“Quarantine Valentine’s Day” might sound like a young adult series set in 3000, but it’s our current reality, and it’s nowhere near as fun as a dystopian romance novel. Valentine’s Day is stressful as is, and now it falls just as we near the anniversary of lockdown: Eleven months stuck inside spending every waking hour in our partner’s proximity isn’t exactly a walk in the park, especially when walks in the park are pretty much the only recreational outdoor time anyone gets anymore. At this point, alone time and date nights have both gone extinct, — and romance feels endangered too.
That was my logic, at least, so I plunged into work, perpetually flaking on date nights to prioritize what I deemed productive instead. But it backfired, and I not only burned out, but nearly broke up my marriage, too. Today, my husband and I are better than ever, but it took a lot of work, professionally and otherwise. It turns out partnerships are like plants: They require consistent love, work and attention, and keeping them alive isn’t as easy as you’d think. (*eyes dead succulent on desk*)
In short: Relationships, unlike Netflix, can’t be put on pause, even if the world outside remains at a stand still.
“It’s extremely important to keep your relationship vital and energized as much as you can during quarantine,” Dr. Diana Wiley, marriage and sex therapist and author of Love in the Time of Corona, explains over the phone. “Valentine’s Day is a day to focus on love, and an excellent way to connect in a deeper and meaningful way.”
Keep things simple
Quite like Christmas, Hallmark films (and cards) have escalated Valentine’s Day expectations well into the unattainable, and can feel overwhelming. So this year, when times are tough as is, just focus on keeping things easy. ‘The most important thing is to ensure date night doesn’t feel like a chore,” says Marsha-Ann Donaldson Brown, Director of Weddings and Romance at Sandals Resorts. “This is one of the reasons why people have us organize their weddings – too often, couples have stressed themselves numb instead of being able to enjoy the day. So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself or each other — it’s more important to be attentive and make sure that you both enjoy the time together.”
That said, an exciting Valentine’s, and the concept of romance over all, can mean different things for different people. “It’s centrally important that partners prioritize activities that make them feel close and intimate,” Sarah Melancon, Ph.D, Sociologist and Clinical Sexologist, adds. “It doesn’t matter so much how a couple bonds, but simply that they do.” Keep this in mind! You can’t fail Valentine’s Day (or a date night).
Make a plan
I can’t get anything done unless it’s written in my planner. Why would Valentine’s Day be different? (It’s not.) “Life can get really busy, and prioritizing couple time can get lost in the day to day,” Beverley Andre, Marriage and Family Therapist and owner of BeHeart Counseling Services, explains. “I recommend putting it on the calendar and scheduling it — date night, sex, cuddle buddy time whatever it may be! While it may not always be sexy or spontaneous, being intentional is effective and can still coexist with spontaneous moments.” There’s science to back this, too: Research has found that you’re 42 percent more likely to accomplish goals if you write them down.
On that (literal) note, Wiley suggests more than just writing it down: Actually plan it out. “If a couple has a plan, they feel anticipation. They might imagine romantic aspects of the upcoming evening together,” she says, adding that she refers to this phenomenon as “anticipatory foreplay.”
You can even take the foreplay a step further, and plan something else while you’re at it. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Applied Positive Research, simply planning a trip for the future can make you happier. Why not surprise your loved one with a travel photography coffee table book? Two birds, one romantic stone.
Do what you want to do
Valentine’s Day tends to trap us into thinking we have to celebrate a certain way, but here’s a little secret: You can actually do whatever you want. Otherwise, you might end up making the day worse. “If a couple feels pressure to do what’s culturally expected but it doesn’t light them up personally, it can feel stressful, which can decrease their sense of connection,” Melancon says. “It should be about you as a couple. Ignore stuffed teddy bears and candy hearts if you hate them!”
If couples aren’t butting heads over how to spend the day, Andre suggests having “a conversation about how they can redefine Valentine’s Day so that it reflects where they are emotionally and mentally.” Just be sure to remember that bigger isn’t always better: According to a study led by Paired’s Chief Relationship Officer Professor Dr. Jacqui Gabb, small, everyday interactions between couples are far more appreciated than grandiose gestures, and can help sustain healthy relationships over time. There’s no need to go all out with balloons and various heart-shaped paraphernalia. Offer to do the dishes or put the kids to bed instead!
Plus, all those grand plans may not even translate well to lockdown life. “A full-out five course dinner may sound awesome, but by the time you’d be done cooking, chances are you’d be exhausted,” Melancon points out. “What’s the appeal of a fancy dinner? It feels special? In that case, adding a bottle of wine and some pre-made frozen appetizers to your dinner could help create that feeling in a simple way.”
I’ve personally been living in Target sweatsuits, but force myself to change out of them and into “real” clothing for date nights, just so things feel different. And it actually works! “Being in lockdown together has created some habits that are not conducive for a romantic evening together, or more importantly for your whole relationship,” Wiley admits. “Dressing up is a good thing. It helps the wearer feel sexier and shows their partner that you’ve taken some time to prepare for this.”
Plus, when it comes to apparel, there are actually advantages to being stuck at home. In quarantine, “you are really just dressing for yourself and your partner, not to impress someone else,” Brown adds. “It’s the perfect occasion to be courageous or creative, you can even add a theme. Just go with what works best for just the two of you.”
I hope this goes without saying, but the most important part of Valentine’s Day is that you and your partner have a good time together. As we’ve said, this looks different for everyone: Maybe you’re looking to get experimental in the bedroom, and can use Dr. Diana’s “sex menu” to try something new. Perhaps you’ll cook a meal together, or would rather avoid dishes and opt to order food online.
Whatever you and your partner decide — whether it’s feeding each other chocolates in lingerie or playing video-games with pizza — is best for you. And that’s all that matters.