Valentine’s Day: The Most Dangerous Game and How to Play It Successfully


“Just make a listicle of stuff geek girls want for Valentine’s Day.” They said.


That’s harder than it sounds. Girls aren’t a monolith, and gift-giving is an art. You can’t just checklist your way into a girl’s heart. That said, I knew we had information that guys would find helpful. I’ve taught a bunch of guy friends how to give good presents, and there’s no reason I couldn’t do it for a bunch of strangers. It is vitally important to note that this guide can never be comprehensive, and for a good reason: the best advice for gift-giving is “know the other person, then use that knowledge to pick something they would specifically like.” Still there are trends. Tendencies. Things that represent a higher chance of success, if not a sure thing.

Plus, there are always exceptions. The number one “DO NOT DO THIS” gift from the annals of popular culture is a vacuum cleaner, but I have a story about someone getting their spouse a vacuum cleaner that ends happily. If your significant other has specifically said that they love terrible Russell Stover’s candy, or if you know they adore hilariously trashy lingerie, feel free to ignore any advice to the contrary. That said, make sure you’re sure. We gathered this data via the extremely scientific method of asking a large number of ladies we know, and this list is based on those conversations. MANY of these women told stories about times when their partner thought they liked something when in fact they did not… and even after they said “thanks, but that’s not my style” they got the same thing the next year.

Finally, do not let these warnings dissuade you from making an attempt. While the thought is not the only thing that counts, any gesture that is not ENTIRELY lead-footed will be appreciated. A nice dinner is a good default, either home-cooked or at a restaurant they like. Another easy default is a homemade card that displays any amount of familiarity with the things your valentine is into. I do a whole thing on handmade cards below, but you get the idea. Do SOMETHING, thoughtful is better than generic, quality is better than quantity.

Ok, enough disclaimers. Time to get to the snark, stories, and suggestions.


Don’t: buy cheap, mass-produced chocolate.
Let’s face facts: Drug store cardboard hearts full of chocolate may have seemed like an amazing candy haul when we were kids, but that stuff is straight-up gross. If I’m going to eat cheap candy, I’ll just buy a pound of York peppermint patties in a generic bulk bag. An inexplicable assortment that is 50% adequate and 50% totally gross is not a good present.

Do: hand-pick something special from a specialty store
Small chocolatiers are an incredible source for special and relatively inexpensive gifts. I grew up in Connecticut, and there was a little family-owned shop called Munson’s Chocolates nearby. They were my family’s go-to solution for special occasion chocolates – cheaper than Godiva, and higher quality. These days, there are great little chocolate shops everywhere, from the ubiquitous See’s Candies on the west coast to the gaggle of competing heritage chocolatiers that dots the east coast. (I’ve tried a lot of these, and Munson’s is still my favorite.)

Classy and Delicious

Classy and Delicious

This works best if you have some ideas of what your partner likes. Dark or milk? Peanut butter or coconut? Cream or caramel? Major brands aren’t entirely verboten; if you know they have a specific favorite brand – like Godiva or Guylian – feel free to get them that. Small chocolate shops often often higher quality for a better deal, though.

Pro tip: if you give the gift of a fancy assortment of chocolates this year, ask your partner which ones they liked best. Write those down so you can get a custom assortment the next time you go sweet shopping. If your significant other isn’t a chocolate or candy person, think outside the candy box. A custom cupcake or a scotch tasting set could work as well.

Don’t: Send a generic, impersonal valentine
I know a lot of dudes (and ladies) just go in to CVS and buy the first red card with a heart on it they can find.  While there’s nothing wrong with something simple and heartfelt, you can at least read the inside of a few cards and find a sentiment with at least some similarity to emotions you feel.

Do: Send goofy valentines themed to her interests
It’s a bit late to set this up, but commissioned artwork from her favorite artist is always a good idea. Topatoco actually carries some valentines cards by comics creators, though this year’s crop is for very… specific tastes. Or, if you can’t spring for rush shipping, many artists post fun Valentine’s Day-themed art on Tumblr. Just find something cool and cute and make a card for your sweetie (but not for profit. I mean, you knew that, right?)

If your valentine is moderately basic, you could just print out a picture of the movie poster for The Notebook, slap that on the front of a card and write “I think we could give them a run for their money” on the inside. (Note: this is not intended as a jab against basic girls. It is well known that basic girls drive the economy, and are deserving of our respect.)

Or if your Valentine is like me, use a picture of Big Barda telling Mister Miracle that she is going to punch a shark to death from the inside as a testament to their love.

Relationship Goals

Relationship Goals

There’s also a fairly wide range of standard retail valentines for nerds, too. Chris Sims reviewed a crop of them on Comics Alliance last year, if you want to get an idea of what might be out there. I’m still hoarding a box of Gargoyles and Justice League Unlimited Valentines for the day that I meet someone who deserves them.

