Valentine’s Day! Two words that evoke a tsunami of reactions, ranging from frothing hatred to fervent anticipation. Whether you cannot WAIT for Feb. 14th to shower you with velvety layers of pink goodness, or whether you find it more odious than a Kardashian mid-pregnancy sex tape, there is one inescapable truth about this controversial day: It is coming, and there is no way to stop it.
Given this fact, there is really only one path forward: we may as well enjoy the hell out of Valentine’s Day, in whatever way we find most appealing. Perhaps that involves a solo last-minute trip to Aruba. Perhaps it means plunging yourself into a vat of dark chocolate. For many people planning to celebrate with a significant other (yours truly included), the day involves a good amount of stress and planning–planning what to do, planning where to go, planning how to fit said plans into your week, and then stressing about whether you’re doing enough for your partner, or whether your partner is doing enough for you, or whether your plans will be fun, or whether the whole thing will be worth the cost, and on and on until that second valium kicks in (I kid–about the valium, anyway).
Ultimately, all of this pre-game anxiety creates an impossibly easy trap to fall into–a trap encapsulated by a single word that can and will ruin your entire experience if you let it:
Amidst all this pressure to create an idyllic day that perfectly encapsulates your love, it’s guaranteed that at some point you’ll form a preconceived notion of How Things Should Go. Your mind will create a right way for Valentine’s Day to turn out, and a wrong way. Each scenario may be honed to the last detail, or it could be a general jumble of images and impressions. A candlelit dinner at The Restaurant You’ve Been Dying to Go To. A gift that shows she knows you better than you know yourself. A surprise picnic where he (finally) pops the question. Either way, you’ve got a set idea already carved into the footpaths of your brain.
None of which is a bad thing, except for one small detail: your vision has a very decent chance of never making it to reality.
A smart person once told me that if you look at all the possible sources of upset in life, at least a third of them fell into a category called Unfulfilled Expectations. Having your hopes dashed, your excitement squashed–it’s awful every time. Disappointment isn’t exactly pain, or real suffering, but it can feel just as acute in the moment. And perhaps worse than having your own expectations dashed is knowing that you’ve dashed someone else’s.
So unless you’re a pro at hiding every emotion from your date/partner (and if you are, that may be another source of problems) then chances are your expectations are coiled in wait, ready to strike and completely screw up both your happiness once the evening fails to live up to the bucolic lithograph in your head. The good news: disappointment isn’t inevitable. Even if it pops up unannounced, you don’t have to let it dominate the evening, or even the first five minutes after he announces he’s booked you a table at the pizza joint down the block. You can manage your disappointment–or even banish it to the back of your mental antechamber, along with your irrational fear of ladders and still-lingering insecurity about finding a prom date. If you’re feeling ultra-enlightened, perhaps even share your thoughts with your partner–“It’s funny, I had this crazy expectation that we would do something storybook-worthy perfect, but now I realize that your plan really is exactly what I’ve wanted all along!” (If you’re lying, so be it.) Whatever you do, have a plan in place to divert your thoughts away from any bitterness or despair that might creep in.
Since it would be a hell of a shame to ruin the one day of the year devoted to love because of a few silly expectations.