Several years ago, my husband and I made what we consider one of the biggest mistakes of our dating life. We went out to eat on Valentine’s Day evening. Without reservations. Our first stop was Olive Garden. The estimated two-plus hour wait to be seated scared us away, and we hopped back in the car and drove across town to The Cheesecake Factory. A similarly long wait time there led us to a nearby Panera.
I love Panera. My husband? Not so much. He was famished by this time and a tiny bit cranky. As we stood staring up at the menu on the wall behind the counter he said, “This is like reading a foreign language. I don’t even know what half of that stuff is.” So off we went again.
This time we landed at a pizza place in the food court at the mall. Super romantic, right? Corey ordered a couple of slices of meat lovers pizza, and the high school kid behind the counter pointed to the display case in front of us and said, “That’s all we’ve got left.” Three pieces of sausage pizza. We bought them all, found a table where we could devour them, and never went out for a Valentine’s Day dinner again, which brings me to my list of Valentine’s Day date ideas.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Solovyova
1. Go Out for a Valentine's Day Lunch
Do a little research before choosing your lunch destination. Many restaurants regularly run special deals over the lunch hour, and some will have special Valentine’s Day deals. With a little planning, you should be able to save a few bucks and avoid the long dinnertime wait while still getting the same yummy food and romantic quality time.
2. Pick a Movie and Coordinate Your Dinner or Dessert with that Movie
For example, when Corey and I were watching the Harry Potter series with friends, we found a recipe for butter beer and made it as a treat on one of our movie nights. Other suggestions? Buy a box of gourmet chocolates to eat while watching Chocolat. Grab yourselves some Happy Meals and watch The Founder. Practice your French cooking while you watch Julie and Julia. Try your hand at ratatouille, and watch the movie with the same name.
3. Take Dance Lessons
Corey and I signed up for ballroom dance lessons at a nearby rec center in January 2020. We completed our lessons at the end of February, and then the world promptly shut down in March. Our last pre-Covid date was an evening out at an old ballroom in the middle of nowhere Iowa with friends we met at our class. We were the youngest in the room by multiple decades, but we had a blast dancing and wondering if someday we might be one of those happy old couples on the dance floor. You don’t have to spend the money to take a class with a live instructor as we did. Simply set aside a few nights, pick a dance style, and let YouTube be your teacher. Then on Valentine’s Day, either find a place to go dancing or dance at home in your living room.
4. Challenge Each Other to a Puzzle Race
Set up a couple of tables in your living room, buy two identical puzzles at a local Dollar Store, and have a competition to see who can finish first. The first person to complete it wins a prize. Maybe that’s picking the movie for the evening or choosing where to go for dessert, or receiving a foot or back massage. I recommend a 300(ish) piece puzzle so it doesn’t take up your whole evening but remains challenging enough.
5. Go On a Picnic
If you live in a southern state, an outdoor picnic at a local park or even in your backyard is an inexpensive way to dine out for Valentine’s Day. If you live in Iowa like me, where the temperature on February 14 can be anywhere between 60 degrees and -10 degrees, plan a picnic indoors at home. Pick a room in your house to decorate with candles, spread a quilt on the floor, make a Spotify playlist, and pack your picnic basket for a romantic, bug-free meal.
6. Play a Valentine’s Day Greeting Card Game
Head to your local Wal-Mart or Target and read Valentine’s cards to each other. See who can find the cheesiest one, the most romantic one, the funniest one, and the one with the best artwork. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy the overpriced Valentine’s cards without purchasing one. Afterward, head to the grocery section of the store and pick out a dessert to take home with you.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Jennie Clavel
7. Write Each Other Love Letters
This might be a hard sell if your husband, like mine, is more of a numbers guy than a word guy, but the effort of setting aside 30 minutes of your evening to write each other love letters and read them out loud is worth it. It will leave you both encouraged, and you will have a memento to hold onto for the rest of your life. Need some convincing that letter writing is a good idea? Check out my previous article on writing love letters.
8. Cook Together
Plan a meal, take a trip to the grocery store together for ingredients, and then head home to cook together. You can have a delicious dinner without the cost or the busyness of a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. If cooking is not your favorite thing, you can cheat a little by purchasing one of the prepackaged boxes sold at many grocery stores that come with the recipe and all of the ingredients measured out for you. This will be a little pricier than scouring the store for the ingredients yourself, but still cheaper than dining out and definitely easier than making the meal from scratch.
9. Take a Deck of Cards to a Coffee Shop
Eat a simple meal at home and then grab a deck of cards and head to the local coffee shop. Buy yourselves some fancy drinks and play some games. By eating dinner at home, you will have saved a ton of money even after splurging on a White Chocolate Latte. Plus, this will get you out of the house without the big crowds that you would find at most restaurants.
10. Experience an Escape Room in a Box
Escape rooms have been popular for several years and are a lot of fun, but at $30+ per person, they make a pretty expensive date. Corey and I have found that we like escape rooms in a box. You can find them at most stores that sell board games, and they range from beginner to expert levels. Intermediate ones tend to be our favorites. They give us a little challenge, but not so much of a challenge that our brains hurt by the end. Many escape rooms recommend more than two participants, so this may be a good one for a double date. Invite another couple over and have a Valentine’s Day date together.
11. Workout Together
Exercising may not come to many minds when they think about date ideas, but it can be a lot of fun. Many rec centers and YMCAs offer single-day passes. Find one near you and plan a workout you can do together, play some one-on-one on the basketball court, or reserve a racquetball court for an hour or two. You might even be able to find one with a swimming pool and/or a sauna so you can end your evening with a relaxing dip or a little sitting in a steam room.
12. Do Some Intentional Life Planning
Prior to Valentine’s Day, individually think about and write down some life goals. Then on Valentine’s Day, discuss your thoughts, and talk about ways to help each other reach those goals. You may have spiritual goals, like studying a certain book of the Bible or memorizing a specific passage. You might want to make saving for a family vacation a priority. Or maybe you want to work toward running your first 10K. The ideas may vary, but the key is to find ways to work together and encourage each other.
Looking at the big picture, it doesn’t really matter what romantic thing we do on Valentine’s Day or even if we do anything at all on that specific day. What does matter is that we are proactive in our marriage relationship. Every time we eat a meal together, go dancing together, read the Bible together, or watch Monday Night football together, we are building our relationship. The important thing is to be intentional about your time with your spouse, regardless of what that intentional time looks like.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Originally published Friday, 06 January 2023.