We did some research and talked to dating experts to get out-of-the-box ideas that let you celebrate your love without the overpriced menu.
Head outside for a winter hike.
Luckily, we haven’t had a repeat of the Polar Vortex (yet). If you’re brave enough to bundle up, head outside and go on an afternoon date in the woods. Enjoy the time together without any distractions (that means leave your phone at home—Instagrams of trees can wait) and reap the benefits of time spent in nature. “Just hold hands and talk,” says Donna Barnes, a New York University-certified life and relationship coach. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen anymore.” When you need to warm up, make indoor s’mores or dressed-up hot chocolate, both perfect treats for a February evening.
See a comedy show.
Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, opt for drinks-and-lots-of-laughs. Science shows that a little comedy may enhance your relationship—researchers from the University of North Carolina found laughter to be a good indication of a happy relationship amongst 71 couple volunteers. And it’s not just for long-term couples—even new couples could benefit from this option, given that UK researchers determined laughter was a great tool for getting someone to open up to you. “I think a comedy club is a fun way to discover their sense of humor,” says Barnes.
Compete in a cook-off.
Whether you’re advanced cooks or total novices, you can have fun together in the kitchen. Pick a simple dish—like grilled cheese or pasta—and challenge each other to a kitchen duel. End result: Either you end up with two delicious versions of a favorite comfort food, or you scrap the meals and order in take-out.
Hit up a karaoke bar.
If a cooking or dance class isn’t for you, try a night on stage to break out of your date night rut and spend a fun holiday together. “Romance doesn’t have to be the classic flowers and candles,” says Wendy Walsh, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of multiple books, including The 30-Day Love Detox. “Romance is about interacting and making a good connection with somebody… and activities help you do that. If you’re exploring it together, it leads the conversation.”
Go back to “school.”
Both Barnes and Walsh suggest signing up for a fun class—be it cooking, painting, or even a dance class—that gets both of you out of your comfort zones. The opportunity to learn a new skill together can strengthen your relationship and make for a fun date. If you’re not in the mood to take the class seriously, check to see if you live near a BYOB painting studio. The artwork might not turn out professional, but at least you two can share your favorite bottle of wine.
Create your own “Love Lab.”
This Valentine’s Day, let science dictate your date night. You may have heard of the infamous “36 questions” that are supposed to make you fall in love. Researchers developed the questions, which were then popularized by a New York Times article putting the series to the test. Walsh suggests setting up a “couples lab” using these questions to increase intimacy. Even if you’re already in love with your partner, this intimate activity will bring you two closer together. These questions don’t ask for a favorite color; instead, they dig deep into personality, asking things like, “When did you last sing to yourself?” Download the app, and get ready for things to get really personal.
Change up your environment.
Whether you take an impromptu road trip or head out on vacation, Barnes says a change in atmosphere will make your holiday more special. You don’t have to leave town—you could just book a night at a local bed and breakfast or hotel and order room service for the night. If you’re budget-conscious, consider decorating your home a bit to make a night-in feel more romantic. And whatever you do: Don’t default to television. “People think a movie is romantic, but really it’s just stopping you from interacting with each other,” says Barnes.
Set up a double date.
Invite another couple over for drinks, appetizers, or dinner. Yes, you might think of Valentine’s Day as a romantic night for two, but research shows that when you spend time around other couples, you could see your partner in a new light. “When you put on your public personality... then all of a sudden you remember why you got together with him,” explains Walsh, who believes the “crazy expectations” many couples set for Valentine’s Day end up ruining the evening. Plus, those couple friendships you’re fostering might actually be improving your marriage in the long run.