The biggest problem with Valentine's Day is that it's so oversold. It's like New Year's Eve or something -- so much pressure! And it's just kind of schmaltzy, the whole thing. Romantic dinners, flowers, chocolate: Who lives like that, anyway? All the same, the best thing to do is simply go with it -- give in to the greeting-card hype and have a great time, but be a little creative while you're at it. Here are ten ways you can be goofy and love-struck without resorting to a Whitman's sampler.
1. Have Luke Finn, personal chef, do your bidding. He's a graduate of the French Culinary Institute and has worked in the kitchens of Le Cirque 2000, 11 Madison Park, and the Savoy, and for $200-$250, he'll plan your dream menu (rack of lamb with vanilla-scented sweet potatoes, anyone?), do all the grocery shopping, pick the wine, and then come over to your house and cook it. All you and yours have to do is sit down and be served (call 212-423-0467).
2. Imagine finding your valentine in the New York Times. Nestled right beneath, say, one of those foreign diaries. As long as you're not writing anything too naughty, you can take out an ad in the Times and let the whole world know exactly how you feel. An eighth-of-a-page ad, however, will set you back $12,915; we recommend you opt for the bottom-of-the-page Reader Notice slot: $500 a line, with a two-line minimum and six-line max (call 212-556-7777).
3. Don't let the fact that the Depasquale Day Spa happens to be located in the least romantic state in the union scare you. Once you've begun the Depasquale experience for two, you might believe that Jersey is, in fact, the Garden (of Eden) State after all. In a suite of "embracing" (read: dimly lit) rooms is a sandstone steeping tub in which you and your honey can . . . steep, in all sorts of exotic seaweeds and salts. Afterward, you share candlelit side-by-side massages. Then you can cuddle your way home along the Turnpike ($295 for 90 minutes; Route 10 East, Powder Mill Plaza, Morris Plains, New Jersey; 973-538-3811).
4. With Valentine's Day falling on a Wednesday this year, getaways are tricky. So escape without leaving town by checking into the Soho or Tribeca Grand Hotel for their "Sex in the City" special. Check in at noon on Valentine's Day and spend the afternoon in big, fluffy robes. The hotels offer five-course gourmet dinners filled with rich, decadent food, and an (ahem) late checkout the following afternoon ($699 at Tribeca Grand Hotel, 2 Sixth Avenue, 212-519-6600; or Soho Grand Hotel, 310 West Broadway, 212-965-3000).
5. What could be more romantic than having a Danny-and-Sandy, Johnny-and-Baby moment? All eyes are on you: the perfect couple with the perfect moves. If you've got four left feet, though, you'll need dance lessons first. Fred Astaire Village Studio (666 Broadway; 212-475-7776) has a Valentine's Day special: two half-hour private lessons and an hour-long group class for $50 a couple. "It teaches you," manager Scott Robinson promises, "how to lead and how to follow." So much cheaper than couples therapy.
6. Nothing's more trite than some big old bouquet of long-stem roses surrounded by baby's breath. Valentine's Day comes around only once a year: Challenge yourself! West Village flower shop Lotus is out there for anyone hoping to channel his inner Marilyn (Manson, that is). Try Black Baccarat, Black Magic, and Black Beauty arrangements of gothy, gorgeous roses (arrangements from $75 to $600; Lotus, 161 Seventh Avenue South; 212-463-0555). Legendary flower arranger Rebecca Cole is wrapping two dozen tulips in newspaper -- you score bonus luv points if that newspaper is printed with your mushy mash note ($55 and up; call 212-255-4797 to order).
7. The ladies of the Laughing Lotus Yoga Center will get you in that Sting-'n'-Trudy mood during their Laughing Lotus Love-In Weekend. Upon entering the small, pink studio (55 Christopher Street, second floor; 212-414-2903), you'll be handed a special Laughing Lotus Lip Bomb -- "We're getting our lotus lips ready for smackin'!" explains Dana Flynn -- and then led through a series of yoga workshops like "Live, Love, Laugh" and "Chanting With Remya and Her Devotional Divas."
8. Buying makeup for your lady can be intimidating, but Paris-based Terry de Gunzburg -- custom blender -- makes it interesting. She's used to dealing with peculiar demands. "I had one client," she explains in her Catherine Deneuve-ified voice -- "he wanted me to create blush for his girlfriend to make her look like she just had sex. He said, Be creative! So I tried to look at myself in the mirror!" In addition to custom colors, De Gunzburg can imprint powders with special messages -- she's done marry me more than once (011-331-4476-0076).
9. Eat oysters! Come on . . . you know why. Try the subterranean Oyster Bar (Grand Central Station, lower level, 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue; 212-490-6650), which has always felt like the perfect place to have an affair; the airy and delicious Blue Water Grill (31 Union Square West, at 16th Street; 212-675-9500); or the romantic, jazzy Alva (36 East 22nd Street; 212-228-4399), where you can stare from your cozy table into the crowded bar scene and be glad it's just the two of you.
10. If all this is making you depressed, and it's looking like you and your date (a tub of Häagen-Dazs) will be making it a Blockbuster night, try Paul Labrecque, owner of the eponymous spa nestled in the Reebok Sports Club. Labrecque is famous among friends and clients for his talent as a matchmaker, and this year he's offering his services. After your three-hour salon and spa makeover, Labrecque will snap your digital mug and download it, right there, onto Love@aol ($80; 160 Columbus Avenue, at 67th Street; 212-595-0099).