You might think the writers responsible for all those romantic valentines would celebrate the day in equally over-the-top ways. We surveyed Hallmark’s writing studio for some Valentine’s Day inspiration, and discovered their traditions are super sentimental—just not in the way you’d expect them to be.
GIVE A LITTLE LOVE
Because I write cards for Hallmark, I get kinda grumpy when I hear Valentine’s Day referred to as a Hallmark Holiday. It’s not. It actually started precisely a bajillion years ago (citation needed) to honor a handful of dead saints.
But Hallmark does make a lot of cards for people to give on the holiday (which at some point in long-ago history evolved from celebrating dead saints to celebrating sweet, sweet love), and I’m proud to say I’ve written a bunch of them. Some very romantic. Which surprises my wife because I’m not very romantic IRL. Most days the most romantic thing I say is “Did you clean the cat box or should I?” (Awww.)
But I do like Valentine’s Day because it gives us a chance to pause and exchange “I love yous” that maybe pack a bit more oomph than the ones we say as one of us is running out the door with a late-for-the-bus kid in tow or after an argument over whose turn it really is to clean the cat box because I know I did it yesterday (I distinctly remember wondering what they heck they’d been eating).
Still, we don’t do much, really, but exchange cards and small gifts. And whatever she gives me, it does my heart good to know that she picked it out thinking of me and what might make me feel a little extra loved on Valentine’s Day. Just like I did for her. And it’s nice.
And no saints had to be martyred.
JUST ADD PERKS
When you write cards for a living, there’s a lot of pressure on Val To Wife. For example, you have to remember not to call it “Val To Wife” because wives don’t really respond to sexy market-segment talk. Fortunately, my wife has a low bar. Let me rephrase. She’s not super big into flowers and candy and lingerie, for either of us. She’s also not an aficionado of fancy French restaurants. Or the French in general, really. So through trial and error and learning to keep receipts and return things before you’ve gotten whipped cream on them, we’ve landed on something kind of awesome.
February 14th is usually cold and snowy, so it’s a great time to go to a nearby hotel because hotel sex! Hotel sex is like regular sex, but in a hotel, and there are many advantages. You can drink as much chocolate wine or chocolate beer as you want, even if that’s none. You can order room service including desserts because it doesn’t take long to get into vacation mode, which is one of the best modes.
If you go high end (not a euphemism) the hotel will have robes. These are excellent if you want to sashay or even prance. Do you have a robe at home? Maybe. But it’s not a hotel robe. Was somebody else just in that robe? Probably. But if you’re thinking about that you need more chocolate wine or chocolate beer.
Some places will even make you an omelet the next morning! No flowers, no candy, no fancy restaurant, just the hotel. And the sex. In the hotel. Val To Wife gold!
YOU DO YOU
As a writer, I’m wild about Valentine’s Day. What better to joke about than the ins and outs of love? (Ins and outs…solid sex pun. Writing that one down.)
As a long-time married person? Different story.
Years ago, my husband and I had neighbors who put a lot into Valentine’s Day. Maybe too much. The wife would tell me how she expected the longest, most romantic card ever or she would be furious. The husband started to look terrified sometime around mid-January. Seeing that firsthand made me think, “nope.” I didn’t ever want to get to the point where I put that kind of pressure on one single day.
Another reason we make Valentine’s Day a casual thing? Over the years we’ve established a pretty “smartass” vibe as a couple. That’s just how we express our feelings. We know we can skip the mushy stuff and go straight for the laughs because we wholeheartedly respect each other. We built our foundation on the flowery stuff a long time ago. We’re good now. We’re what the great poet Jay Z calls “ride or die.”
So in conclusion, I’m a wife and an actual valentine writer and I say it’s okay if you don’t want to go big on February 14th.
But for crying out loud, buy a card. I am working my fingers to the bone coming up with sex puns for you people. It’s the least you can do.
MAKE SOMETHING MEANINGFUL
My first “big deal” Valentine’s Day was in ninth grade, when I gave First Official Girlfriend a hilariously earnest collage, a schmoopy mix of cut-out words and magazine pics that all had some kind of super deep, inside-joke meaning. She loved it! And that’s probably when I should have realized I’d end up writing for Hallmark.
Anyway, when you’re 15 or 16, it’s not like you need to make a collage to create feelings of romance. Or make her dinner, buy a bouquet or rent a limo. You already feel that way every minute of the day! The sweet card with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet on it? The roses? The candy? Sure, righteously smooth moves all. Classic. But you’re just affirming what’s obvious.
Cut to 30 years later: First Official Wife and I have a couple of kids in grade school. It’s the end of a long winter break. The luster of the Christmas presents has worn thin and the kids are sick of being at home, so they grumble and mumble at each other and us. Not to mention that the icy weather has us on frequent lock down. And the usual headaches of adulting: digging through rock layers of receipts, climbing giant laundry mountains, zoo-keeping various pets.
These are the moments when you do need to make her something, find an inside-joke card, whip up her favorite meal or get a babysitter. Which doesn’t have to mean restaurant and a movie, BTW. Last time we had a date night, we just ran dorky errands, wandering the aisles together, happy to be off the clock. Because now, Valentine’s Day means taking a moment to affirm what might not always be obvious—that you don’t have to be a schmoopy teen to be crazy in love.
Crap, I’m on the hook for a collage now, aren’t I?
JUST SNUGGLE UP
Valentine’s Day has never been too big of a deal at our house. At least I don’t think it has. Being seven months pregnant—and with a toddler who still won’t sleep through the night—has got my memory a little fuzzy.
