Trying to design a “special” evening for two in response to the dictates of
Hallmark and its cultural cohorts can be a daunting prospect. It’s a bit like
going out to paint the town red on New Year’s Eve — the field is crowded with
amateurs, and no matter how fabulous and original an individual you happen to
be, the whole enterprise can feel more than a little idiotic. If you’re in a
relationship, though, you may as well face the fact that you aren’t going to
be able to get away with doing nothing and sneering. Only single people are
entitled to that privilege. Lucky singles get to invite all their same-sex
friends over and have a terrific time complaining about the opposite sex,
munching on pizza, drinking too much and eating too many rich desserts.
Meanwhile, the attached are constitutionally obligated to make at least a
minimally convincing and impressive Valentine’s Day showing. Failing to do so
means your partner will be (a) furious, and (b) embarrassed to admit to said
fury, because that would mean admitting he or she takes this ridiculous
Hallmark holiday seriously. This is not a recipe for mutual happiness in the
weeks following. The only thing to do is summon up all the enthusiasm you can
muster and throw yourself into the proceedings in a Norman Rockwellian spirit.
It’ll be fun, really.

Start by making concrete plans for the evening: “I dunno, what do you wanna
do?” isn’t going to score you any points. It’s not necessarily too late to
buy a pair of tickets to an upcoming
show in your area. Even for the movies you may want to buy tickets in
advance, particularly for the most popular romantic comedies, which sell out
fast. At a minimum, don’t forget to pick out a pleasant restaurant. Try
paging through Zagat’s
guide for ideas, or check the Gourmet/Bon Appetit restaurant
of recommendations (mostly in the major cities, but try your luck). Or
try the James Beard Chef

feature, which has a little more regional, and, indeed, international
coverage. And make reservations early, not on Sunday afternoon. (In fact, in
some cities and for some restaurants, it’s definitely too late to reserve
“early.” If you’ve put it off thus far, best get cracking.)

Those who intend, for one reason or another, to skip going out had better have
an excellent home-based plan in place. Cooks looking to whip up something
aphrodisiac can try the formidable Epicurious
files. Search “chocolate,” and up come 700, count ’em, 700 recipes, including
Mousse-Filled Chocolate
— a bit labor-
intensive, but not all that difficult, actually, though it does require things
like cream of tartar and a double boiler — and The Ultimate Valentine
, which has a show-
stopping white-chocolate lid (you can make the lid a few days in advance and
concentrate on the cake on V-Day). There are are also 75 oyster recipes and
45 for truffles — at least, now I look more closely, that list includes quite
a lot of chocolate-truffle recipes as well as those based on the exquisite
mushroom-related sort, but then you can’t go wrong with either, really, can
you? After dinner — well, you’re on your own. This isn’t that kind of
column. I mean, who do I look like, Susie
? Please.

Valentines themselves are naturally available in virtual form, but, quite
frankly, I advise you to utilize a more concrete, offline medium for conveying
your affection, such as a handwritten letter or an orchid blossom. In a spare
ten minutes, though, stop by
Cyrano, an e-greeting card site
with a Mad Libs twist. Facing a blank “message” area and suddenly unsure what
to say to your valentine? No problem. Cyrano will not only V-mail a
cybercard to him or her but will also, if you like, offer you the benefit of
his expert-designed love-letter templates. Select a recipient type or a tone
(the choices on one screen include steamy, indecisive, surreal, desperate,
intellectual, poetic, and regretful, which would seem to pretty well cover
your bases), fill in the proffered blanks, and away goes your missive.
Speaking from experience, I’d say you’re bound to get some sort of strong
reaction. If Cyrano isn’t to your taste, a more conventional Valentine’s Day
greeting-card site is, or
you might try the appealing Awesome
, some of which are
musical and/or animated. The craven or romantic (your call) may choose to
send a secret valentine.

Shopping for last-minute gifts is made vastly easier by the availability of
1-, 2- or 3-day shipping at many online merchants nowadays. This is one
holiday not to be afraid of the cheesy and overdetermined. Try and give
something the recipient would probably not have been frivolous enough to
purchase for him- or herself. Victoria’s
offers an
assortment of “dream
in the
usual Victoria’s Secret silk-satin-and-lace vein (including men’s silk boxers
and so forth), with a wide range of air-delivery express shipping options. If
lingerie isn’t your speed (and what’s wrong with you, anyway?), consider this
fast-shipping $45 waffle iron,
which cooks up five heart-shaped waffles at a time and is sure to gladden any
gender this Sunday morning. The incorrigibly textual may enjoy something to
leaf through in bed, from The New Yorker Book of True Love
to The Complete Kama
(Alain Daniélou’s elegant new unabridged translation of the classic Indian

With V-day swiftly approaching, you’d better look sharp and start getting your
final arrangements made or else (and I’m addressing this particular caution
specifically to all you men out there) you’re going to space the whole thing
and end up with one highly teed-off ex-valentine. Fortunately, as always, the
Web is here to help … albeit I emphatically encourage you, once more, to
concentrate the bulk of your efforts in the real-life arena this weekend.

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