It seems like every fresh new year immediately lurches from one hangover (New Year's Eve) to another (Super Bowl Sunday), and all of a sudden, it's Valentine's Day! Sneaky, really. And let's face it: It's hard to plan something romantic when your head won't stop pounding.
And even when you do remember, there's so many unwritten rules about Valentine's Day, it's just plain awkward. And no, it doesn't get any better when you get married. That "what will we do this year" emptiness stays with you, for better or worse. Mostly worse.
Here are a few things to keep in mind about Valentine's Day. Hopefully this will clear up any confusion that comes with the event.
Although Valentine's Day is supposed to celebrate couples, it's really all about women. Understand this and you have already won. Period.
Valentine's Day is to women what Christmas is to kids: There has to be a present in there somewhere. Suck. It. Up. A small present is fine, but come on -- don't buy it from Walgreens, CVS or Duane Reade. Mortified.
Brownie points taste best in the morning. Do the breakfast dishes. Or get up a little early to make her coffee. Both of these are small gestures that will go a long way. Not long enough to nullify rule No. 2, however.
Sending something -- chocolates or flowers -- to the office scores major points. She will be the envy of all her female coworkers. Now is a good time to tell you that a) when your woman is on the receiving end of office envy, you have just doubled your brownie points, and b) office envy is a two-way street: The wrong way leads to the dog house.
Despite what the magazines tell you, Valentine's Day is one of the few occasions where clichés are OK. Women may fantasize about a unique experience, but really, the staples (flowers and/or chocolate) are just fine.
Can't decide between chocolate and flowers? Do both. And wine. Lots of wine.
Dinner is always involved on Valentine's Day, and, yes, you fellas are in charge of picking the place, making the reservation and paying for it. Nothing sucks the pleasure out of V-Day more than when a woman has to decide where to go -- and then make the reservation. This is true any time of the year, but it's especially joy-sucking now.
Oh, and a picnic is a suitable alternative, as long as he does the cooking, packing and planning.
Also, dinner doesn't have to be on Valentine's Day itself. Eating in an overcrowded restaurant + being served by a harried wait staff that just wants you out so the next people can be seated = agitation, not romance. Just be sure to work out the details ahead of time so she knows you remembered.
Back in the day, the most outward sign of true (young) love was giving the gift of a mixtape. Modernize the notion by downloading and burning your sentimental songs to a CD. Better yet, we've done the hard part for you by assembling a playlist of 40 cute, cuddly and downright romantic country songs. Use these to help establish the proper romantic ambiance for Valentine's Day. It's OK to pretend it was your idea. Candles optional (but highly encouraged).