The Right Mindset for Valentine’s Day

The Right Mindset for Valentine’s Day

Just when we’ve finally given up on New Year’s resolutions, here comes Valentine’s Day with its own set of renewed pressures: flowers, chocolate, a romantic dinner, a thoughtful but sexy card, lingerie that will probably never get worn, and worst of all: scheduled sex.

But wait a second. What’s so bad about scheduled sex?

I know some people dread the concept. After all, conventional wisdom dictates that sex should happen organically and naturally. But look at your calendar and to-do lists and tell me if anything happens naturally these days. We schedule everything else in life: drop-offs, pickups, meetings, deadlines. Heck, we’ll schedule a colonoscopy, but we won’t schedule sex?

No matter your view on the topic, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to put sex on the calendar, but don’t just focus on the act itself at the end of the evening.

Focus on it all day, from the moment you wake up. I’m not telling you to rearrange your entire day for sex, but to make small intentional choices that are pro-sex. Start with getting enough sleep the night before, eat healthfully, go to the gym if that helps you feel good, try to avoid stressful interactions and leave your work at work. Be kind to your partner, collaborate on chores, put your phones away.

And sure, have a romantic dinner and sprinkle some rose petals on the sheets if that’s up your alley. Sex is about both setting and set (as in mindset). That’s why my Valentine’s Day advice for you is not to just have sex. Get into a sexual mindset. With that in mind, here are a few more tips from my colleagues:

Deepen your awareness

You can do this solo or as part of a coupledom, said Sara Nasserzadeh, a psychologist in California and author of “Love by Design: 6 Ingredients to Build a Lifetime of Love.”

First, make a list of three things: your quirks (you might need to ask others around you), your pet peeves (things that send a tingle down your spine) and your sensitivities (such as feeling distrustful if your partner spends time on the phone).

Then see what your partner has on their list — or make the activity a fun game about how well you know (or don’t know) each other. It’s Valentine’s Day, so come up with a sexy prize for each win and a naughty consequence for each loss.

“The purpose here is to bring awareness to these aspects of yourself so that you can assess if they are serving you in your life and relationships or not — and to have some intimate fun, too,” Nasserzadeh said.

Reignite your inner spark

Valentine’s Day reminds you to connect with your partner, but it can miss the most important relationship of all — the relationship to yourself. The harsher you are to yourself, the worse you can feel inside, whether single or in a relationship.

When you relate to yourself with more love and compassion, you can tolerate seeing your strengths and weaknesses clearly and risk vulnerability in relationships without shame, according to Signe Simon and Simone Humphrey, New York City-based psychologists and cohosts of the “LoveLink” podcast.

Taking time to deepen your relationship to yourself, as you do with others, helps you show up for all your relationships in a more connected way. If you want to ignite the love with someone else, you need to kindle the love in yourself. One way to keep your own spark alive is to try something novel that engages your senses — try a new recipe, visit a new place or dance to music you’ve never heard before.

Keep an open mind

“If you’re swiping in search of a date, rather than looking for a partner who checks all your boxes,” look for a relationship in which you feel able to show up as the “you-est version of yourself,” said Illinois-based psychologist Alexandra Solomon, a professor at Northwestern University and author of “Love Every Day: 365 Relational Self-Awareness Practices to Help Your Relationship Heal, Grow, and Thrive.”

In the era of swipe-based dating apps, it’s tempting to feel as though your job is to swipe until you happen upon your soulmate. However, love is less about picking and more about creating. On a date, you’re neither interviewing that person nor performing for them.

“Instead, bring your presence, your curiosity, and your warmth, and see whether the two of you can work together to create a spark. Love is forged in the space between two people, and you are looking for someone with whom you can coauthor a wonderful love story,” Solomon said.

Don’t forget your kids

Many teens also feel pressure around Valentine’s Day — to be in a couple, find a date or have sex (whether or not they’re feeling ready). It’s a good idea for parents to talk with their teens about Valentine’s Day, said Debby Herbenick, a sex researcher and professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and author of “Yes, Your Kid: What Parents Need to Know About Today’s Teens and Sex.”

Ask your teens how it’s celebrated at school (such as cards, grand gestures, classroom flower deliveries), which may give insight into what they’re anticipating, whether with excitement or dread.

“Although teens often act like they’re ignoring us, they’re usually listening. So even if they say you’re being ‘cringe,’ share stories from your own adolescence, including how you felt at the time and anything you wish you’d done differently,” she said.

Teens may feel pressure to say “I love you” or go further sexually than they are ready to, she noted. “Help them think through what they can say or do in the face of such pressures. Many grown-ups feel these same pressures, so helping them grow these skills as teenagers is a gift for their future selves, too.”

The reverse holds true as well: “Urge your teen not to pressure anyone into sex or to expressing love if they’re not yet feeling it,” Herbenick said. “But if they and their partner are thinking about becoming sexually active make sure they have what they need (for example, birth control and condoms) to stay safe.”

However you approach Valentine’s Day, think of it as an investment in your relationship.

“The research tells us that folks who sustain long-term sexual connections treat their sex life as we would any interest or hobby we share with a close friend,” said Emily Nagoski, a sex educator based in Massachusetts and author of “Come Together: The Science (and Art!) of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections.”

“Whether it’s erotic pleasures or a favorite sports team, we stay interested in what our partner is thinking and feeling — what has been going great, what you hope can happen soon, what you’re worried might happen, that time things went perfectly, that time you had the hilarious disaster,” she said.

This kind of playful, curious communication about sex takes time and practice, but the reward is a pleasure-filled connection that lasts through the ups and downs of any long-term relationship — all year long.


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