Nervous about Valentine's Day? So are we.
No matter how hard you prepare for the holiday, Feb. 14 seems to always be accompanied by some level of awkwardness. Who pays for dinner? Is there such thing as too many gifts? Is it too late to order flowers?
All relationships are different, but you might feel better after reading these four different approaches to Valentine's Day.
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I'm buying Valentine's dinner this year. I'm not eating with girlfriends or a casual acquaintance, but rather my long-term boyfriend.
When I tell people I buy my boyfriend presents and sometimes dinner for Valentine's Day, they usually roll their eyes -- as if sharing the responsibility of Feb. 14 is somehow a recipe for disaster.
I disagree with the common assumption that Valentine's Day is all about women. Maybe it was in the past, but now many women's Web sites feature cupid-inspired gift guides for readers shopping for their boyfriends.
When it comes to pampering, I talk a good game. But I've never been one to sit back and expect things to be all about me -- especially on a day that's supposed to be about mutual affection.
Valentine's Day celebrates a special bond, your decision to share a part of your life with somebody else. Being in a relationship sometimes means choosing to buy a two-person steak dinner instead of nice shoes, or a "Star Wars" gadget instead of new nail polish.
That kind of selflessness isn't gender-specific. And Valentine's Day shouldn't be, either.
I anticipated being engaged would change a lot about the relationship I have with my boyfriend.
But obviously, even my terminology hasn't changed much - I have a hard time referring to him as my "fiance" too frequently, though I do enjoy throwing around "husband-to-be" every now and then.
Regardless of what I call him, he's still pretty much the same person I started dating three years ago.
He's funny, supportive, kind and he can be extremely thoughtful and sweet, but he's still a guy (ever heard "I'm Still A Guy" by Brad Paisley? It could be his theme song).
After he slid that ring on my finger, things didn't change much. And when I really think about it, I didn't expect them to.
As we approach our first Valentine's Day as an engaged couple, my desk will probably be absent of flowers, just as in the years before.
He's much too practical to spend money on something that will only last a few days.
I won't lie, I sometimes pout about it. But in the long run I know that he loves me and no socially prescribed gesture, or lack thereof, changes that.
Besides, I've got a sparkly promise on my finger that will stay with me much longer than any bouquet of lilies or tulips.
So if your guy isn't the flower-sending, sweep-you-off-your-feet type on Valentine's Day before you're engaged, chances are he won't be like that after he pops the question either.
But that certainly doesn't mean you're loved any less than your co-worker with two dozen long stems on her desk.
If you're like most men, Valentine's Day is an enigma. You know you're supposed to do something, but you're not sure what. Do you send roses? Buy her a nice meal? Surprise her with a gift? The answer to all of these questions is, of course, yes.
It's easier in Japan, where they have Valentine's Day and, a month later, "White Day." The women give gifts to the men on Valentine's Day. Then on March 14 those men give gifts worth about three times as much as they ones they got from the women.
Everyone knows their role, and it makes the whole scenario that much easier. Not so much in America, where you're likely still wondering whether you have to take her out to eat if Valentine's Day is a Sunday. Again, the answer is yes.
Here's a few pointers to those men who might not know the difference between a yellow and red rose:
Buy her flowers This cannot be emphasized enough. I don't care if you forgot and it's now going to cost you $100. If she has a job, make sure those flowers are on her desk for everyone to see. If she's a stay-at-home mom, a student of whatever, flowers are still a necessity. It's best if you plan ahead. If not, run to the grocery store and buy anything that's red.
Make dinner reservations Call the restaurant right now. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. It doesn't have to be the most expensive place in town, but it better not have Skee-Ball. Think dimmed lights, quiet music and two glasses of the second least expensive red wine.
Get her a gift I'm not suggesting you break the bank. In fact, you don't have to spend much money at all. Valentine's Day really is the day when the thought counts. Remember the last time she said she wanted something? It could be a pair of $10 earrings, or some stationery or even a poem you wrote yourself. It's not the amount of money the gift costs, it's the fact that it came from you.
And trust me, it doesn't matter how bad the poetry is, she'll still love it.
When your boyfriend surprises you with diamonds on Valentine's Day, it's thrilling. You can hardly wait to show your girlfriends how much he really does love you. Instead of buying rounds of shots for his buddies at the local bar, he's spent his hard-earned paycheck on you. Hello, bliss.
When you're married and you get diamonds, things are a bit different. After the initial joy of being given something sparkly, you realize your homemade card and $10 iTunes gift certificate are going to be a bust. Why didn't you spring for that plasma TV he's been wanting? Hello, guilt.
Then a strange thought forms in your mind. Since you share a bank account and both your paychecks are deposited into that account, you realize you've sort of bought yourself a diamond necklace. Then another thought hits you. Hubby has, once again, ignored your nagging request about making major purchases as a team. You wonder how much longer you'll have to save up for that dining room table that you need. Does he really think that ping-pong table is a good substitute? Hello, resentment.
Luckily, there is a way to forever stay in the blissful stages of the Valentine's Day gift exchange and never enter the resentment and guilt stages.
Husbands: Don't panic and buy something expensive at the last minute. Plan ahead. Buy flowers and one small gift. Sure, chocolates are a cliche, but they're still appreciated. A nice dinner out with you wearing that "itchy" shirt she gave you for Christmas will make her happy.
Wives: Don't say "let's not exchange gifts" if you don't mean it. If you put a spending limit on Valentine's Day gifts, stick to it. If you want flowers, tell him. If you don't want chocolates because you're watching your weight, tell him.