My husband and I exchange cards because as a Hallmark writer, I like to do what I can to keep myself employed. Nothing too mushy, though… usually something along the lines of, “I’ll still love you when you’re old and smell weird!” Coming from me, that’s actually very meaningful because I have a sensitive nose.
As I’m writing this, I’m thinking that in the future, V-Day will be a great excuse to hire a babysitter and go somewhere where high chairs don’t even exist to drink a few delicious glasses of alcohol.
This year, however? All I really want to do is throw on any old t-shirt that will fit over my enormous belly, snuggle up with my husband and a family-size pack of OREO Cookies (I guess they can be heart-shaped or whatever), and catch up on episodes of “This is Us.”
So much sexiness and romance!
You’re jealous, right?
DON’T DISS DISCOUNTS
For us, Valentine’s Day means half-off chocolate and other candy that surely can’t be good for us to eat in such high volumes. My fiancé and I do V-Day on the 15th because we’re cheap and we don’t like crowds (sky’s the limit for restaurant reservations!).
But okay, okay, fine. It’s not only about that. Our Valentine’s Day also is just an excuse to do what we would do every day if adulting didn’t get in the way: go out on a sweet date and tell each other how great and sexy we think the other is.
Honestly, any day I get to hang out (and make out) with my best friend is a pretty awesome day. Throw in some practically free chocolate? Even better.
REMEMBER WHAT MATTERS
A friend recently asked me how Valentine’s Day was going to be different for me this year. The question surprised me; I hadn’t thought about the holiday, honestly. But she raised a good point. Being newly married, it’s probably natural to think my new husband and I would have big plans. Add to that the fact that I write valentines for a living, and surely we’d have something uber-romantic up our sleeve. Bouquets. Fine dining.
The only problem is, that’s just not us.
Don’t get me wrong— my husband and I love a good meal. And he does occasionally surprise me with flowers (though they’re usually from the farmer’s market or cut from our own garden). But neither of us wants or needs a big production. For us, it’s always been about the little things, and simply being together. I guess that’s what a few years of living and a lot of time apart teach you.
When we got married last fall—after a lengthy long-distance relationship— it was a small but beautiful ceremony with close family and friends. We didn’t put on a show: there were no videos, DJs or party favors. But the day was filled with the simple things we do love…songs with special meaning to us. Vows that echoed the line of a favorite poem. And a bridal party consisting not of umpteen girlfriends in matching chiffon, but my brother and sister-in-law and our niece and nephews.
The thing is—whether it’s Valentine’s Day or even a wedding— I believe it’s far more important to be true to who you are and the love you share. Forget the pressure of what romance is “supposed” to be. Focus instead on what truly makes your heart sing. And the rest will take care of itself.
Years ago, I wrote a card that simply says, “Together, we have everything we need.” And being with my husband now…after a health scare and years apart…I can relate to that line more than ever.
So to answer my friend’s question…what are we doing for Valentine’s Day?
Having a good meal. Holding hands. Laughing. Being us.
Because together, we have everything we need.
MAKE YOUR OWN HOLIDAY
During the first conversation I had with the man who would become my husband, we discovered we had a lot in common. We both have seven siblings, we’re both middle children, we have almost identical ethnic ancestry, same religious upbringing, same early job experiences, and our birthdays are both in February, the 7th and the 9th.
We used to try to celebrate each of our birthdays plus Valentine’s Day separately, but usually one or the other would get short shrift due to the compressed timetable. The fact that my mom’s birthday is the same day as mine only added to the pressure to get it all right. It wasn’t long before we adopted the day in between our two birthdays as the day we’d celebrate us. We call it “Tween Day” and we make as much of it as we can by dining out, catching a movie, and sometimes even making a weekend getaway.
By the time Valentine’s Day rolls around, we don’t make much of it since we’ve already celebrated our relationship during the birthday bonanza. We still acknowledge the day with cards, chocolates, red wine, and if my husband is really on his game, maybe roses. It works for us!
SNEAK A MOMENT TOGETHER
Valentine’s Day is a shoebox that looks like a narwhal.
It’s grocery shopping in January and your kids are like THE VALENTINES ARE OUT and you’re like, well, isn’t that fun.
It’s brainstorming how to make a shoebox look like a narwhal when you have the crafting skills of a toddler and your child has big dreams. Would an ice-cream cone make a good narwhal tooth? Can we just print something from online? Can someone Etsy me one? OMG I just considered paying someone to make a valentine shoebox—is this who I’ve become?
It’s Valentine’s Morning, putting homework in folders and tucking gloves into backpacks and making sure everyone leaves the house with shoes on. It’s going back inside to get dry socks because someone did not, indeed, leave the house with shoes on. It’s transporting the narwhal shoebox to school without breaking it and ruining someone’s LIFE and possibly the entire WORLD.
It’s working all day, kinda like every other day except with chocolate.
It’s picking up the kids and making dinner and “eat your chicken or no candy from the shoebox.”
It’s bedtime snuggles and tucking your little valentines in and thinking about how much your definition of love expands when you have kids.
And it’s sitting down, looking your husband in the face and saying, “Hi. How was your day? How ARE you? I miss you.”
It’s wine and takeout and maybe, just maybe, watching a movie all the way through.
It’s talking and laughing and dreaming and just being together.
Because you aren’t together enough. There isn’t time like there used to be. But on Valentine’s Day, you make time. You celebrate this crazy-awesome life you’ve made together, even if it’s in sweats on the couch.
And then you totally sneak candy out of the narwhal shoebox because what the hell, you earned it.