’s card exchange.
Also, remember they’re watching you. If you’re upset because the gift wasn’t what you wanted, or they hear you talk about how your spouse is unromantic, they’ll take it all in and keep it there.
When they’re grown, the Valentine’s gifts they receive won’t ever be what they really wanted, just like it was for Mom, or they’ll grow up to be an unromantic spouse, just like Dad (or vice-versa). It’s easy to forget that you are the most important and influential person in your children’s lives.
They watch you and they take it in, because they want to be just like you when they grow up. And more often than not, they are. For better or worse.
~Gentlemen, brush up on your chivalry. Open the door and stand behind it as your lady enters through it. Stand up when she arrives at or leaves the table. Open the car door for her. Ask her what music she’d like to listen to in the car. Offer her your jacket or coat if she’s cold. Pull out her chair for her. Drop her off at the door of the restaurant while you park the car if valet service isn’t available. Tell her how beautiful she is — at least twice.
~Everyone, put your cell phone away. Turn it off. Not on silent. Off. Thank you! Now you’re not distracted. (Here are more tips for what to do when others are paying more attention to their phones than to you.)
~Lastly, Know the 7 Manners of Opening a Gift so you’re not caught off guard no matter what’s under that wrapping paper.
This year, be someone’s Valentine. Actually, be a lot of people’s Valentine. Spread the spirit of the day to those who make your life sweeter with a genuine expression of gratitude towards them and maybe even a token of your kind thoughts. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for lovers. No one needs to be left out. It’s for everyone who realizes that the beauty of the day isn’t in the dinners, flowers, and jewelry — it’s in the smiles, kind words, and happy moments we give.
Happy Valentine’s Day and blessings!