How to make Valentine’s Day special without a glass of wine

If you’re used to connecting with your partner over a glass of wine, then Valentine’s Day – and other romantic occasions – can sometimes be daunting. For example, many of you will be very familiar with those moments in life when the kids are finally in bed, the chaos has subsided and a drink together is the precious moment you have to bond and relax. And soon this ritual becomes the way that you connect. But now you’ve made a big change in your intent with alcohol. What to do when one of the more romantic occasions of the year rolls around?

My wife and I decided to stop drinking about four years ago, and while other lifestyle changes have come and gone (the vegan life is definitely an acquired taste), we still haven’t touched a drink. We even got married since giving up alcohol – surely the most romantic time for a must-have glass of Champagne if the zeitgeist is to be followed.

So I like to think I might have a feel for sober romance, although it’s difficult to distill whether there’s any singular cornerstone to achieving this because every relationship is unique. I know I’m lucky that we’ve both decided to make this change, but I’ve tried to keep the ideas broad for different relationships. And, if you’re alone this Valentine’s Day, we wrote a post last year about embracing that single life with open arms.

If your partner is skeptical about your lifestyle changes, this is an amazing time to prove the value of such a decision. Make the day special and you’re showing them, “hey, I’m trying to make myself better and I want you to know that our relationship is one of the important reasons I’m doing it.” Show them the energy and creativity it has lent you; that you can be even more fun and engaged and that there are many truly nourishing options out there to build your relationship that don’t require sharing a drink.

Conversely, all of this applies – perhaps even more so – if the shoe is on the other foot. If your partner is having a tough time with their relationship with alcohol, or any other pressures in life, today is the day to really go out of your way to celebrate them and what they mean in your relationship.

The secret, I believe, is not seeing Valentine’s Day as something to tick off. Rather, it’s an annual reminder to really engage with our romantic interest. What Christmas represents for the whole family, Valentine’s Day can represent for couples.

So, let’s plan out the day …

Valentine’s Day Morning: Sober

At risk of stating the obvious, if your significant other enjoys a good sleep-in then your first order of the day is to be on breakfast-in-bed duty. Don’t just go for business as usual; this isn’t the day for Cheerios unless that’s their guilty pleasure. You’ll want to make an appreciable effort with that amazing morning energy you’re regaining from a better relationship with alcohol. What’s their favourite breakfast or brunch option? Show off your culinary skills, and if they’re lacking, well, it’s the effort that counts. Alternatively, maybe their favourite is from a local cafe they love, so is there a way to pick it up or have it delivered?

In my own relationship, we like to exchange cards in the morning. It provides for a pause in a busy schedule to reflect and set intentions together while our heads are fresh and the noise of daily life hasn’t dulled our sensibilities. To sometimes hilariously mixed results, we also tend to hand-make these cards – in fact, this display of thought and effort is our only Valentine’s Day ‘gift’ to each other. Relationships are more important than consumption, although a box of chocolates every now and then can’t hurt.

If you’re anything like us, after a few blissful minutes the day will start to rapidly pick up the pace. Maybe the kids are bouncing around and due to go to school, or the puppy has peed on the floor because you forgot about it in the midst of your breakfast-in-bed cooking excitement. Does your partner typically take on these duties? Try to do much of them yourself today – or, better yet, get the kids in on your scheme and have them help make the morning one to remember.

Finally, without sounding like an advertising campaign, try to find opportunities to remind your partner why they’re special to you throughout the morning and day. And remember, while you might hit the jackpot, don’t expect anything in return. That’s not the point. You’re celebrating your relationship and your love, and your own effort is the only thing you can control. So thrive in it.

For working couples, the morning will be well gone by the time you get through all of this. Don’t try to be too ambitious! Stress does not make for good romance. Do what you can for each other, then get into the day.

Valentine’s Daytime: Sober

This is the difficult part, because many of us probably have jobs or other daily commitments to go to. There are two options here: you could postpone the day to have a bonus, end-to-end Valentine’s day on the weekend, or make your best effort with the day you’re given. I’m a fan of the latter, but if you’ve managed to fill an entire Valentine’s Day, please do let us all know your tips in the comments! We also published some ideas a few years ago.

Some of the standard recommendations apply here. If you can afford it, a bunch of flowers delivered to your love’s desk is an unexpected moment of joy. This can be even more true if you’ve never done anything like this before – the surprise alone will be received as a one of your better romantic gestures.

Do you work close together? Or is one of you allowed more flexibility during the day? Getting lunch together as a break in the work day is probably very novel to you by this point – life gets busy and other work-related commitments tend to get in the way of doing such everyday activities together. If it’s possible, try to make this work today. Meeting at a favourite venue when you’ve both come from different directions can tend to bring a small hit of the excitement you were once familiar with while you were dating – that experience of being two independent people with all your owns things going on, but choosing to come together for a date. You’ll certainly have a spring in your step as you return to the afternoon with only a few hours until home time.

Otherwise, it’s time to get creative. Work constraints are tricky to deal with, but the most challenging problems in life are often the greatest opportunities. Perhaps you’ve packed your partner’s lunch and took the opportunity to sneak something else into their bag, such as a letter or photo. If you’re brave enough, you can spam them with cute messages as if you’re engaged in a wide-eyed high school romance, or drip photos of favourite relationship memories through to them every hour. The possibilities are as broad as your mind.

Valentine’s Evening: still no wine

While the earlier sections of the day might generally lend themselves to the gesture of you putting in all the effort, the evening is the best time to collaborate on a shared experience – unless you really want to plan the whole day yourself, in which case, all power to you!  

The key here is to ask: what do you most enjoy doing together? What settings created the right environment for bonding in the early days of your relationship, or where do you have special memories together?

You don’t have to go to a restaurant, unless that is genuinely what gets you both going. I, for one, am guilty as charged for regularly taking this easy option. Food is amazing.

But you also might like to consider something like ice skating, if you’re in the northern hemisphere, or a ballroom dancing class or something equally as novel. Are there surprising little local opportunities you can wrangle? For example, a big media fan might even try to guest host the local radio station for an evening. You laugh, but I happen to know this trick …

Is there anything else you’re thinking of? Again, the idea here is to celebrate your relationship and spend quality time together. So striving too hard and getting worked up about it is not a good idea.

But follow all of this as loosely as you like and even the prospect of a glass of wine will seem like a minor concern. Depending on how well the day goes, it may even help to strengthen your resolve.

I really like that this article is not about replacing that shared wine on Valentine’s Day but a reminder of the romance that we can completely forget about. The lovely brain chemicals that are released when we do nice things for others should also help to make that glass of wine “a minor concern”. Thanks!!

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