Cracking The Valentine’s Day Code

by Brett and Kate McKay on February 12, 2008 · 13 comments

in Dating, Marriage, Relationships & Family


A lot of people, both men and women, think Valentine’s Day is kind of a silly holiday, designed by corporations to make you buy their stuff. Love and romance should be expressed every day, and you shouldn’t have to spend gobs of money to do it. Yet one of the burning questions men who have been in a long-term relationship face is what to give a woman who says: “I don’t want anything for Valentine’s Day.”

Plenty of advice gurus will tell you that this is a trap and that a woman who says this doesn’t mean it. And plenty of men have had experiences that bear this advice out. They’ll tell you how they didn’t get anything for the lady in their life who said she didn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day, and how they got a cold shoulder in return. And they’ll tell you how she then registered disappointment but tried to passively aggressively hide it.

So what is the deal? Are women a bunch of liars who like to trap and play games with their men? Well, sadly, yes, some of them do. But in the majority of cases the conflict arises from men and women interpreting “anything” differently.

When a man hears a woman say she doesn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day, he hears, “I want nothing.” But this isn’t the correct interpretation. So what does it mean?

When a woman says she does not want anything for Valentine’s Day it means she does not want a giant teddy bear, magnetic teddy bears that kiss, or any manner of teddy bear. It means she doesn’t expect you to wake her up with a diamond heart shaped pendant. She does not want a fancy dinner, gourmet chocolates, or a gift certificate for a day at the spa. She doesn’t want any of the things that corporations hawk this time of year. What does she want? A love note and flowers.

But wait you say, aren’t love notes and flowers “something?” Not to a woman they aren’t. They are so rudimentary as to not constitute “anything.” For example, you may want to buy something but refrain and say “I don’t have any money.” Of course you have some money, but not enough for your something to constitute anything. A love note and flowers are minimum gestures that are expected. Like brushing your teeth or showering.

So what the woman in your life really wants when she says she wants nothing, is an acknowledgment that you love her and are thinking about her. In many cases simply a love note, sans flowers, will do. Just make sure the note says mushy things you don’t normally say and you’re golden

And remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. She may not want anything, but something is always better than nothing.

1 amy February 12, 2008 at 6:29 pm

kate, i agree all the way. although i do think it is in bad taste to say you want nothing unless you actually want NOTHING, i think your advice does a good job of summing up the, albeit obscured, method to womens’ madness. nobody wants nothing for anything, much less on valentines day, artificially manufactured or not.

however, i, being prone to serious (often problematic) honesty, will make my expectations for a heart shaped diamond pendant clearly understood.

i bet i’ll still get a love note :)

2 Kate February 12, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Amy-Yes, you are quite right that asking for nothing and expecting something is truly in bad taste. What I should have said is that many women ask for nothing and truly believe they mean it, but when V-Day rolls around and they have gotten what they asked for, they suddenly wish they had gotten something. This may occur naturally, or it may occur when they come to work and the face of one’s
obnoxious co-worker is obscured by a bouquet of two dozen red roses.

This has been my experience at least. I say I want nothing but then realize I am disappointed when I get it. I think I say nothing just to make the surprise and delight of getting something all the more acute. But then sometimes it backfires and I do indeed get nothing.

3 Carol February 12, 2008 at 7:37 pm

Yes, you got it right.
The only thing you left out that we really, and I do mean really, don’t want is that trashy underwear! There is no way worse to say “I Love You”, than to pull that trick on Valentine’s Day.

4 fathersez February 12, 2008 at 8:51 pm


Many a man has been doomed by misinterpreting the lady’s words.

You are so right, something is better than nothing!


5 Jason February 13, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Strangely enough, I just wrote an article about those “nothing” sort of things… you can find it here if you’re interested.

PS – If you’re going to ask me to vote for you on Digg (and I would), could you please give me a button to do so?

6 Greg March 9, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Carol – unless, of course, she has made her expectations for trashy underwear clearly understood.

7 Nick July 28, 2008 at 10:17 am

The question still remains.

Why not say what you want?

8 Zak July 28, 2008 at 12:14 pm

@Nick – Because no one wants to say “I want you to write me a mushy letter detailing how deep your love for me is”.

It is both trivial and profound at once and not the sort of thing anyone would want to ask for.

9 Frank Schnyder July 31, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Kate’s comment above really hits the nail on the head. A woman might say she doesn’t want anything, but has no idea what she’ll actually feel like that day. She will probably feel very left out. I wish I had seen it from that angle before my breakup!

10 Juliana November 12, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Being a girl, I usually lurk here, but I figured my two cents might be helpful in this case, so here goes:

When someone says “What do you want for Valentines Day?” it sounds like they want to know what gift to buy. The answer “nothing” is in response to that. Please, no gift, just do something sweet or say something mushy you usually don’t. I think that’s where the misunderstanding happens. I don’t want a THING, I want you to tell me you love me with slightly more emphasis than usual.

11 Athios December 19, 2008 at 1:31 am

I agree that miscommunication and misunderstanding of exactly what is wanted is often the case.

To paraphrase what has already been mentioned:
“don’t want anything” usually means “don’t want you to BUY me anything”
“don’t want anything” does NOT mean “don’t want you to do anything at all”

My girlfriend saves all the cards I have given her, even ones I think are trivial. So yes, a little can go a long way.

12 Chemical Erik February 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Here’s another idea I’m using this year in response to “don’t buy me anything” from my wife. I bought (yeah, I know) a couple DVD’s I’d NEVER pick for myself but my wife will love (Devil Wears Prada and some other chick flick comedy). I’ll sit and watch them (at least one depending on how busy we are) with the wife on Valentine’s day.

13 Vince August 15, 2010 at 10:17 pm

My friend who is now married went out with his then girlfriend to do service, I believe at a soup kitchen and donated away the money they would have spent on a date. This is romantic and removes all selfishness from the holiday and sets a good tone for the kind of couple you will be.

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