What’s love got to do with it?

Most of Europe celebrates Valentine’s Day differently than in the United States. Here it is considered a holiday truly for young lovers–not one for children to bring valentines to school or one to send some chocolate to your mother, or even one for old, married couples (like me).

A few European Valentine’s Day traditions

A traditional “Valentinsdag” gift in Denmark is pressed flowers–preferably Snowdrops.

In Scotland, single men and women party together–sometimes getting paired off by drawing each other’s names out of a hat.

Italians will often get engaged or married around Valentine’s Day. A traditional gift on the 14th in Italy is “baci perugina”–chocolate covered hazelnuts in a slip of paper with a romantic message.

The loss of American Valentine’s Day saddened me at first, but then I realized that the lack of set parameters (red roses! chocolates!) frees me up to celebrate romance the way I actually see it: uncommercial. I think representations of romance tend to fall into four categories and that every person identifies with one category more than the others. How do you see romance?

Practical. This may sound unromantic, but having your partner fix your car or finish your taxes for you is a true act of love. I believe a lot of men identify with this kind of romance, which is why it has been used as a plot device in so many TV shows. (“You got me a vacuum cleaner!?” “You said you wanted one.”) So, what do you give the practical romantic? You probably already know, if you’ve been listening to him/her.

Time. With technology distracting us more than ever, this category is very important. A gift to this kind of romantic can range from one night where your cellphone remains off to agreeing to take up a hobby your partner loves. A few ideas: read the same book, take a cooking/art class, go on a hike together, sign up for joint training sessions at the gym, volunteer at his/her favorite charity, or plant a tree. Taking on a challenge together can strengthen a bond because the couple’s focus shifts from “you and me” to “us against the world,” psychologists say.

Physical. Before we become communicative beings, we understand love through physical touch–parents hold infants tenderly, we even stroke our pets to show them they are cared for. Still, providing appropriate, physical touch can be difficult for some people. The most important part of giving someone who craves affection this gift is initiating it. Begin with holding hands…

Verbal/written. Some people believe actions speak louder than words, while others see verbal or written expressions of love as the most romantic act. A thoughtful, heartfelt note goes a long way with this kind of romantic. Try using a blank card instead of a pre-written card. If your partner is into reading romance novels, consider making a personalized romance novel with your names and physical attributes. Although slightly silly, this website offers novel themes ranging from Jane Austen to vampires, westerns to sci-fi.

Most importantly, figure out what kind of romantic your partner is and give them what they crave the most–not what you think would be a great gift.

And if you think Valentine’s Day is ridiculous, check out these hilarious vintage Valentine’s cards.

The perfect Swiss-German valentine

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