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Do Valentine’s the Day Before

Emptiness is the key to romance. Photo: sammyvision/Getty Images

I once came across a highly detailed date itinerary, specially printed on pink paper with a red heart border, that had been abandoned at a bar. Because of the aesthetic choices, I believe the schedule outlined a perfect Valentine’s Day, one with carefully calibrated pit stops for brunch, a “XXX” shower, music lessons — a time-stamped agenda, each activity relegated to roughly an hour, no room for spontaneity. Thoughtful of the planner, of course, to take their beloved out on the town. Just a lot to cram into like 12 hours.

When I found this relic, I wondered whether the couple had managed to stay the course without their road map to guide them. I still think about it a lot, especially when Valentine’s Day rolls around and, with it, the obligation to Make a Plan. If you want to partake in any of the extra-pricey prix fixe menus that restaurants in New York City, at least, adopt on February 14, you must make reservations! If you want to hide by yourself in a dark movie theater, you must purchase tickets in advance or find every show sold out! Even the corner bar will be awash with people doing dates, and you will watch, shivering on the sidewalk like an urchin child, because you failed to factor in romantic excess!

It doesn’t need to be this way, though — not if you accept my humble proposal to do Valentine’s the day before. Because even if you accept Valentine’s Day as a time to celebrate people you like by buying them lots of saccharine nonsense as a full 24 hours of active partner appreciation, then you probably also have to admit that it doesn’t matter when you choose to do it. The date itself is arbitrary. There’s no special sauce that makes February 14 inherently more romantic than any other day, but in its current iteration, there are certainly ingredients that bring the sexy quotient way down.

My day-of V-Day experiences have always operated basically this way: I reluctantly agree to go outside on February 14, although I know I won’t like it one bit; my bad attitude arguably manifests some of the annoyances to come. I arrive at the designated “chill bar” or quiet-on-every-other-night dinner spot, only to find it festooned in hearts and very loud because of what appear to be extra tables trucked in for the occasion. My incredulity increases. I sit down to an overpriced “special menu,” i.e., fewer options for more money, and attempt to keep my face normal and not mad while straining to hear my companion’s commentary on his day, the game plan, whatever. I am disappointed to find said commentary drowned out by the neighboring table’s boisterous Palentine’s Day celebration. If hell is other people, then Valentine’s Day is absolutely one of its nine circles. It’s hard to feel like your celebration is special or intimate when everyone around you is doing exactly the same thing.

But consider February 13: Most people will be home on Valentine’s Eve preparing their bodies for the big night, which leaves the typical date spots mostly devoid of flirty patrons. This was my experience last year, at least, when I landed on a dinner date for February 13 not as a V-Day stand-in but simply because people also eat dinner then, and why not us? Turns out I was able to hear every word my dining companion said without even having to scream “WHAT?” at him repeatedly. With the entire restaurant to ourselves, our server’s complete attention, and a full menu to choose from, we ordered four to six dishes at random — an exciting food roulette — and just … talked. I must say, it felt very festive indeed, this illusion of exclusivity, approximate, I imagine, to how Taylor Swift feels when she wants to exercise at a specific gym and has her security clear out all the normals. Very powerful indeed.

This ability to have a real conversation at a regular volume without 18 other people listening in, to actually focus on a person, feels more intimate to me than the performative public affection that often comes with Valentine’s Day. Of course, you could avoid all of that completely by simply staying home and making a purportedly intercourse-inducing penne, maybe even an Engagement Chicken if you are feeling ambitious, or a nice, sensual … chicken parm. But if you really want to make the occasion special — i.e., “readily distinguished from” and possibly also “superior” to “others of the same category” by virtue of being unusual, per a composite Merriam-Webster definition — celebrate when everyone else doesn’t. It could be February 13! It could be whenever the Super Bowl is, which also absolves you of having to watch it! It could be anywhere from March 2 to April 24, any time during the long and dreary why-is-it-still-winter stretch that demands you create things to look forward to! It truly doesn’t matter what day you choose, although it’s worth noting that the candies go on sale February 15. Maybe that’s actually your time to shine.

Do Valentine’s the Day Before