I’ve had some great Valentine’s Days. An ex screaming at me as we drove through hours of snow-covered road after all flights were grounded out of town. At least two canceled dates, one of which was via text and read: “I just got back together with my ex and we’re in love.” One where I walked home from a date on Valentine’s Day and got mugged.

Nevertheless I’ve also seen more egregiously embarrassing and saddening attempts by my fellow men on the day. Some of what follows may seem like common sense, but let me tell you my friend, it’s not remotely common sense. If you read all the way through and say “damn, I do all of these things,” and the person isn’t happy, you’re either dating the wrong person or you missed a spot.

The advice below is exhaustive, and over the top—but it’s the best cheat sheet I can give for the modern idiot from my own modern idiocy.

If you’re thinking Valentine’s Day is a big capitalist sham and a trick for Hallmark to get you to buy dildos or whatever it is they sell at Hallmark, you are probably crappy at romance and you have made up lots of excuses to compensate for your deficiency as a partner.

In essence, it all comes down to the big flappy things you have either side of your head called ears and learning the lost art of not being a huge, unbelievable dipshit. As a certified dipshit myself, one that has made many mistakes and somehow recovered, it’s very easy to be a good boyfriend or husband if you actually think.

Also, if you’re thinking Valentine’s Day is a big capitalist sham and a trick for Hallmark to get you to buy dildos or whatever it is they sell at Hallmark, you are probably crappy at romance and you have made up lots of excuses to compensate for your deficiency as a partner.

1. Remember The Basics, I’ll Get To Specifics.
I was specifically told not to rewrite this article by a woman about how to not (totally) half-ass Valentine’s Day. There are good ideas here. Use ’em.

Nail the basics. Card (some people don’t like cards but assume they do). Flowers. Some sort of plan for the evening. Some sort of gift. Chocolates are a good place to start. If you need this advice I can probably not help you. Put your phone down during dinner. Sex her good. That kinda thing.

2. Seriously, Ask Her What She Wants (Or Doesn’t Want). Preferably a while before Valentine’s Day.
If you haven’t got her a gift yet, this may blow up in your face, which you deserve as you’re an idiot, but for future Valentine’s Days and general romance, it’s not hard to simply ask. Now, don’t just walk up to her and blurt “GIRL, I DON’T GOT NO IDEAS,” because that’s never ending well, as I found out once. There isn’t anything wrong with nudging and saying “Honey, what kind of things do you actually like for Valentine’s Day?”

Now, some girls will not like this, because it’s not romantic to not know exactly what they want. Guess what? That’s a damn sight better than you swinging and missing. Yes, the thought counts, but if you fuck up egregiously, getting that special someone a book instead of, say, a wallet, the thought will indeed count, but the gift may not.

That being said, it’s OK to fuck up once, if it’s very clear you tried.

If it is something of meaning to her and you get it for her, that means you care, not that you are the Royal Bank of Boyfriend.

I’ve learned in advance what my girlfriend likes (no diamonds, no red roses, her favorite gems, etc.), what flowers she prefers, and so on. These are the building blocks of a Valentine’s Day. I’m taking her to Napa and it’ll be lovely, but she even hinted at some particular things she’d want to see, possibly sensing I’m an idiot that’d forget. This isn’t to say that you have to spend insane amounts of money, but you need to get her something she actually wants to show you, well, care.

Note: If you’re the kind of guy who is about to comment “erm actually if a woman can only understand how much I care based on fiscal things…” that is not what this means, not what your girlfriend means, and unbelievably stupid of you. You spending money here is not a transaction, it is showing you care enough to purchase or get something made or make or do something good—if it is something of meaning to her and you get it for her, that means you care, not that you are the Royal Bank of Boyfriend.

3. Learn For God’s Sake What Your Girlfriend’s Hints Sound Like.
If you can’t listen, you’re bad at relationships. This isn’t a trite, stupid thing where I tell you about just sitting there attentively. Listen to the words and, as best you can, interpret them into useful information on a daily basis to make your partner happy.

At times, she may mention liking or disliking something. This is important. Because if it is a thing she likes, she may want to receive it in the future! If she doesn’t like it, she won’t want it!

