For some, Valentine's Day is a time for romance, roses and grand gestures; for others, it's a day like any other -- or an occasion frankly best forgotten. No matter how you feel about this much-debated holiday, chances are you'll find yourself considering how to spend it.
That's why this week's column is dedicated to date ideas. Whether you embrace the love or not, I've conjured up a variety of Valentine's dates to suit every type of person and every kind of budget -- from enthusiasts to haters, from the budget-conscious to the ballers, and beyond.
VALENTINE'S DAY ENTHUSIASTS
For those who have been waiting all year to unleash their inner Cupid, why not go all out with a themed scavenger hunt? Leave clues around your city -- or just within your home -- that lead your beloved to a series of romantic locations (such as your first date, first kiss, anniversary locales or any place that's meaningful). You could also make the locales part of the date -- a dessert place, a romantic stroll, a massage, etc.
Extra credit: Include a small gift (or poem or a list of your favorite things about them) at each spot.
Alternatively, bring the fine dining experience into your own kitchen with a private dinner. Whether you opt to hire a professional chef for the evening (yes, it's a thing! Google "personal chefs near me.") or choose to cook a special meal together, the intimate setting can make for a memorable night.
Extra credit: Set the whole mood with a nice table cloth, lighting, music, pleasing scents and your date's favorite beverages.
VALENTINE'S DAY HATERS
Not a fan of all the mushy stuff? That's perfectly fine! Throw an anti-Valentine's Day party. Invite friends over for a night of games, death metal music and revelry where the only rule is "no romance allowed."
Or, if there's a smash room or place to break things safely near you, consider scheduling an hour with friends to beat the crap out of something. Or, for the lo-fi version: Buy a cheap pinata.
Or you can settle in for a dark comedy movie marathon. Choose a lineup of films that satirize, twist or downright eschew traditional romance narratives..
ON A SHOESTRING BUDGET
Money shouldn't be a hindrance to celebration. If it's not freezing, a simple picnic in the park, with snacks and hot beverages, can be a charming way to spend the day. If it is freezing, create a picnic in your living room, with pillows, blankets, bubbly and your favorite foods.
If you're looking for something more nocturnal, try stargazing. Grab a blanket, a thermos of hot cocoa (spiked or not), and gaze at the stars together -- whether on the roof, or somewhere nature-y that gives you a better view.
Extra credit: Peruse the local papers or community websites to find low-cost events, such as concerts in the park, art openings (that often have free wine), community theater previews, high school or college sporting events, or lectures and book readings.
THE SWANKY AFFECTIONADOS
For those with skrilla to spare, go full baller with a helicopter, private plane or balloon ride over your city.
Or, splurge on a decadent spa day or a night at the upscale theater (opera, ballet or symphony). Bonus points: Buy their outfit for the event as well and hire a car to chauffeur you around. Preening, pampering and cultural enrichment can make for a grand gesture that'll be remembered long after the chocolates have been eaten.
Extra credit: None needed. You took them on a helicopter! But OK, go nuts and hire a private chef, too. (See above.)
If you can't leave the house (or don't want to), create your own themed dinner and movie night where you choose a country and make a traditional dish from that place, then watch a movie or listen to music from there as well. An example of this would be an Italian movie and homemade pasta or sushi and an anime film.
Write or dream together: Collaborate on writing a short story, poem or even plans for the future, like a couples bucket list or future vacations. This activity can reveal new facets of your creativity and thoughts. Plus, research shows that simply looking at travel websites gives us the same happiness boost as actually traveling, minus the food poisoning or flight delays.
Engage in a friendly cook-off challenge. Pick out a recipe that neither of you have tried and cook your way to a new tradition. Or, pick one recipe and have one person do the main, and the other do the sides or dessert.
Extra credit: Find a DIY project to tackle together. Whether it's organizing a junk drawer or painting the bathroom or finally hanging up the kids' school photos, it's a productive and fun way to spend time together. Be sure to reward yourself during and after.
ADVENTUROUS AND OUTDOORSY TYPES
If the weather agrees, plan a hiking trip that culminates in a stunning view, ideally coordinated with the setting sun. There's nothing quite like a shared vista to inspire feelings of awe -- and love. If it's cold or snowy, there's always ice skating, wintry walks, indoor botanical gardens, exploring a night market or sledding.
Water lovers might enjoy an afternoon of kayak or paddleboard rental for a duo adventure out on a lake or bay, adding a splash of sportive engagement to the day's romance.
Extra credit: If there's bioluminescence anywhere near you, consider splurging for this memorable experience.
Thanks to technology, distance doesn't have to dampen Valentine's Day. Plan a virtual date night with a food or beverage kit that you can make together (while apart) over video call. Or, with some creativity, you can try many of the other dates suggested here.
Or send a surprise care package to your partner filled with all their favorite goodies (snacks, cozy socks, a music playlist, a book of poetry, etc.) -- a personal touch that says "distance means so little when someone means so much."
Extra credit: Do both.
FIRST VALENTINE'S TOGETHER
Make memories by doing something meaningful or brand new to both of you -- like visiting a quirky local attraction or visiting a "makeout spot" (most towns have one and you can often find out where online). You could also try out a new-to-you activity like a dancing, pottery or archery class. Fill your day with a series of "firsts" to make it unforgettable.
Extra credit: Hire a photographer to do a couple's photo shoot with you while you're on your date.
Who says you need to be partnered up to treat yourself right? Dream up your perfect date and then make it happen. Is there a restaurant you've been wanting to try? A hobby you want to learn? A super cheesy movie that not even your friends want to watch? TREAT YOURSELF.
Or, volunteer at an animal shelter or an old folks home and spend some time with those who need an ear or a cuddle (respectively).
Extra credit: Take some advice from Miley Cyrus and send yourself flowers or a boozequet (a boozy bouquet).
Valentine's Day doesn't have to be a one-size-fits-all affair. It's a flexible occasion that can be shaped and celebrated in countless ways. Remember, the idea behind the day is to celebrate love in all its forms, and that can be with your partner, friends, family or even yourself. So, don't feel boxed in by tradition -- make this V-Day authentically yours.
(Anna Pulley is a syndicated Tribune Content Agency columnist answering reader questions about love, sex and dating. Send your questions via email (anonymity guaranteed) to redeyedatinggmail.com, sign up for her infrequent (yet amazing) newsletter or check out her books!)