Don’t: buy random lingerie for your partner to wear
Lingerie is often more of a gift for the person who will enjoy looking at the lingerie than it is a gift for the person who will be wearing it. It’s also notoriously difficult to fit, and a wrong guess can ruin an evening and seriously damage self-esteem.

Do: dress up for your partner
Remember how I said lingerie is more of a present for the person who gets to see it? Corollary: if there’s some outfit your significant other likes to see you in, put that shit on. Valentine’s day is a chance to indulge them.

One of my favorite stories features a guy whose fashion sense was more slacker than sophisticate. His girlfriend had a thing for suits, so one year he decided that – as a full grown adult – he should probably own at least one good suit, and he came up with the best possible way to debut it. He made a date with his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day and implied it would be at a moderately upscale place. When he arrived to pick her up, he was not wearing his customary fancy dinner attire (which consisted of ‘that one sportcoat your mom bought you in high school when your great aunt died’). Instead, he was wearing his brand new suit, which he had gotten properly tailored so that it fit him amazingly. When his girlfriend opened the door, I saw her subconsciously reach out and touch his lapel, as if to prove to herself he was real.

Like this, but with a suit.

Like this, but with a suit.

Don’t: buy gas station flowers
Some people like flowers, some don’t, but poorly-preserved, wilting flowers make everybody sad. Even if your valentine appreciates the sentiment, their joy will turn to sorrow as the flowers fall apart in mere days. Unless you’re dating Morticia Addams (and really, we should all be so lucky), avoid ‘emergency convenience flowers.’

Do: buy some cool plants
Sure, some people are not plant people, and giving them a live plant is like giving them a chore they have to do until they don’t care about you anymore. Here are some of the available options,  and who they’re optimal for.
Cut flowers: If you know she likes traditional flower arrangements, spring for high-quality roses or an interesting assortment of unique flowers. If you know her favorite color, see if you can incorporate it into the arrangement.
Cooking Herbs: If she’s a cook, a potted herbs that are useful in cooking are really nice to have
Potted Flowers: If she already has potted plants, she might like some flowers that aren’t slowly dying.

Don’t: Buy generic jewelry from a chain store
Most jewelry advertised on TV is tacky as all get-out. Modern department store jewelry is basically a trap – minimally designed bits of shininess designed to fulfill the basic requirements of ‘being jewelry’ but generic enough not to have any actual style.

Do: find something unique at a consignment shop or on etsy
My favorite antique shop is closing. I am immeasurably sad about this, and to console myself I spent about $50 on costume jewelry, and $20 on a jewelry box. I’m not saying my taste is exceptional or for everybody, but look at the selection and variety I was able to get on that budget.

Costume Jewelry

Go weird or go home.


Don’t: buy clothes randomly
Most women do not appreciate it when other people try to buy them clothes, largely because women’s sizing is a nightmare. As someone who has received the wrong size clothing MANY times, it suuuucks no matter what direction the error is in. Too big, and you may wonder how they see you. Too small, and you may become instantly aware of how society regards your particular body type. Even the right size can just be a bad, unflattering fit. Clothing is the minefield of Valentine’s Day. Stay clear if you value your life.

Do: shop based on research
The exceptions to this rule require you to be in the kind of relationship where you can carefully inspect your partner’s clothes without being creepy. If there’s a garment she obviously likes and wears often, and you can find a similar garment of the exact same size and brand, you may hit the extremely rare clothing-based home run. This is the riskiest suggestion by far – I’m only including it because it CAN work. Just be careful – if she likes a particular garment for sentimental reasons, giving her a “newer” “better” version can backfire.

Don’t: buy practical housekeeping goods
This should be obvious, but cleaning supplies are not a good gift, in general. I mean, it’s a play straight out of the Lockhorns, a couple whose existence proves that hell is other people.



Do: buy something you know for certain they want, and present it in an interesting way
And now, to demonstrate the inherent uncertainty of all relationship and gift-giving advice, and openly contradictory anecdote. A couple I knew had an old, bag-based vacuum cleaner. It was perfectly functional, but changing the bags was a hassle and it lacked the bells and whistles of a modern vacuum. The wife argued that they should get a Dyson, the husband argued that it was an unnecessary expense. Eventually, they forgot all about it… or at least, they seemed to. The husband had his eye out for Dyson sales, and after Christmas he got a great deal on an open box display model.

When his wife came home from work on Valentine’s Day, she found the lights dimmed. Barry White was on the stereo. A trail of rose petals lead to their bedroom.  The room lit with scented candles. And there, lying in the bed was… the Dyson vacuum.

What have we learned today?

Quality over quantity. Presentation, presentation, presentation. And most of all, have fun. Remember fun?

There must be some things about your valentine you like. There must be some things they like. So get them a thing that tells them what you like about them, go do something they like together. And if all you have in common is makeouts, then find a romantic place to make out in.

Good luck.


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