This also means you carefully understand and interpret certain other things. For example: I’ve regularly heard guys say “oh she doesn’t want expensive things.” This does not mean, as many guys misinterpret it, that she doesn’t want you to buy her, say, a $30 wallet. It means she doesn’t want a $300 wallet, or even a $100 wallet. There’s scale at play here. I’m using the wallet example very specifically because I’ve seen it come up before—the guy usually takes “no expensive things” to mean “I’ll get her a book” or “I’ll make something mediocre because it shows how much I care.”

Don’t write her a song unless she really likes that. My main dude, it’s a bad idea and I’ve heard it fail so badly that the girl broke up with the guy while laughing at him. (That wasn’t me by the way.)

At some point in a conversation with your girlfriend you will, I promise you my friend, hear things she likes. If she wants egregiously expensive things, that isn’t necessarily a request for them—it’s just a want. But if she needs a new wallet? Go look for something affordable—Coach, Michael Kors, I don’t know. Try and get some sort of hint from her about what it is she wants, that’s at least quasi-romantic.

This may mean making something for her—heck, just getting one of those quirky photo-frames that’s a series of all-over-the-place holes to put photos you can print at CVS may do the trick.

But really, save up some damn money, God. It’s not about the money, it’s about the effort. Unless you’re some amazing painter or a wizard or something, in which case do that.

Don’t write her a song unless she really likes that. My main dude, it’s a bad idea and I’ve heard it fail so badly that the girl broke up with the guy while laughing at him. (That wasn’t me by the way.)

4. You Need To Know These Things About Her To Be A Good Boyfriend But They Sure Help On Valentine’s Day.
Here’re the questions to answer. I realize you’ve probably got a lot of conceptions of what “works” and what is “great” but each “person” is “different” you “idiot.”

What’s Romantic to her?  Is it a walk through that one park you made your messy, terribly unrefined move on her in? Does she love baths? What can you do with what you’ve got that will recreate romantic moments in your history?

Does she like flowers? What kind? If she doesn’t, is there something else that’s an arrangement of sorts—a Banzai Tree even—that she might?

I realize you have heard all girls like champagne and chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Congratulations, you have learned a cultural trope. You are a barely functioning human. Learn what alcohol she likes, if she likes it.

Does she like chocolate? What kind? Dark chocolate? Truffles? If she doesn’t like sweet things, is there a kind of thing she does like that’s edible that you can get—toffee-covered apples? Ethel M, Godiva, Ghirardelli —all of these are far from what you’d call cheap, but you have to do this once a year.

If she drinks, what does she love? No no, I realize you have heard all girls like champagne and chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Congratulations, you have learned a cultural trope. You are a barely functioning human. Learn what alcohol she likes, if she likes it.

5. Get The Basics of Actual Romance Together You Clowning Sewer Dweller—It’s Not That Hard, It’s About Both of You, So Do Your Part.
While girls are different, and thinking is hard, it is actually fairly easy to do romantic things. Hell, there’s still time if you totally blew it to go on Amazon and throw together a remarkably romantic moment. Just buy some fake rose petals, get some LED candles, get into the bedroom early, put them all around. Get a Bluetooth speaker and find out what songs she finds romantic, then have a playlist going of those very same songs. Prime shipping means you can get things quickly and easily, even if you’re disorganized and very stupid!

This is a very basic thing you can do that will elevate you above many, many men. This isn’t to say it’s all you should do, either, but guess what? It’s not about the money, it’s about the fact your job, tonight, and if we’re perfectly honest every night, is to make her feel very special.

That is the basic tenet of Valentine’s Day. You can harrumph all you want, bonelord, about how “equal rights” has something to do with this. It doesn’t. It is a special day, about love, and you need to show her love. She’ll do her part or she won’t, and if you’re concerned about that you’re a big baby or your relationship is in the toilet anyway.

Nice and slow, buddy. I know, you want to get “it on” “in bed” “totally having sex,” but this is the time to really slow it down and make it an intimate moment.

