How to talk about your Valentine’s Day expectations with your partner, according to experts

Last year was my first Valentine’s Day with a partner, and it was a disaster.

Decades of watching Nora Ephron movies and never receiving candy grams in middle school hadn’t eroded my usual Hallmark-holidays-aren’t-real stance, but neither I nor my boyfriend realized that until it was too late.

I’m much more pragmatic than romantic, and I didn’t think I cared about going on a Valentine’s Day date. My boyfriend often showers me with love and romance on a regular basis—sending flowers to my hostels when I travel without him and writing me love songs—so why did our plans for one hyped-up holiday matter? For Valentine’s Day, I told my partner I’d plan a casual date for us: an outdoor screening of A Star Is Born. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but telling him I’d bought the tickets was the beginning and end of our conversation about Valentine’s Day and of me thinking about it. 

But as I look back, my boyfriend and I had unwittingly made two mistakes, per two relationship experts. My first miss? Not actually asking myself what I wanted.

“We recommend that you check in with your own expectations. What are you hoping that you’ll receive [on Valentine’s Day]? How do you want to spend the day? Once [you] stop pretending that you don’t have expectations, you can clear the way for a conversation, where you and your partner can both be heard,” say CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke, authors of The Beauty of Conflict for Couples.

If I had thought about it, I would’ve realized that I wanted to be wooed, as silly as I feel admitting it.

Our second mistake was not talking about the holiday in a serious way. I hadn’t thought about what I wanted, let alone what my boyfriend wanted, and neither of us had thought to ask the other. Suzie Pileggi Pawelski and James O. Pawelski, authors of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, explain why that was problematic:

“Your partner is not a mind reader. Oftentimes, we think [our partners] will just know what gifts we want or how we want to spend the day. Further, we assume what pleases us pleases our partner. This may be what happens in fairy tales, but in real life, this isn’t the case,” they said. “Relationships are made up of two unique individuals who usually have different ideas and interests. When we don’t communicate and instead, assume our partner knows what we want, we often end up feeling disappointed and unfulfilled.”

Because we didn’t communicate well with ourselves or each other about what we wanted, my partner and I had an unpleasant Valentine’s Day celebration. We were both confused and upset when I got quiet on the way home from the movie, and we had to go through the painful process of unpacking my feelings after the fact. I came to the realization that I wanted chocolates and poetry (though I was and still am very anti tacky stuffed animals and clunky a-kiss-begins-with-Kay jewelry), and my boyfriend acknowledged that he hadn’t considered it was my first-ever booed-up Valentine’s Day and that it should be made special.