Burnt out on the idea of Valentine’s Day dates with hearts and flowers and Michelin-starred prix fixe meals? You’re not alone.
“So many people fall into the trap of wanting to conform to other people’s views of what Valentine’s Day should look like,” says online dating coach Erika Ettin of alittlenudge.com, “especially when they see other couples posting their ‘romantic’ evenings all over Facebook or Instagram. Often, the most secure couples post the least because, rather than broadcasting their relationship to the world, they are actually living in it and enjoying each other with fewer distractions.”
Then there are the people who just don’t like Hallmark holidays. “My husband and I think it’s a weird holiday,” says D.C. Matchmaking owner Michelle Jacoby. “You should show your partner how much you love them every day.”
Still, there are ways to do it right, such as spending time together instead of splurging on jewelry or gifts. “I like experiences more than I like things,” Jacoby says. “Planning and making memories — to me, that’s really wonderful.”
If you’re looking for last-minute ideas for recapturing the magic for Valentine’s Day, taking advantage of the long Presidents’ Day weekend, or just trying something you haven’t done in a while, we have ideas and advice. But no matter what, put your phones away and enjoy each other in the moment as much as possible. This is about being the cool, secure couple, remember?
Re-create your first date
This is a great idea for two reasons. First, it’s obviously romantic — remember how young and nervous and full of hope you were? — but it also has the benefit of being easy on the wallet. Unless you were dating out of your league and really trying to impress the other person, you probably weren’t dining at four-star restaurants on your first dates.
“If you went out for an old fashioned at the bar around the corner, that seems like the perfect low-key yet still romantic way to spend the holiday,” says Ettin, the dating coach. So head back to that happy-hour spot on the Hill for cheap house wine; grab drinks at Clyde’s of Gallery Place and head to a movie upstairs; try to score prime couch seats at Tryst and sip one of the “big mugs” of house coffee, and remember why you asked that person out again.
Find romance in art
Romantic art comes in many forms, but around Valentine’s Day, fine art, such as painting and sculpture, is often downplayed in favor of cutesy poems or soaring ballads. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington’s museums are wonderful places for dates — it’s easy to lose time just sitting in the Phillips Collection’s Rothko Room or the National Gallery of Art’s garden courts — but there’s also plenty of romance to be found on the walls.
Several years ago, David Gariff, a senior lecturer at the National Gallery, created “Love in Art: 1500-1900,” a gallery talk featuring his favorite romantic pieces from the collection. They range from the expected, such as Auguste Rodin’s “The Kiss” and Titian’s “Venus and Adonis,” to lesser-known works, including Jan Steen’s “The Dancing Couple.” While the talks are not offered, the National Gallery has created a Pinterest board of 26 images, which build on Gariff’s theme. Consider conducting your own two-person scavenger hunt: Wander through a couple of galleries at the NGA, the Hirshhorn or the Phillips, and see what images say “romance” to you, and what speaks to your date. You might even learn something about each other.
Get out of town
Whether you’re trying to reconnect, spend time alone or just hang out with your partner, the easy advice is to get out of town. You’ll be removed from all the drudgery of everyday life — no one has to do dishes! Someone else makes the bed! — and breaking those routines means you have more time to enjoy each other, especially with a long weekend on the horizon. Be spontaneous: Pick a destination, get in the car or buy train tickets, and go.
Our favorite destinations include Harpers Ferry for a weekend full of history, hiking and nightly ghost tours; Baltimore, where you can escape the Inner Harbor for sizzling jazz at Keystone Korner, and tour exhibitions examining women’s contributions to American modernism at the Baltimore Museum of Art; and Richmond, where breweries, cideries and restaurants have been attracting national attention, and Kehinde Wiley’s monumental sculpture “Rumors of War,” unveiled in December, has drawn visitors to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Cuddle up by a fire
There’s something alluring about a crackling fire and dancing flames. When you’re sitting outside, around a fire pit or next to a glowing heater, you instinctively cuddle closer to the person you’re with. Add a flush on your cheeks from a chilly breeze, and the warming power of a hot toddy in your belly, and you’ve got the ingredients for winter romance.
Try Calico, in Blagden Alley, where you can perch next to tall heaters with flames and sip a creamy hot chocolate — made with butter chocolate and spiked with dark rum — while cozying up under the bar’s selection of fleece and flannel blankets. NoMa’s Wunder Garten may be best known for its kid- and dog-friendly Oktoberfest beer garden, but it keeps the festive vibe going all winter long, with chalet-style cabanas filled with pillows and throw blankets; large fire pits surrounded by couches; DIY s’mores on Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons; and DJs and live music on weekends. Irish coffee and hot spiked cider are about as fancy as the menu gets, but you can always go inside the large, heated tent if you need to warm up.
Play the right sort of games
Couples should operate as a team, but there’s nothing wrong with challenging each other to friendly competition. Pick an activity that matches your comfort level: Putt your way around glow-in-the-dark ogres and skeletons at the indoor Monster Mini-Golf in Chantilly or Gaithersburg. Spend an afternoon go-karting at the Autobahn Indoor Speedway in Sterling, where the electric carts can navigate hairpin turns and hit 50 mph on the straightaways. (There’s an extra upside to speeding, too: D.C. Matchmaking’s Jacoby points out that “adrenaline creates chemistry,” as science has proved that attraction is increased by activities that get your heart racing.)
Couples could host a mini-Olympics — say, best two-out-of-three in bowling, ping-pong and pinball at Ballston’s Punch Bowl Social — or challenge their partners to foosball, darts and Mario Kart on a Switch at Pitchers in Adams Morgan. Something less physical? Numerous bars offer board games, whether you want to go head-to-head at Red Bear Brewing or the Board Room, or just have a low-key night of beers and Connect Four at the Public Option brewpub in Woodridge.
Either way, It’s fun to make side bets — the winner gets to pick the next date night restaurant, while the loser gets to pick the location of the next competitive outing. As they say, all’s fair in love and mini-golf.
Discover the gardens at Hillwood Estate
Research has shown that being outdoors, surrounded by green plants, can reduce stress and anxiety. Going on walks with a partner provides time to catch up, hold hands or just decompress together without a plan, with the added benefits of exercise.
While there are miles of hiking trails in Rock Creek Park and around the area, one of our favorite places to get lost is in the 13 acres of formal gardens at Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood Estate. There’s always something to see, whether you wander the boxwood-lined Friendship Walk, seek the statues in the French or Japanese gardens, or look for flowers appearing on the Woodland Path. (Take a look at the Hillwood website’s “What’s in Bloom” page before venturing out.)
What makes Hillwood a perfect all-weather date is that if it’s too chilly to stay out for long, or if rain threatens, you can retreat indoors to the fragrant greenhouse, in which hundreds of varieties of orchids and colorful tropical flowers for cutting are grown, and the florists are available to talk about the blooms. (There are regular greenhouse tours, too.) Afterward, head to Hillwood’s cafe for a cappuccino or a glass of wine.