Nowadays, it’s very easy to express love through buying things – at least this is what marketers and movie-makers want you to do. They make it almost brainless to pick up a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, a mass-produced greeting card, or even a piece of jewelry. These kinds of gifts are seen as “traditional” and “customary”, but are they thoughtful or merely reflexive and primarily driven by expectations and marketing? There are many ways to express love, often in ways that are more meaningful than spending lots of money, such as contributing your time, expressing your sincerity, and exercising your creativity.
In the early years of my marriage, like most couples, we exchanged gifts on special occasions. But then we quickly realised that this was inefficient – whatever we wanted, we could have just as easily bought ourselves, and it especially didn’t make sense when we later joined our bank accounts. With joint bank accounts, gifts to one another were essentially no different than buying our own gift, that is, if we knew exactly what the other person wanted. If you don’t know what the other person wants (and he/she doesn’t tell you), you will have to guess, which is even more inefficient, especially with the seemingly endless options available for various products and services. Therefore, we decided that we would instead give each other experiences or things that could not be easily bought. Here are a few of my favourite Valentine’s gift ideas:
- A Handmade Card with a Hand Written Love Note.
Gone are the days when lovers would hand write lengthy, deep, and thoughtful love letters to each other. Now all we have are quick, superficial, and short email, SMS, and Whatsapp messages. But every person desires to be told that they are needed, loved, and appreciated. As a society, we don’t do this enough. And ironically, the closer and more significant the relationship, the less we seem to do this. A handmade and hand written card is a very nice way to start this practice. My husband and I have exchanged such cards for more than a decade, and I have kept and treasured every one of them. In fact, they are especially meaningful and helpful at times when our relationship goes through rough patches. When we were evacuated from our home due to a nearby fire, these cards were one of the first things I packed. The cards can also serve as a legacy gift to your children, who might also learn that love does not necessarily need to be expressed through expensive gift-giving.
- A Massage
In addition to feeling loved and appreciated, nearly every one of us desires physical touch and closeness. A massage can be very therapeutic as it releases feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, while reducing adrenocorticotropin and cortisol, which are chemicals associated with stress. Even if you may not be very good at giving massages, just the simple act of touching, holding, and rubbing can be relaxing, emotionally soothing. Massages can also be intimate; they are a good way to diffuse arguments (it’s nearly impossible to argue or be mad at someone who is holding and rubbing you) or lead to other more intimate things…
- A Clean Home
Nobody enjoys doing household chores, but like many things in life, they just need to be done. Even in dual-working families, household chores are still commonly done by women. Coming home to a clean and tidy home – with laundry done and put away, dishes washed and put away, a stocked and organised refrigerator, a dust-free and clutter-free living area, and the bed made – would be a gift that I know many women would appreciate far more than a box of chocolates. Cleaning the home is a way of showing respect for your shared living space and indirectly respect for each other. Studies have shown that people living in messy and untidy homes actually experience stress as a result of the clutter. They report feeling more socially isolated, overwhelmed, and over-burdened. A clean home does more than make it easier for you to find your keys, it also adds to your sense of well-being and a feeling of control, security, and love.
- A Picnic in a Special Place
There are so many free outdoor concerts and movie screenings during the weekend of Valentine’s Day, why not pack a lunch or dinner and make it a date! Check out the Frugal Week Planner (coming out this Wednesday) for ideas on where to go for free concerts and movies. Other good picnic spots include parks, beaches, monuments, and specific places that carry a special meaning or represent a milestone in your relationship. To add some fun, you can also bring along a frisbee, kite, or a bottle of wine (don’t forget the bottle opener, and be mindful of the new liquor law that prohibits drinking out in public places after 10.30pm).
- A Homecooked Meal Together
Cooking is an activity that allows couples to connect, bond, and create something together that can be immediately enjoyed. Just think about it, in order to make a dish together, you will need communication skills as much as you will need culinary skills. Preparing a meal together requires teamwork, cooperation, and patience. And even if your meal turns out to be less than perfect, you will have created strong bonds and memories that will make you feel more connected and happier as a couple.
We often forget that we live in one of the top travel destinations in the world. There are so many beautiful and amazing attractions here that tourists pay to travel across the world to see, yet many of us have never visited what’s in our own “back yard”. This Valentine’s Day, consider taking a day to see Singapore as a tourist. Step into one of the Singapore Visitor Centres to get information on free attractions, or visit Your Singapore for ideas and itineraries. You might find a new special place to add to your relationship, and a renewed sense of pride in your home country – all without needing to pack or endure a long flight.
- Visit the River Hongbao
Valentine’s Day is the last day to visit the River Hongbao at the Floating Platform @ Marina Bay. This lively festival is a feast for the senses – from giant lanterns and figures of Chinese forklore to getai shows, dance performances, fireworks, carnival games and street food. It has all the elements that make for a great (and inexpensive) Valentine’s date. If you plan to be there at 9pm and kiss each other, fireworks will go off, and it’ll be just like a scene in a Hollywood movie.
- Giving Blood Together
There’s really no other “gift from the heart” that is more literal or meaningful that comes to mind. Giving blood helps in so many ways – it can save lives, help in medical research, and for the donor, burn 650 calories! Giving blood also reminds us to be grateful for our health and our bodies. It reminds us that there are many people with anemia, cancer, and bone marrow disorders that depend on our blood to live out their lives normally. Please note that there are some conditions which may restrict a person from donating. Also, if you’ve recently traveled out of the country, you might need to wait several weeks before your blood can be tested for Malaria. For details on donating blood, current blood stocks, donation location, and to book an appointment, please visit Donor Web.
- Volunteer Together
Valentine’s Day is a day dedicated to love, but you can expand its scope by also making it a day of compassion and kindness to all. Volunteering together is another activity that has been shown to strengthen and build relationships. There are many charities that would be grateful for your time and help, such as nursing homes, hospitals, animal shelters, soup kitchens, and children’s homes. Serving others in need also helps to remind us of how much we already have.
- Quality Time Together
No matter what you choose to do, make sure the time you spend together is quality time. We live in the age of constant distractions that divide and demand our attention, where things around us are always “on” – logged on, switched on, and online. Even when we take a day “off” many of these things (e.g., answering email) still go “on”. So it is important to keep our phones off and be truly engaged in the relationship and in the activity at hand. As the saying goes:
The greatest gift you can give someone is your time because when you are giving someone your time, You are giving them a portion of your life that you will never get back.”