As January finally takes a bow and CVS aisles are steadily filling up with cheesy candy and stuffed animals, it’s probably time to start thinking about Valentine’s Day. The holiday’s origins are a bit unusual: Ancient Romans would sacrifice animals during the mid-February Feast of Lupercalia and later they’d smack women with the hides of the animals they just murdered — because, of course, this would make them fertile. It’s since evolved into a day celebrating love, thanks to the romanticization of the holiday by authors such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. The love-y vibes were further spurred on by Hallmark, which started mass producing valentines in 1913.
Modern-day lovebirds may be looking forward to some romantic time with their partner, especially if it means you can steal a few hours for couple time and maybe a bit of romance. But in some cases, high expectations can seriously impact the holiday’s success. How can you plan a perfect date night? Find the perfect (appropriately sexy) gift? How can you deliver what your partner wants without anyone getting hurt feelings or overwhelmed? Also, single people may be looking at the upcoming holiday with dread, as the lack of a lover may cause some negative feelings and a serious case of FOMO. Love may be in the air, but so is anxiety.
Never fear — we asked some sex therapists, sexual health experts and psychologists for some amazing tips everyone can follow this Valentine’s Day. Self-love, communication and creative celebrations can up your satisfaction factor for the most romantic day of the year.
For the single people: practice self-love!
Kim Anami, holistic sex and relationship expert and founder of Anami Alchemia, says single folks should buy a new sex toy and have an epic sexfest — with themselves. Self-care should also be a goal for those who currently don’t have a partner. “Plan a spa day or massage where you love and gift yourself,” she said.
Also, Dr. Greg Kushnick, a clinical psychologist, says single people should embrace the idea that healthy self-love promotes long-term success in future relationships. To this end, he says if they’re good to themselves on Valentine’s Day, it can be a sign of readiness for building a solid relationship. “Since passion is a turn-on, single people can make a greater commitment to following their passions and sharing their enthusiasm with the world,” he explains. “The more you’re engaging in doing what you love, the more you’re emitting a sexy energy to potential mates.”
It looks like self-love is an important aspect of Valentine’s Day, then. This is a thought echoed by Dr. Laura Deitsch, a licensed clinical professional counselor with a doctorate in human sexuality and relationship expert with Vibrant. “Start a masturbation practice, bake a treat, create art, go for a walk,” she shares. “Reframe this day because everyone I know who is coupled bashes this made up holiday anyway, and it takes on fictitious importance. Don’t buy in.”
Domina Franco, writer, sex coach and educator, totally agrees with the self-care aspect of Valentine’s Day. “For this arbitrary and very loaded day in February, I’d say pile on the self-care. Do something fun that you’ve always wanted to do, get a massage, buy yourself some flowers.”
“Go on a threesome date with a happy couple you admire!” she says. “Happiness, healthy relationships and self-esteem are contagious, so invite a couple out for dinner or drinks; many coupes find planning for [Valentine’s] Day stressful, so you’ll likely be lightening their load by taking the initiative to make plans.”
For those in a new relationship: take the pressure off where you can!
It’s true that the idea of Valentine’s Day can feel a little stressful for those in a new relationship, but Anami says that it’s a good idea to take a chance and surprise your partner with something lovely from the heart — or genitals (or both!). She says having fun is crucial, though — don’t make it so serious.
Similarly, O’Reilly suggests making plans to do something fun a few days before Valentine’s Day instead of waiting for the big day — which usually comes with huge expectations. “Rather than getting caught up in the hype of relegating romance and expressions of love to one day, lay the groundwork for a passionate relationship by investing on the daily,” she says.
It’s vital to keep your expectations reasonable because Valentine’s Day has a huge potential for becoming one of the most disappointing days for many people, which is the opposite of what you want to experience. “Simplicity usually wins on this day,” Kushnick says.
In addition to tempered expectations, Deitsch notes that it’s important to communicate with your partner about what the day means to them — and vice versa. “If you have an expectation for the day, make it known,” she explains. “At least it will spark a discussion if nothing else. And you’ll learn about your new partner by their reaction and how they honor your wishes.”
Voice to your partner what you might like to do and create a collaborative plan, Franco says. “I’d say have fun with it, but also manage expectations so you don’t wake up on the 15th with a bunch of resentments,” she adds.
For those who have been in a relationship for years: celebrate everything you’ve built so far.
If you’ve been in a relationship for months or years, you may have solid ideas of what you want (and expect). However, Anami says even those who don’t really care about Valentine’s Day will likely be touched by some sort of loving or sexy gesture. “I’m a big fan of original gestures and gifts,” she says. “Rather than flowers or chocolates, write a poem, plan an adventure somewhere you know the other person loves. Buy them a special gift that is totally specific to them, [one] that shows you really pay attention and know what they love.”
And don’t be afraid to give yourself a night off. Franco suggests getting a sitter if you have kids and making plans to go out on a date to reconnect with your partner. It will get you away from your daily stresses and can ignite that old flame that burned bright when you were first dating. “Maybe you go to an old spot with a strong emotional tie; maybe you try something completely different,” she says. The choice is up to you.
Additionally, even though you’ve been with your partner for some time, it’s still important not to make assumptions, says Deitsch. Communicate what your expectations are and take their advice on what they would like out of the holiday, “Also, it might be time to renew a spark or share a fantasy,” she says. “Need an excuse to bring up a kinky activity desire? Valentine’s Day is just the ticket! It’s time to go get that new butt plug. Maybe your partner will share a hidden desire too, and you can add to your sex toolbox.” Rawr!
Finally, Franco suggests you use Valentine’s Day as a jumping-off point of sorts that can lead to sharing appreciation year-round. “Maybe write each other a list of things that your partner could say or do that would make you feel loved. Exchange those lists a day or two before — and do a few of those things without expectation.” She says small daily actions can help keep love alive.
If you keep these tips in mind, it can really help temper expectations and turn what can be a stressful or anxiety-ridden day into a positive one full of love, both for yourself and your partner.
A version of this story was originally published February 2018.