6. How To Do Sex Proper and Good.
I am not going to tell you the complete 101 on how to have sex, as this breaks the sex-haver’s code, but here’re some good ideas:

Foreplay. Yes, yes, it’s obvious, but seriously, whatever gets her going, do that. Do a lot of that. A slow burn that does not last 5 minutes, unless she is just that eager to jump your bones, in which case follow her lead.

Focus on her, not you! Remember that “things she likes” concept? It’s probably in the bedroom too. It’s time for you to crank it up versus crank your hog. Does she like oral copulation? It’s time to do that about as many times as she wants. Does she always get off in a particular position? It is game time, coach is depending on you, hit that spot. This is your job. Every time, really, but really this time is very important, good Lord, you do not want to miss this one.

Don’t put pressure on her to do stuff for you: I have heard many guys say “Well if she doesn’t have hot lingerie on why the hell am I being the one that does all the effort?” Shut up, shut up, shut up. If you like stuff, and she cares, it’ll happen. If it doesn’t you have probably failed to communicate. She could be selfish! I don’t know your girlfriend, but I’m going to use my years of experience of knowing men and hearing them say dumb shit and assume you probably either didn’t tell her or you don’t make enough effort.

Romance is good: Yes I am sure you are man, god of all creations, and your sex is so awesome she just doesn’t care about the fuck-doing. You’re an idiot if you read that sentence and nodded. Touch her face, look into her eyes—you should be doing this already, oh my God—but really, you should be doing these things if you actually care for her.

Do not rush it: Nice and slow, buddy. I know, you want to get “it on” “in bed” “totally having sex,” but this is the time to really slow it down and make it an intimate moment.

Afterward do not immediately get up and shower or clean yourself off: Buddy, slow it down. Take it in. Enjoy the moment. Let her enjoy the moment. Unless you desperately need to pee, which can happen, in which case pee like you are putting out a fire and get right back in, perhaps get her a glass of water while you’re up.

If you fuck up, try and make it romantic or loving: I’m not gonna say I’ve blown it during sex with the woman I love, but I have 100 percent done it. I have either finished too fast or I have, one might say, partaken too much in the “alcohol.” You have two choices: 1. Get down there soldier and finish the job. If she’s horribly embarrassed this might not work, but if you say “no, I really want to do this,” and she is buying what you’re selling, get it done. You’re dedicated to making her happy, right? Right? 2. Keep her warm, keep her happy, wait for Mr. Happy to get happy, and then return to the start. You blew it once, but now you’re back. Make it good this time, my friend.

 If you are really out for the count, don’t become a moody idiot: If she’s mad at you, apologize sincerely. She has every right to be if, for example, you drank too much whiskey and your penis is only useful for tending to a zen garden inefficiently.  If you truly care, hell, tell her the truth—you’re in love with her (if you’re there), you care, your limp dingdong is not a sign of not being attracted, but you truly goddamn drank too much and while you are an idiot, you care about her immensely. This may not save your ass, but this is now a time when you are going to have to make up a great deal of ground.

7. If You’re Thinking Of Her And Making An Effort It’ll Most Likely Be OK.
I’ve lined this up like you need to create a gigantic world of love-filled bliss, but truthfully if you’re putting more than 10 minutes into your Valentine’s Day thoughts, if you plan a night and think of what makes her love all your worthlessness,  and what you love about her, you will do brilliantly.

8. In Conclusion: Use Your Brain.
Valentine’s Day to a lot of guys becomes this panic room scenario of expectations, when in fact it’s you demonstrating that you care on a specific day of the year. As I’ve repeatedly said, you should every day. This is a specific one where the girl you care for will have expectations, but if she’s reasonable she will not expect a horse encrusted with diamonds riding her to her favorite restaurant, which is full of Jimmy Choos.

She wants to see you care—which may likely involve you caring enough to purchase something for her, which you should be capable of doing or saving to do as February 14 happens every year. This is about her, your job is to make her feel the emotional context in your brain that means that you stay with her, through whatever means you can communicate that. If you truly don’t have a pot to piss in, you are going to have a tougher time. But it’s OK. You’ll do OK. It’s not as big a deal as it seems, but it’s also important enough that you may need to think for two seconds.

You love, or at least really like her. Hopefully I’ve helped you show her how.

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