This post was first published for Valentine’s Day, but contains suggestions for every holiday and celebration.
Navigating Valentine’s Day can be tricky, especially if you’re single, or if your relationship falls outside the margins of heteronormative monogamy. As the 14th approaches, you might feel like you can’t escape ads selling jewelry by reinforcing the gender binary or promotions trying to push pricey dinner dates for two.
But, even as you feel frustrated by Valentine’s Day traditions, you might still want to enjoy some of the connection and romance the holiday promises. After all, life is hectic, and when else do you have such a solid excuse to turn off your cell phone and make time for love?
No matter what your relationship looks like—or whether you’re in a relationship at all—you don’t have to compromise your identity and values to celebrate. Here are some ways you can create a fun, inclusive, alternative Valentine’s Day of your own.
Make It a Valentine’s Weekend or Week
Don’t limit yourself to February 14th. Extend your celebration to allow ample time with all your loved ones.
If you’re polyamorous—and especially if your metamours aren’t close—forget scheduling one over-packed day and dedicate an evening to each of your partners.
You can also claim extra time to celebrate Pal-entine’s Day with your friends. After all, despite how much our culture prioritizes romances, platonic relationships can be some of the most important in our lives.
And, don’t hesitate to take time off for yourself.
No matter who you make plans with, shut down the computer, hide the smartphone and create space for connection.
Swap the Traditional Valentine’s Gifts for a Getaway
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with flowers, chocolates, jewelry and teddy bears. But unfortunately, what they usually lack in personal touch, they too often make up for in gendered baggage.
Forget the standard gifts and save your money for an experience you’ll remember. Use the time you’ve set aside to take a romantic weekend somewhere that you and your partner(s) or friends have always wanted to go.
You can also opt for a secluded winter retreat where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. Or, try a stay-cation and explore a part of your city you might not always see. Take a hike along the lakefront or try exploring one of the many parks and forest preserves that Chicago has to offer. Take a morning off for a trip to a museum or ice rink. Try a comedy club or music venue you have never been to. Explore. Have an adventure!
Or stay in and share a meal you love. Have a Pal-entine dinner or brunch. Indulge a bit in creating a true sensory experience by using special spices or recipes that you may not have made time for yet. Cooking with others can be a wonderful way to collaborate and create together.
Whatever you choose, let go of the pressure to follow the Valentine’s script and do something that nurtures your soul.
Take a Sex-Positive Workshop
For all of the sexual innuendos and promises of romance, it can feel like Valentine’s Day doesn’t leave much room for genuine sexual expression, especially for those who identify as queer, kinky and non-monogamous.
For a Valentine’s Day that combats external and internal oppression and celebrates sex in all its forms, head to a sex-positive workshop. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, look for a class that speaks to your questions or desires.
For example, you and a partner might spend an evening learning new bondage techniques. Or, maybe there’s a class that can help you with communicating your sexual needs.
Find a Local Dance Night, Show or Event That Celebrates Your Community
Instead of spending the night alone or holed away with your partner(s), why not celebrate with others who want an alternative Valentine’s Day? Whether you identify as part of the LGBTQ+, kink and/or poly communities, or if you are just exploring those identities, heading to an inclusive event can be as rewarding as it is fun.
For example, look for an alt-queer dance night or a sex-positive burlesque show. From art shows to open mics, there’s plenty you can attend solo, with a partner or with a group.
If you’re in Chicago, check out Windy City Time’s calendar of upcoming LGBTQ+ events.
Combat Loneliness Through Volunteering
For many people, the idea of Valentine’s Day conjures more loneliness than love or joy. But, whether you’re lonely this year or want to remind others that someone cares, volunteering is a great way to build community and create connection.
Dedicate some time to reaching out to marginalized groups that too often go forgotten. Check out Pink and Black, an organization that connects LGBTQ+ prisoners to pen pals.
Or, learn more about SAGE, a national organization dedicated to advocacy and services for LGBT elders. You can sign up to volunteer for SAGE’s LGBT Elder Hotline and provide support to callers who feel isolated and vulnerable. (This volunteer position requires training.)
The Chicago chapter of the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) also offers numerous opportunities for volunteering and organizing. Together, LifeWorks and SWOP provide a monthly Sex Worker Support Group, which will meet on February 10th.
Focus on Love, Including Love for Yourself
At this time of year, it can be too easy to get so caught up in your relationships with others that you neglect your relationship with yourself.
For an alternative take on Valentine’s day, direct some of that love inward. Let go of feelings of guilt or worries about appearing selfish. Set aside solitary time in an environment that brings you calm and energy. Sit quietly with your thoughts, embracing the fullness of your experience without judgment.
Or, indulge in a hobby or luxury that renews your energy and brings you joy. Take a bath or indulge in a spa experience, try a flotation tank or yoga class, go for a hike, work on that art project—whatever it is that helps you feel alive and connected to all that you are.
The love we have for others is a powerful thing. But the love we hold for ourselves is the work and reward of a lifetime. Cherish you and take time to appreciate who you are!