The Free Gift Guide to Valentine's Day

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Krizia Liquido
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Art Credit: Taylor McCutchan

Our culture has a complicated relationship with Valentine's Day. Sixty-eight percent of women and 60 percent of men agree that Valentine's Day is all about love, as opposed to being a superficial holiday. But of 1,000 of those surveyed by the online dating site AYI.com, both women (44 percent) and men (35 percent) go on to say they prefer a romantic dinner to flowers, jewelry, candy, sex, or nothing. Fair warning: Both women (35 percent) and men (30 percent) think $50 to $240 or more should be spent on this date than on a regular date. Is it just me, or do expensive dinners still fit in the "superficial" category? So much for a day that's "all about love."

The good news is that money and gifts aren't the keys to everyone's hearts this Valentine's Day. A Chase survey found that 43 percent of men and about half as many women don’t want a gift at all. A survey by RetailMeNot.com found that 20 percent of respondents don’t plan to spend anything on their significant other.

As a married woman, I've been guilty of perusing the mall and card aisles for the perfect material objects to show my husband just how much I love him. And while this wonderful man has blatantly told me he doesn't want a thing for Valentine's Day, it doesn't mean I still don't have something special planned! But this time, I've promised both of us that it won't cost a cent.

Let this Valentine's Day be a chance for you to think outside the commercial box that has diluted what began as a commemoration of a love far beyond earthly love. As the saying goes, the best things in life . . . aren't things. No significant other? No problem. These gifts, like true love, will touch anyone and won't expire past their due date.

CARING QUESTIONS.Author Glennon Melton recently noted, "A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love." Instead of asking the same empty questions that elicit the same empty answers (How are you? What's new?), prepare a list of questions you really want to know about your loved one. Ideally, these are questions whose answers can improve your relationship: What is your favorite memory of us from this year? When did you struggle most? What is one thing I can do to make you feel more loved? What do you most look forward to about our future? Ask, sit back, and be amazed by what you learn.

A LOVE LIST. Love letters can easily become cliché. But an authentic gift of loving affirmation is like a morning cup of coffee: warm and welcome. How often do we genuinely express what we love about another person in words? For this list, nothing is too big or too small, too funny or too romantic. Whether you include your sentiments on a store-bought card or post them on the bathroom mirror, they will make an impact that will last much longer than the temporal charms of a fancy meal or bouquet.

A DAY (OR WEEK!) OF FAVORS. Is there something your loved one likes you to do, but for some reason you don't do it very often? For some, actions speak louder than words. So shout out your affection through thoughtful acts of service. Take time to discern which favors would make that special person in your life feel truly loved. Is it a hand car wash for dad? A shoulder rub for grandma? Or cleaning out the fridge for your roomies? I feel loved when my husband makes the bed every morning—mostly because I know he hates doing it! The simplest favors are also often the most tender.