By ALLISON KADE
Ideally, we'd express our love to our significant other every day of the year, but the pressure to demonstrate our love is particularly intense whenever Valentine's Day approaches.
Retailers certainly got the memo, if aisles full of chocolates, flowers and teddy-bear-shaped trinkets are any indication. But showing love isn't -- or shouldn't be -- contingent on spending huge wads of cash on prix fixe menus or sparkly jewelry.
Romantic gestures are romantic because they're surprising, thoughtful or show a keen understanding of the person we love. We're not saying you should refuse to spend any money on your significant other, but money shouldn't be the primary point. As inspiration, we asked real people for some of the best relationship moments they've experienced that barely cost a thing.
Getting down and dirty
"This romantic story is from my first Valentine's Day with my current boyfriend, two years ago. Since it was our first Valentine's Day together, I really didn't know what to expect from him. In addition, I actually had to work on Valentine's Day -- a client had an event that night.
"I had parked my car at his house for the week. In the middle of the week, we were out at dinner and he said to me, 'I know Valentine's Day is coming up on Saturday. I want you to know that I don't do the generic flowers, candy and dinner thing, but you will always feel that I care and that you are loved.'
So I thought, 'OK, this is his way of telling me that he's not doing anything for Valentine's Day.'
"Fast forward to that weekend. I got to his house and noticed my entire car had been cleaned inside out. My 14-year-old car that has probably not seen any kind of cleaning in at least a decade was suddenly squeaky clean. He said it was filthy and that the mats alone were run through the washer twice. I just think of him outside in the cold for hours cleaning my car -- and at that point, it was only our third month of dating!
"2017 will be our third Valentine's Day together, and he was right: I do always feel cared for and loved by him -- and not just on Valentine's Day."
-- Jenny C., NY
A regular date in an unusual setting
"I once took a woman on a date climbing trees. When we were up in the low branches of one particular tree, a pizza I had ordered beforehand got delivered to the tree and we ate above the ground.
"I actually had to visit the pizza shop, pay in full and give explicit directions. After all, trees don't have an address. I selected a tree whose branches spread out over a running path (so that people would see us). She loved it. We ended up dating for about two years."
-- Steve S., MA
Surprising your partner
"Before my husband and I were married, he was a graduate student with little money. One time, he baked cookies and mailed them to my job. He made chocolate chip cookies, sealed them and then sent them Priority Mail. I was teaching at a high school at the time and was in the teachers' lounge when I opened the package. My friends were over-the-top impressed and said he'd be the one I'd marry -- and if I didn't marry him, they would!
"He also kept a journal of our dates and outings and glued artifacts to the journal -- like pictures, ticket stubs, love notes, poems or quotes he found, clippings from magazines, and so on. It was all very sweet and extremely memorable. I thought it was great and romantic. It took him a lot of time when it would have been easier for him to just buy something. It also showed me he was really paying attention to me."
-- Kanesha B., CA
Lots of little gestures
"My husband wrote things that he loved about me on Post-it notes and put them on our bathroom mirror in the shape of a heart. Another time, he made our initials on the floor of our closet with Hershey's Kisses. He purchased a few roses, removed the petals and spelled out 'I love you' on our bed.
"Another time, he got my co-worker to convince me to go out to lunch with her, and once we arrived at the deli he was there waiting for me and she left. He also sent an invitation via Eventbrite for a massage performed by him."
-- Nikita M., D.C.
Saying it in a song
"My husband is a singer/songwriter, and he just wrote a song for me. It was so beautiful and made us both cry -- when he was writing it and when he played it for the first time for me. My husband is a hobbyist, but he's played guitar for 45 years. He is very, very good at it.
"Of course, many people don't have the talent to write an original song, but every couple has a favorite love song, and most people can at least sing a tune. What a wonderful romantic gesture if a lover took the time to learn a song to sing it to his or her lover, with accompaniment if one can play. Believe me, a few missed notes won't make a difference in the rendition. It really is the thought that counts."
-- Pam D., PA
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