There's nothing like chalky candy hearts, chubby Cupids, and stuffed bears littering every store window to remind you Valentine's Day is coming. The holiday places lots of pressure on guys to get it right; and if you're one of those blissfully attached men—or if, say, that Tinder date is blossoming into a case of full-blown commitment—then the sweet balance of your relationship hinges on your not screwing up.
So, two things you need to know: Keep it classic. And the more it sounds like a rom-com plot, the better.
“Valentine's Day ideas that seem clichéd are a safe plan for men—especially if the date is something the couple doesn’t do every day,” says Laurie Davis Edwards, relationship coach and founder of eFlirt. “Women want to feel appreciated on this holiday, and it just so happens that a number of stereotypical dates can do just that.”
That's right, we said it: A date that's cheesy, shamelessly trite, and a little overdone can hit all the right marks—especially if a hot-air balloon ride or a weekend in Paris is out of your budget. Because at the core of every woman is a desire to be adored and indulged, and the best way to achieve that is to take her out and show her that's exactly how you feel.
To help you plan the perfect V-Day, we asked real women to reveal the dates that scored the highest with them. They may seem a bit awful to you now, but trust us—they’ll earn you some major points. Happy endings all around.
1. BYOB painting class
During the past few years, BYOB painting classes have exploded in popularity as girls flock there with their friends and the occasional good-sport guy grits his teeth and indulges the girl he loves
“I know BYOB painting classes are so tired at this point, but I’m secretly hoping my new boyfriend will take me to a class," says Shari, 26. "I think it would be really fun to get tipsy and paint bad pictures together.”
Edwards agrees—the date is a winner. “It may seem a little cheesy to you now, but she'll appreciate that you went outside your comfort zone and did something with her that you might not otherwise have done.”
2. Candlelit dinner at a special place
If you’ve been a couple on past Valentine’s Days, you probably already know that snagging a dinner reservation at a trendy joint can be near impossible. And if you actually have been able to swing it, you also know just how uncomfortably cramped one of those places can feel.
So listen up: Your Valentine doesn’t care about those obstacles or downsides. She just wants you to take her somewhere nice and show her off.
“When you make a reservation at a nice romantic restaurant, it shows your significant other that you thought about turning the evening into something special ahead of time,” says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a relationship expert and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. “To make the evening even more meaningful, take her to the restaurant where you had your first date, your first kiss, or your first anniversary.”
But only if it's nice! Chick-fil-A is for airport breakfasts, not romantic liaisons.
3. Ice skating
“I’ve always wanted to go ice skating at one of those pop-up rinks," says Dina, 28. "So last year, my boyfriend took me to one for Valentine’s Day. We got lunch afterward at a cozy coffee shop, which was a great way to warm up. It was so sweet of him to plan something he knew I wanted to do.”
Even if your Valentine has never explicitly expressed interest in skating, Edwards thinks hitting the rink on V-Day is a home run. “Ice skating is the perfect date because there's a lot of touching involved," she says. "Maybe you hold hands as you circle the ice, or you steady her as she wobbles. She'll love seeing your masculine side come out.”
Some words of advice: If you're absolutely terrible at ice skating, think about getting some practice before you accidentally lay her out on the ice. "Terrible ice skating" rarely looks cute, even on a cute guy.
4. Walk on the beach
Listing “long walks on the beach” as one of your favorite activities on Tinder is an instant strike. But if you're already in a relationship, strolling along the sand is the closest thing you'll find to a guaranteed good time.
“Last Valentine’s Day, my fiancé packed some wine and snacks and took me for a walk along the beach,” Anna, 25, tells us. “We drank wine and watched the sunset, which was really romantic. I loved that he planned it all out and that we got to spend some time in nature, which is something we don’t do as often as we should. I highly recommend it for a date.”
Live in a colder climate? Strolling on a chilly beach then enjoying a pop-up picnic also works. Just pack hot chocolate or coffee and loads of extra blankets, and don't be afraid to use your best asset—yourself—to keep her warm.
5. Game night at home
If she’s the competitive type, or someone who likes to spend evenings in, a game night is a damn near perfect date. Pick up a few of her favorite board games (or a few of yours, if you’re totally clueless about hers) and make a bunch of tasty apps, snacks, and drinks to fuel the fun.
“Women love connecting with their man in ways they haven't before—and you probably haven't played Monopoly together yet,” says Edwards. “If you choose to make the game night a group thing, be sure to go out for a one-on-one dinner first, so you get some time alone. That's the thing most women crave on V-Day.”
But a word to the wise: If you're super competetive, rein it in. Acting like a man-child and being a sore loser (or winner) will spoil the date—and any chance of things heating up later on.
6. Mini golf
There's a reason putt-putt courses have been the backdrop of countless rom-com date-night scenes.
“We often get so caught up in our daily lives that we forget that relationships are also supposed to be about fun,” Orbuch says. “Mini golf is entertaining and provides an opportunity to laugh together and enjoy each other's company.”
So head to your local course for a Valentine’s Day date that’s sure to be a good time.
Oh, and let her win.
7. Dinner and a movie
Catching dinner and a movie is commonly called out as being the most overdone Valentine's date of all time. And, OK, it is. But there's nothing wrong with the old standby, Edwards says.
“Make it a particularly romantic night by keeping your choice of restaurant a surprise. And let her pick the flick; it's likely you two have only been to movies you've both wanted to see, so letting her choose is a way to honor her.”
8. Theme park, fair, or arcade
If the relationship is still fresh, planning a too-romantic evening could send your lady running. A theme park or fair, on the other hand, strikes the perfect balance between thoughtful and fun—ideal for those who've just coupled up.
“She'll love seeing the playful side of your personality emerge at the park,” Edwards explains. “Plus, your conversation will naturally turn to nostalgic past experiences, which is a great way to deepen your relationship. It's not your average dinner conversation.”
And try to score her a prize, too. Sure, it’s cheesy, but it's also endearing. If you're shooting hoops, popping balloons, or dropping $30 on game tokens to win her a $5 stuffed bear, you'll win her over, too.
9. Homemade dinner
Roll up your sleeves and cook something special. It may not be overly creative, but it’s the definition of a home run.
“Making dinner at home may be a clichéd Valentine's date, but women still love it," says Edwards. "Most don't care how much you spend, either—for a woman, it's more about getting some pampering and TLC from you. So, even though it seems simple, light some candles and cook for her and she'll swoon."
10. Picnic in the park
While this may seem like a lame idea to you, she'll love the gesture.
“When a date is unique, planned out in advance, and takes place outside, a woman will likely consider it romantic and thoughtful,” Orbuch says.
To really wow her, have a picnic spot picked out in advance, and be sure to pack some of her favorite foods, wine, beer, etc. It's due diligence—and it works every time.