Sending the right message in a box

Valentine's Day giving can be tricky at any stage of a relationship

Ellen Warren

Answer Angel

February 4, 2010


Ever feel like cupid's arrow shot you in the head instead of sweetly pinging your heart? Do you think of Valentine's Day as your annual opportunity to misstep, disappoint, be let down or send the wrong signal?

Battered veterans of this designated romance day know that it's not easy to get it right — and wickedly simple to make a mess of it.

Are you asking yourself, "Why does it have to be so hard?" The answer: It doesn't — anymore.

In the interest of all of us who've loved and lost — or merely wished they could wipe the treacherous Feb. 14 off the calendar — I've put together some guidelines and gift suggestions to end your bad Valentine's Day track record and steer you in the right direction no matter what your temperature on the romance thermometer. No more shooting arrows in the dark.

And here's some great news in this perilous economy. The success of your day has nothing to do with lavish spending. All the ideas on this page come in well under the $103 average that a National Retail Federation survey says celebrants plan to spend this Valentine's Day.


It's only

just begun …

You've been out together a few times but it's too soon to tell if this is going anywhere.

Your best strategy: Think playful, goofy, thoughtful. Stay away from anything romantic or intimate. At this early stage of dating, you can't go wrong with an animal theme. This shows your softer side without a hint of commitment.

And she thought you hated her cats. Show her that you're tenderhearted. (Ceramic cat bank, $12, Urban Outfitters, urbanoutfitters.com; ribbon on cat, Paper Source, $2.40/yard, paper-source.com )

He doesn't have a dog? This double-entendre collar fits man or beast. ( Dog collar, $6.50, Old Navy, oldnavy.com)

I like you,

honest I do!

You've been going out for months but aren't exclusively partnered up.

Anything too lavish or love-ish could scare off the target of your obvious affection. But a subtle embrace of his or her iffy habits is a nice touch.

A kiss-kiss phone for her says, "I could talk to you for hours — and I don't mind a bit that you spend so much time on the phone chatting with your girlfriends and your sister … and your mother." ( Lips phone, $20, Urban Outfitters)

He likes beer. You get it. When he's parked on the couch watching the game with his pals, the useful heart-in-hand bottle opener reminds him of you — over and over and over again. (Bottle opener, $11.95, Paper Source, paper-source.com )

Everything but the ring

You're in love. But you haven't moved in together, and at least one of you is not ready for the e-word (engaged) quite yet.

Urgent note to him: Do not under any circumstances present her with a box that looks even remotely like it might contain a ring. If she's not yet ready for marriage, this could terrify her. And if she is ready, that loud noise you hear is her disappointed heart thudding to the cold, hard ground.

Instead, how about a key-and-coin purse with your house key attached? It tells her you're serious and invites her to pop in and stay over at your place any time. Be sure to tell her she's already got the key to your heart. ( Marc by Marc Jacobs keychain, $68, Bloomingdale's, bloomingdales.com)

On the subject of sleepovers, this carry-on suitcase tells him, "Let's have a romantic getaway"— even if you don't go anywhere. The red undies promise a very fun trip, and they're a gift that keeps on giving. If he reads a certain honeymoon flavor in this present, mission accomplished.

(Embark four-piece luggage set, $39.99, Target, target.com; Gilligan & O'Malley thong, $7.99 and bra, $19.99, Target )

You've been together forever

You push each other's buttons (that's good and bad) and can finish each other's sentences (ditto).

You know what you want from each other — and have heard all the his-and-her excuses over the long trajectory of your romance.

Flabbergast your partner by changing course. Tuck handwritten promises in a box of candy hearts.

Some examples to get you started? You promise her — at long last — to take a salsa lesson, to go to the grocery store, a no-complaints snuggle through "Sleepless in Seattle" (and you'll make the popcorn).

Her I.O.U. includes taking the early dog-walking shift, greeting you at the door with a straight-up martini (two olives) and no complaining when you listen to sports talk radio on a very long drive.

At a certain point in a relationship, there's nothing more romantic than compromise.

( Hinged glass box, $18, Urban Outfitters)