Saturday, February 6, 2010

Surviving the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – or – How to come out smelling like a rose, without spending seventy-five bucks on a dozen.

Saint Valentine’s Day – that most Hallmark of holidays – is almost upon us, and while admitting that it’s a dubious, concocted, paper occasion, we must still acknowledge the date and it’s potential for both ardor and peril. And to ensure that the advice offered herein is valid, The Good Guy has once again turned to our focus group of the fairer sex to get the legitimate low-down.

For starters, we should understand that the objects of our affections also realize the invented and inherently retail nature of the day, but none-the-less have certain expectations and desires. Many of our responders indicated that, unless the relationship had some history and weight behind it, they’d rather you didn’t acknowledge it at all. To that The Good Guy says, with all do respect, bullshit. Granted, if you’ve only seen each other a few times, and the dynamic is still strictly casual, a candle-lit Italian dinner or the delivery of a dozen red roses (in the standard cheap cut glass vase, accompanied by the ubiquitous baby’s breath) will seem exactly what it is, a clichéd reminder of a clichéd, cookie-cutter holiday. That’s not to say however that a little understanding and some creativity and effort on our behalf can’t turn this potential pitfall into opportunity. If you find yourself at that stage of the game when the fourteenth of February appears on your calendar, and sense that the relationship in question could bear more fruit, why not carpe the diem? A simple but sweet gesture would then be an appropriate indication that your interests are sincere. A handwritten card, understated, sophisticated and sincere, or an ultra-old-school valentine, a la Charlie Brown, can both meet those needs nicely. Just don’t let yourself get caught with anything in between, where syrupy pre-printed messages usurp originality and honesty. If you prefer to keep it more contemporary and much (much) lighter, several of our responders said they’d appreciate a simple text message on the day (though in this case The Good Guy can not condone, only passes the message.)

If your relationship has already evolved to the next level – anywhere from “dating” or “seeing each other” (whatever those mean anymore) to “boyfriend and girlfriend” or “a couple” not to mention the current ultimate public acknowledgment of mutual affection, Facebook’s “in a relationship” – both expectations and stakes are higher. In this scenario, the date absolutely demands its due respect. Here, flowers are almost de rigueur, though if you don’t bestow them on any other day of the year, don’t make this the one day. If you do decide to follow the floral path, insight is the key. Her favorite flower, whatever that may be, is the obvious offering. (Since we’ve already determined that the relationship has moved along, and we assume you are an astute and discreet gentleman, you have of course already determined her favorite flower. If you don’t know by now, do not under any circumstances ask within 30 days of Valentine’s Day.) Roses are acceptable, if flowers are a regular part of your romantic resume and provided you understand the weight they carry and that they should be presented simply. Forgo the aforementioned vase, baby’s breath and any other optional accompaniments. One dozen, long stemmed, wrapped in a simple ribbon, is the smart, sophisticated choice. Tulips, peonies and orchids are also all appropriately romantic, and daisies make a less serious, playful but still thoughtful stand in.

Chocolates are the other standard symbol of affection on this day, and again are acceptable when undertaken with some amount of sophistication. Visit a chocolatier, not CVS. A half dozen ripe strawberries dipped in dark chocolate also make a gift both sumptuous and sensual when shared. Take the token to another level by complementing the sweets with a bottle of wine or champagne. A rich, robust red evokes luxurious satin sheets, and of course loosens libidos. For bubbly, we prefer to skip the trendy or status brands and opt for the always appreciated yet reasonably priced Veuve Cliquot.

Lingerie has also become a popular gift dujour, but popularity does not always denote sensibility. Make sure she feels it is a gift for her, or at least the both of you, and not just an opportunity for you to ogle and almost immediately undress her. Keep it sophisticated and elegant, avoiding feathers and other exotic elements to be found in the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog, and in fact avoiding Frederick’s and their only slightly more esteemable counterpart Victoria’s Secret altogether. We love La Perla, extremely pricey, but always delicately delicious to the eyes. Round out your gift with a more practical addition, such as a luxuriously thick and soft robe, to lighten the overtly sexual overtones.

If you believe an actual Valentine’s date is appropriate, The Good Guy, as always, suggest creativity. First, feel free to celebrate the day on other than the date. Instead have “official” your Valentine’s Day date on the Friday, Saturday or any other day closest to the 14th. This will not only allow you access to a wider range of reservations, but also help you avoid the all too popular cattle call, set seating, 4 course prix fix debacles. Select a favorite spot or out of the way candle-lit bistro where ambiance precedes pretentiousness. Other acceptable and more original dining options include picnics in the park or under the stars or homemade pizzas cooked on your home court, where the advantages are numerous.

Should you prefer to present a more lasting token of your affection, keep it simple and thoughtful – think romantically practical. A few ounces of her favorite scent (if you don’t know, don’t guess, and don’t ask now), a cashmere shawl or ultra-soft kid leather gloves are timeless and lasting gestures. A hardbound edition of her favorite book, or some other item she may have mentioned and that only you will have remembered will continue to score big points long after the gift has been given. A charm with mutually understood meaning, which can be added to an existing necklace or bracelet, is simple and sweet. If your relationship has expanded beyond the previously stated borders, “I Love You’s” have been exchanged, or at least intimated, etc., and you feel a grander gesture is in order, we suggest you observe this simple rule when making your selection – If it has been advertised on television within the last 30 days (or probably ever), ignore it. Elegantly extravagant trinkets – pearl or diamond solitaire earrings - are unassailable testimonials to affection AND taste. If she has a favorite designer or shop, feel free to venture in that direction. Again, previous research on the subject pays dividends today. Quick aside – under no circumstances does The Good Guy believe you should propose marriage on Valentine’s Day. We’ll discuss in much greater detail later. Along those line however, be extremely cautious about presenting any gift (such as the above mentioned earrings) which might also come in a roughly 2” by 2” box.

In the end, how you choose to celebrate (or not) is about striving to understand (notice we didn’t presume to say understanding) the desires and sensibilities of the object of your affection. No two women are the same (and by our reckoning most aren’t even the same individually from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour) but most are pretty similar. So review the clues you’ve hopefully picked up along the way, and best of luck to you.

As an added bonus, and in no particular order, here are a few more items which received multiple mentions from our forthright (and lovely) survey respondents.

A Mix CD of her favorite songs or artists
Concert or theatre tickets
A spa day
Weekend getaway to the country or the coast
Original artwork
Cocktails and dessert (as a more casual alternative to dinner)
Sexy stilettos
A poem or song
2010 Dodge Challenger RST8 in Plum Crazy Purple

As always, The Good Guy welcomes your comments and cat-calls, so feel free to add your two cents.