This advice is lethal. This advice is lethal.

It’s that time of year, when the Internet begins to fill up with horrifying lists of Things You Should Be Doing To Make This Valentine’s Day Unforgettable.

Already, this leads somewhere bad. Unforgettable days include December 7, 1941, and That Time Carl Accidentally Released The Sentient Lettuce From The Office Fridge. If you don’t believe that misery is hard to forget, consider that in order to make contracts more memorable in the Middle Ages, people used to hit each other in the face. And this was the Middle Ages, when everyone was pretty much miserable all the time.

Usually the people who come up with these Valentine’s lists are the same people who write lists of “What Makeup to Wear to the Gym.” The fact that the list is phrased in these terms inspires limited confidence that the advice it contains will bear any resemblance to actual life. These are the predicaments of Hypothetical Magazine People.

Consider the assumptions implicit in that sentence — that you are going to the gym in the first place, that you could not possibly do so without makeup! This is several bridges too far for most of us. It is like those remedies for hangovers that begin, “Before you go to bed, make certain to …” If I had been in any state to do something before I went to bed, I would not be Googling hangover remedies at 2 p.m., and I would not have misspelled remedies the first two times.

That’s the trouble with all these Valentine’s lists. They assume too much. They are all right for these theoretical couples who exist only between the glossy covers of magazines, who routinely incorporate ice cubes into their lovemaking and leave thoughtful notes for each other on hand-crafted post-its and post their weddings on Pinterest. But that is exactly why they are so lethal for the rest of us.

Here are some actual bits of advice I have managed to dredge up.

From U.S. News and World Report’s “17 Creative Ways to Impress Your Valentine If Your Pockets are Empty“:

Fingerpainting for adults. Who knew a bottle of red fingerpaint could be romantic? If you paint hearts on his windshield, he’ll know you’re thinking of him.” And if you spell R E D R U M next to them, he’ll think of the festive colored beverage you can enjoy later!

“More than a picnic. Anyone can put a picnic basket together. However, the true romantic will scout out a deserted, scenic, romantic place to enjoy with his Valentine. And he’ll also hide a small gift to be found later.” Make sure it’s deserted. As deserted as can be, preferably in a place where sound doesn’t carry. Hide a small gift, like a shovel or tranquilizer.

Looking for love … Find a place where the people-watching is good. Try to identify couples who are really in love or have been in love for the longest. Hold hands while you watch.” Nothing says “romance” like “let’s hold hands in a mall food court or subway, point at elderly people, and speculate on their love lives.”

This list doubles as Ways to Let Him Know That, If You Ever Break Up, You Will Make Things as Creepy as Possible.

Hallmark, which ought to know, given that this entire event was invented for its benefit, lists five of the top trends in Valentine’s Cards. According to their Web site, “Approximately 151 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged industry-wide (not including packaged kids’ valentines for classroom exchanges), making Valentine’s Day the second-largest holiday for giving greeting cards.” This is, quite frankly, absurd. If you were curious about the trends, they include:

1. Cards Hand Delivered from the Heart
2. Cards That Reflect Our Culture
3. Do-It-Yourself Cards … Without The Do-It-Yourself Part
4. Cards That Will “Light” One’s Fire
5. Visual Love Letters

Nothing says “Love” like “Here is a do-it-yourself card that I did not make myself.” My favorite, available on the Hallmark Web site for just $3.49, is this card that lists 10 Things I Love About You. (“You always know when I need to talk. The way you say my name. You’re just so totally and completely loveable!”) This is great if you want to make your sweetheart feel really generic, although the Web site strongly urges you to personalize it, perhaps using words from the Hallmark Message Library.

I am always entranced by Hallmark’s large array of oddly specific cards. In some cases, I think these people would be better served by just writing a letter.

That is the trouble with this day all over.

Valentine’s Day is a problematic holiday not because it singles out the Singles (although it does) but because it causes people you otherwise thought sane and normal to come shambling sheepishly to your door with boxes of chocolate and lightly dented roses that they have just wrested from the grip of an old man on the sidewalk. It is the holiday when otherwise sane and normal people get mysteriously upset if you do not behave like a Hypothetical Magazine Person. It is the holiday where the Hypothetical Magazine World touches our own and we can glimpse what it might be like to live there. It is well-designed and there is a lot of chocolate, but I think I prefer things as they are.