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How To Surprise Your Partner for Valentine’s Day When You’ve Spent Every Day Together for Two Pandemic Years

Feature image by MoMo Productions via Getty Images

How the fuck do you surprise the only person you’ve talked to for the past two years? Okay, I know that’s a slight exaggeration, but if you have been cohabitating with a partner during the pandemic, then they have likely been your main source of in-person socialization, and there likely have been quite a few days where they were the only human contact you had. It can maybe seem silly to try and have a “date night” with each other or try to surprise each other for Valentine’s Day — you’re together all the time! But that’s why it’s important to carve out some intentional time together and also shake things up from your daily routine. (For what it’s worth, this doesn’t even have to apply to Valentine’s Day. Planning fun and genuinely adventurous date nights is important year-round for overall relationship health and happiness!) Here are some ideas to help out!

Get delivery from a place y’all have never tried

Listen, I KNOW you’ve been circulating between the same 4-5 delivery joints in your neighborhood, so it’s time to think outside the box! Pick a place you’ve never tried before and go wild! Though maybe ask a nearby friend for recs or browse a bit online so you’re not playing it too risky.

Other ideas of breaking your usual patterns:

Do a self-guided wine tasting or tinned fish tasting or hot sauce tasting or honey tasting or — you get it! Basically if there’s a food or drink category you both enjoy, try getting a set of things you haven’t tried before within that category and give them a whirl! My girlfriend loves when I read wine reviews from the app Vivino aloud to her when we’re trying new wines. I think there’s sometimes pressure to just do/buy the things you already know you like on a holiday like Valentine’s Day, but you can get the things you like any time! Try something new.

If you’re not the one who usually cooks, offer to cook something

I know not all couples have a Cooking Person and a Not Cooking Person, so if this doesn’t apply to you, skip it! But if it does, consider this: It doesn’t matter what your culinary skill level is. Chances are your partner will be charmed by your decision to don the chef’s hat for a day! I love to be the chef in my relationship, but I also sincerely love the days when my girlfriend makes us a frozen pizza! Or one of her grandmother’s recipes! You don’t even have to be responsible for something as daunting as dinner if you don’t want to. This can be a sweet little breakfast in bed or a dessert or a midday cheese plate.

Make an at-home Instagram photo booth

Become your partner’s dream Instagram Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Boo/Etc. by setting up a cute lil photo booth and offering to do a photoshoot of them. This one is specifically for if your partner enjoys taking and posting cute pics of themselves! It gives you a chance to tell them how hot they are, and it gives them some stuff to post other than just selfies. But also make sure you pop on the self-timer and take some pics together.

For constructing the actual “photo booth,” here are some tips/ideas/things to buy:

If your place has a well lit doorway, door streamers are an easy way to create a photo backdrop. There are lots of Valentine’s Day-specific ones.

Are selfie frames cringe? Yeah, but Valentine’s Day is kinda the ultimate Cringe Holiday, so why not lean in?

You don’t need to have a fancy camera to pull this off, but lighting is your friend. Get fancy with a light wand or standing ring light. You can also add decorative lighting to your shoot, like string lights, fairy lights, or neon props.

Give them some alone time

Now, you have to be the arbiter of whether this is something your partner will actually enjoy! But if they are indeed someone who enjoys recharging by being alone, plan something nice for them like a bath decked out with things they’d like, whether that’s rose petal bath salts, peppermint and tea tree bath bombs, astrology-themed bath glitter, etc. If they don’t already have a bath tray, they are a gamechanger, especially if they like to read in the bath. Get your partner all set up and cozy and then find something to do on your own for a bit.

Alternatively, if you and your partner have different interests, come up with a plan for the day where you each get to partake in your preferred interest. Like for example, if they like museums but you’re more into an outdoor activity like hiking, buy them that museum ticket and go your separate ways for a couple hours. Then reconvene for drinks/dinner and ask each other about your day. I know it might be counterintuitive to spend Valentine’s Day apart, but it doesn’t have to be all day, and it can still be a way to connect!

Staycation, duh

Okay, yes, this one is obvious! Traveling is still complicated and risky right now, and flying is risky. But you don’t have to go far from home to get out of the house and into new surroundings. If you feel like you can do so safely, consider a little cabin getaway, a stay in a beach bungalow, or a camping trip. Or if going somewhere overnight or for a few nights isn’t feasible, you can look into things like day passes for pools near you (can you tell I live in Miami with this suggestion lol) or other outdoor activities in your area that will still feel like getting away from home.

Here are some little bonus tips to make a staycation even more romantic and fun:

If you’re road tripping and you have a car with a CD and/or tape player, make a mixtape. You can do it the old-school way if you have the right equipment. Or you can have it done for you via Etsy, which has options for cassettes as well as CDs (also, obvs not road trip friendly, but the customizable vinyls are very cool!). Or, if you don’t have a tape or CD player in your car but do at home, you can still give the mixtape as a gift and play a digital version of the playlist while you drive.

Bring your own blanket. Sure, it might seem weird to bring your own blanket to an Airbnb or vacation rental, but there’s no telling how cozy the provided ones are going to be! Give the comfy gift of a plush blanket and then bring that shit with you!

If one of your go-to couple activities during the pandemic has been doing puzzles or playing games together, get a travel version of your fav game. Or try out a new game entirely. I’m a huge fan of the very compact, very simple game Pass The Pigs.

Start a gifts note in your phone ASAP

It’s too late to implement this advice this year, but get it going for next Valentine’s Day or a different gift-giving holiday. Any time your partner mentions something they want/like/think is cute/need/etc., jot it down in this note. Include links if you need to! Or accompanying visuals and then create a photo album in your phone for them! A surprise doesn’t have to be mean something completely out of left field. And keeping this note going year-round will help you remember the sorta random wishes your partner has. Because you likely know the major things they want or at least can figure them out pretty quickly, but it’s the little things like this that can be really surprising and sweet. Even if it seems like a boring gift! Like say your partner says they like a certain fancy skincare product but doesn’t want to spend the $$$ or that they wish they had something simple like a cast iron pan but have never gotten around to buying it or they always compliment their friend on their fancy silverware. Store that info away and save yourself from last-minute gifts brainstorming.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 871 articles for us.


  1. These are soooo helpful Kayla. Especially the give each other the gift of space suggestion.

    Another goodie is cooking together, if you can both (all) share the kitchen. My spouse and I have made chocolate souffle together for valentine’s day and it was delicious.

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