This Is Your (Male) Brain On Valentine’s Day

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Men face a series of harrowing decisions before, during and after any date. Solutions to these dilemmas are rarely straightforward because, let’s face it, no two women are the same. That same pick-up line/ restaurant/ joke/ movie/ accessory/ dive bar/ eau de toilette/ after-hours hangout /morning-after text message that impressed one girl may break the deal for another.

But men, slaves to our own analytical minds, refuse to act on instinct. We instead wage the most futile of hypothetical battles, second-guessing our every gesture and sentence as if it could determine the outcome of an entire relationship with you. And those neurotic tendencies are magnified tenfold once a year.

That’s right: February 14th. The erstwhile Feast Day of one Saint Valentine. I won’t even get into the complete factual inaccuracy of the origin stories that supposedly associate the historical personage with the notion of celebrating romance. Because like it or not, Valentine’s Day is a fact. An institution. And so long as women have all the vaginas, men will have to accept it as such. Embrace it, even. Or at least pretend to.

All we ask is that you exercise some patience. Forgive us the little embarrassments that will inevitably transpire. As you are about to see, we have a lot on our minds. Let me walk you through the male brain, on drugs Valentine’s Day.

It starts in the days leading up to the date; more or less from the moment some (un)lucky girl accepts the offer: Where should I take her? Comfort food or a place where the chef speaks a romance language? Daytime or night? Candlelight? Mood-lighting? Do I offer to pick her up or meet her there? What genre of music do I play in the car? Mainstream or something obscure? Mixtape is out of the question, right? Is she the NPR type? Should I turn the radio off? Would that enhance conversation or only prompt numerous awkward silences? Sub-conversational volume? As for the greeting card — humor or sentimentality? Salutations? Valedictions? Should the note itself be short and sweet or long and thoughtful? And what of flowers? What kind? Color? Other gifts? What’s the current consensus on those candy hearts — tacky or endearing? How chivalrous should I be? Open the door? Pull the chair? What if she’s post-gender and hates when men do those things for her?

 Related: What Your Choice of Rose Says About Your Love

Our fears only compound as the date draws nearer. The hours preceding go-time are especially troublesome: What should I wear? Is this too formal? Too casual? How many buttons do I button? Sprig of chest hair? Tuft? None at all? Blazer? Blazer with jeans? Dark jeans or light ones? Form-fitting or relaxed fit? Do I wear cologne? To what part of my body should I apply it? How many pumps? Is this scent discrete enough? Do I shave? When? Five o’clock shadow is en vogue, right? How the f**k am I supposed to shave the back of my own neck? How do I use nose-hair trimmers without slicing my intranasal epidermis? Does the electric one they sell on the infomercial actually work? If so, is it priced fairly?

Related: 8 Things Women Love and Hate About Facial Hair

Dinner only exacerbates the circumstances, what with the constant struggle for something common and engaging to talk about: What do I order? What types of food leave a bad odor in the mouth? Bad taste? How long do I need to appear as though I’m “listening intently” before picking up the menu? How many drinks can I have? Is it kosher for me to drink more than her to adjust for weight? Is it rude to ask for more bread? Can I go to the bathroom? How much are you supposed to tip those bathroom attendants anyway? Do I tip more if I use his accoutrements?

Related: What Your Drink Order Says About You

What topics of discussion should I revert to in the event things get stale? Am I talking about myself too much? Am I asking too many questions? (Yes). How’s the frequency of my eye contact? More? Less? Should I smile more? Is my laugh at all annoying? Am I boring the s**t out of her? How many times do I deny her offer to split the bill before complying? What is the earliest acceptable window for using the words “second date?” Does anyone even use the word “date” in the context of dating anymore? Will it make her uncomfortable if I “define” it as that?

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And finally, the vaunted farewell: Do I kiss her? Do I hug her? Definitely no handshake, right? Should I go up for coffee when she asks? Or is it a test? When was the last time a woman actually asked a man “up for coffee?” Did the writers of Seinfeld invent that pretext? For how many seconds should I stand on her stoop before retreating to my car? Regarding the “second date” thing, do I suggest details now, or merely mention it? I think you get the idea …

Related: 15 Signs There’s Going to Be a Second Date

Of course, that’s an exaggeration. Or is it? While we may not verbalize all those thoughts, or even register them consciously, dates — especially those that carry great expectations — inspire this kind of madness in the feeble brains of men.