How To Handle Valentine's Day When You're In A Brand-New Relationship

Photographed by Megan madden.
You're three weeks into a new relationship, and then suddenly it's Valentine's Day. What do you do? Try to ignore it and run away? Or make a huge romantic gesture? After all, everyone else is making grand declarations of love, so why not join in?
There's another option to consider — one that's somewhere in between ice cold and burning hot. Let's call it lukewarm. Or as Kate Stewart, a counselor and dating coach in Seattle, says, "scale your Valentine's Day from zero to medium."
That's dependent on where you are in the relationship, of course. If you're three dates in, maybe it's best to ignore the holiday altogether. (Might we suggest celebrating Galentine's Day with your best pals instead?) But if you're a month in and have had "the talk" — you know, the one where you decide you actually are in a relationship and not just hooking up — then something small and meaningful could be in order.
Still not sure what that small and meaningful thing could be? We talked to Stewart and two other dating experts — Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, a licensed psychologist and owner of Therapy For Black Girls, and Frankie Bashan, PsyD, a professional matchmaker for queer women — for some suggestions. Read on for their complete guide to Valentine's Day for you and your brand-new bae.
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Decide what Valentine's Day means to you.

First up: Take some alone time to work out your own feelings on the holiday. Don't let the energy of Valentine's Day trick you into thinking it's some all-important milestone for your new relationship, Stewart says. Instead, figure out how you really feel about it. If you're the kind of person who revels in romance, then Valentine's Day can be a great opportunity to show your partner how much you appreciate them. But, if you'd rather avoid Hallmark holidays, that's okay, too.
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Talk to each other.

Once you've figured out how you feel about Valentine's Day, talk to your partner about what it means to them, because you're in a relationship now, and it's not all about you. Surprises are great, but it's best to leave the grand romantic gestures to later in the relationship when you know whether or not your partner would be into that.

"If you’re in a one-month relationship and you make a grand display of love, it could freak out your partner," Dr. Bradford says. "On the other hand, if your partner expects a big deal, then match it."

Since there's a pretty good chance you can't read minds, this means having a conversation with your partner about what they expect out of the holiday. Dr. Bradford suggests leading with your own expectations, so you avoid disappointing yourself or your partner. So, start the conversation with something like, "I know we just started dating, but Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays, and I want to talk about how we'll celebrate." Or, "Valentine's Day is coming up and I've never been super into it, but I want to know if it's important to you."

It might feel awkward, but a conversation like this is better than planning a huge surprise that falls flat. Trust.
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Don't go too big.

It can be easy to get caught up in the candy-covered, red-and-pink excitement of Valentine's Day, especially if you're already hyped up on a new-relationship euphoria. But, when in doubt, forgo the fancy romantic dinner and expensive gift for something simpler and more meaningful, Stewart says. She warns that a new partner can get freaked out by a grand gesture they weren't expecting.

"They may not know that you were going so fancy, and may not have gotten a big gift for you, and may feel bad about it," Stewart says. Instead of the big gift, she suggests getting something small like a card that tells them how glad you are to have met them and how excited you are to get to know them better. "Something sincere or humorous, if that's the type of relationship you have, is best," Stewart says. "A simple bouquet of flowers can go a long way without breaking the bank or feeling like you are overspending or over-committing."
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Be thoughtful, not generic.

It's easy to fall into generic tropes of what Valentine's Day is supposed to look like when you're in a new relationship. You don't know much about each other yet, so a fancy dinner and a box of chocolates is safer than planning a date that you're not sure your partner will actually be interested in. Again, conversation is key to avoid any awkwardness, but Stewart also suggests thinking about what you do know about your partner, and planning something thoughtful.

"Any thoughtfulness, if it comes from the right place, is appreciated," Stewart says. That's true even if your partner isn't really into Valentine's Day. You can do something thoughtful without planning a big date or an extravagant gift. Get a goofy Valentine's Day card that speaks to your relationship (like this one for blanket hogs or this one for foodies). It's about the intention, Stewart says. "Don't go into it like, 'I'm going to buy you hearts and take you out to fancy dinner because I have to."
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Stretch your DIY-muscles.

On that note: There's nothing more thoughtful than something you made yourself. So get into the DIY spirit and craft your way to an excellent V-Day gift. Again, think about what would make your partner happy. Do they love astronomy? Stewart suggests baking a batch of cosmic cookies. Are they super into feminism? Make this "Smash the patriarchy" cross stitch. Just consider Pinterest your new best friend.
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Have realistic expectations.

There's a tendency, Dr. Bradford says, for people to use how their partner handles Valentine's Day as a marker of how much they actually care. That's a trap, especially for people who are in a new relationship and don't know much about each other yet, she says.

So, set your expectations low. "With a one-month partner, how much can you expect? Mark the day and acknowledge that we’re in this new liking relationship," she says. "It doesn’t have to be extravagant."

If you're gauging the strength of your relationship on how much your partner spent on you, then you're setting yourself up for disappointment, Dr. Bradford says, and putting unfair expectations on someone whose financial situation you might not even know yet. Instead, look out for those meaningful moments and just have fun.
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Don't feel pressured to say, "I love you."

There's a lot of excitement and energy around a holiday like Valentine's Day, especially for couples who are still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship — when everything is new and exciting and it seems like your partner is a perfect human being.

Don't get swept up in the excitement and drop the L-bomb if you're not really feeling it, Dr. Bashan says. "At this point in a relationship, our peacock feathers are out. We're showing our best parts and you're probably thinking, 'She’s perfect, she’s great,' but you’re not seeing the shit yet," she says. Don't feel pressured to commit until you've seen the other side of your partner. If you've gotten through your first fight, or dealt with a stressful situation, or finally started noticing their annoying habits, and still feel ready to say, "I love you," then you know it's coming from the right place.

For the most part, saying it because it's Valentine's Day and you're just so excited isn't coming from the right place. If you want to show how much you care for them, Dr. Bashan suggests using your actions instead of your words. "That’s going to go way further than words, anyway," she says.

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