By Brian Panowich
I’m no Shakespeare. Not even close.
I’m no Pablo Neruda or Emily Brontë, or even Nicholas Sparks for that matter. I’m not even Andrew Lincoln’s beloved character, Mark, from the iconic film Love Actually, with his scene-stealing posterboard signs professing his unrequited love for Keira Knightley’s character, Juliet. In fact, the entire amount of knowledge that I’ve accumulated about love over the past 40-something years of my existence would fill a teacup on a good day, if I’m lucky. Love can be tricky and un-understandable for some people — most people, I might guess. Which means the month of February and the 14-day countdown to a holiday that some people say was invented by the greeting card industry makes us feel anxious and neurotic.
Yes — Valentine’s Day.
We all get thrown into the deep end at an early age, too. Remember exchanging little paper valentines in elementary school, hoping to get that one special token of affection from your first crush? Or the flower-grams you could buy for a dollar and send to your girlfriend’s homeroom in high school? Man, that was nerve-wracking. The next thing you know, school’s out, you’re in your first serious relationship, and the idea of dropping the ball on your first Valentine’s Day feels like the ultimate deal-breaker, only to get harder and harder to top as the years go by. And then the cavalcade of jewelry store advertisements starts, and all the Whitman’s Samplers begin to fly off the shelves of every store in town, while you find yourself humming “Every kiss begins with Kay” in your sleep. The feeling of getting it right can be straight-up debilitating.
Luckily, you have me.
Now, I know I started this column off by saying I’m no expert on love and I’m not. So, it goes without saying that taking “Dear Abby” instruction from me about your relationship would be ill-advised. But while I may not be a guru on the concept of love itself, I am a major hopeless romantic (with a minor in grand gestures). So, gentleman, and maybe some of you ladies out there, who are beginning to suffer from the V-Day shakes, don’t panic. You just stumbled on the most important page in this magazine to get you through it.
I’ll begin by saying, yes, some people like the standard bouquet of roses and the heart-shaped box of chocolates, or a piece of jewerly. If that is working for you, then by all means, stick to it. But I’m here to tell you that you can do so much better with a little effort, a lot of listening and maybe a hot glue gun.
First, don’t buy a card. Don’t let someone at Hallmark speak for you so that all you have to do is sign your name with a flourish. Make one instead. I know — you don’t have the heart of a poet and the store-bought cards say what you want to say so much better than you can. That’s where you’re wrong. Trust me: The worse you are with wordplay, the better it will be. In fact, go back to your elementary school days, channel your inner child and write it all out with crayon. Use every color in the box. Doodle all over it. Draw stick figures holding hands or a blue whale with stick-on googly eyes. The sky is the limit. Glue on some plastic jewels or foil hearts and stars. It will be the one card your loved one remembers forever and will hang on the refrigerator door all year long. No card from Target is going to do that. Also, who says you need to wait until the 14th? Make a few more leading up to the big day and tape them, one day at a time, to the mirror in the bathroom, or to the windshield of the car. Let them know you are on point the whole week before. That’s how it’s done.
Now, what about dinner? Sure, that fancy gastropub with the menu that doesn’t list its prices is impressive but take your partner there a few days before the holiday, when the whole joint belongs to you — just because. But on the big day, cook dinner yourself. Right — I know — you can’t cook. Again, this works in your favor. Grab Vera Stewart’s cookbook off the shelf, pick something really complicated, roll up your sleeves and go at it. The bigger the mess, the more it will mean. And who knows, you might just surprise yourself. Just make sure your sweetheart knows you plan to clean the kitchen yourself, and be ready with the take out. Cuddled up on the couch with some Chinese food after an epic fail at a homemade dinner, this meal will be the one you’ll talk about forever. It also makes for a shorter trip to the bedroom than a car ride home from across town. You’re welcome.
Also, don’t skimp on the wine. Never skimp on the wine.
And now the gift. This one depends on all the “listening” I mentioned earlier and should be custom-tailored to your mate. One example I love to tell people about is the year a friend of mine bought his wife a book. Not a book that he had any interest in, but one he knew she would like, and he read the first chapter to her. They took turns reading one chapter a night to each other, and it lasted well past the month of February. It’s now a tradition in their house, and it keeps them talking to each about something other than work or kids or bills every night all year long. That beautiful line of communication in itself is the perfect gift.
And there you have it. Take Valentine’s Day by the horns and make it yours. Be the romantic your mate always wanted you to be. Be one of a kind. You got this.
Photo by Rinck Content Studio on Unsplash
Appears in the February/March 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.