Just when you’ve finished your Christmas shopping, Valentine’s Day is here with its own set of problems. Sadie and I’ve received dozens of questions, mainly from those of the male gender, expressing bewilderment as how to please their sweethearts. It seems that much time and money is wasted on ridiculous efforts that fail to impress or please. Anniversaries are so easy compared to Valentine’s Day. You need only stroll into the local Hallmark store and look at a chart which will gladly tell you what gift to get according to the number of years you’ve been together. Of course, it only works if you remember the date and the number of years.

Sadie and I’ve taken all the questions together and offer the following advice for staying out of the dog house this Valentine’s Day. No one should allow the day to pass without recognizing the person you are dating, beginning a relationship with, want to have a relationship with, or most importantly, are married to. The commercials are filled with heart-shaped diamond necklaces and luxury hotel packages, but with a little imagination, the holiday can be memorable and meaningful.

1. Valentine’s Day should set the standard for how you treat your beloved the rest of the year. While men justifiably hate having their inadequacies pointed out to them with good examples of friends’ husbands/boyfriends, perhaps they won’t take issue with taking a look at what dogs can teach them about showing affection. Dogs are the same every day. Quick to let you know they love you…steady in their love…and always seeing the best in you. Take heart men, February 14 is a good time to start acting like a dog by showing your loved one you care…every day..

2. Just like Christmas isn’t a good time to give someone a dog as a present, Valentine’s Day is not a good day to ask someone to marry you. Deciding to make a dog part of one’s life should be a personal decision brought on by sound reasoning, not forced on someone during a festive season. The same is true of marriage proposals…they should be special and create their own occasion not caught up in the artificial atmosphere of a day mandated for love.

3. Valentine’s Day is not great time for a first date. While restaurants abound with $9.95 surf and turf specials (bite-sized shrimp and steaks your dog would reject), the last thing you want on a first date is a server hovering over you assuming a level of closeness you’ve yet to reach! It can be embarrassing and artificial to be in such an atmosphere with someone you barely know. Instead, make plans for a date with a new person after the big day avoiding any misunderstandings and forced emotions created by the holiday.

4. Acts of kindness are always romantic and should be abundant in any relationship. When I was a student in England my boyfriend did something incredibly simple and ever memorable. I’d been in London and he knew I would arrive back at the train station as always without an umbrella. When I got off the train, he was waiting there with a huge umbrella and a bouquet of small pink roses. No big fancy gift, just simple thoughtfulness I’ve never forgotten. Here are some ideas that are sure to keep you in good graces long after February 14.

  • Have lunch delivered from your sweetie’s favorite restaurant.
  • Get her car washed and detailed.
  • Cook dinner or serve take-out with Il Divo in the background.
  • Make her an old-fashioned Valentine with a favorite photo of the two of you.
  • Bring her coffee in the morning.
  • Prepare a basket of goodies for her AND her dog.

5. Trust me; there is a HUGE difference between a stuffed animal and flowers. While we love hugging our dogs, the stuffed animal attachment disappeared long ago. Flowers are the quintessential gift for the heart holiday. Don’t just go for the standard flower industry contrivance…be creative…how about tulips…or lilies? Of course, a dozen long-stemmed roses are always perfect, but don’t despair if you can’t afford them because other flowers are just as romantic. Flowers shouldn’t be a once-a-year splurge and while they are always necessary for an apology, how about at her hotel when she must be out of town, or to brighten a rainy day?

As I think back over Valentine’s Day past, I remember very special moments; a guy who drove a hundred miles through a snow storm to my parent’s house and brought me perfume and roses. He deserved a badge of courage just for being brave enough to face my Dad who was quite protective of me and my three sisters. I think of my parents…still sweethearts after 50 married years and how my Dad always has a card waiting at breakfast on Valentine’s Day with flowers he’s managed to keep hidden. I think of my sister Amy and her gold-standard husband Terry who continually does something unique for her like turning the gym at their mission compound in Africa into an Italian restaurant complete with a meal he prepared. And above all, I think of my sweet Sadie, my four-legged 365 day a year Valentine and I thank her for showing me unconditional love and hope to pass it on to the two-legged Valentines in my life.