Other people's annual celebrations develop out of unromantic circumstances. On their first Valentine's Day as a married couple, Robyn Bloom, 49, and her husband found themselves without reservations. "We went to one of the better steakhouses in the area, only to find a three-hour wait," recalled Bloom. They drove around until they finally stopped at Denny's, thinking no one would eat at a cheap diner on a day associated with three-course meals and fancy silverware. As they walked up to the entrance they noticed a sign on the door: "Sorry—we're out of meat." Bloom and her husband ended up at IHOP where they were the only ones there under 65. In a situation that would have made Casanova cringe, Bloom was able to laugh. She and her husband have been honoring the day of love at IHOP for 19 years.
Merci Miglino's Valentine's Day routine started when her then boyfriend did the unexpected: he cooked. An HVAC mechanic who "is decidedly non-domestic," the newly minted Martha met Miglino at the door with a heart-shaped meatloaf. Eventually the two married and, says the 54-year-old, "We make this meal every Valentine's Day and my daughter has continued the tradition with her boyfriends a well."
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But not all quirky customs involve food. When she was in college, Franca Gargiulo, 46, and her single friends didn't want to be alone on February 14. Together they decorated a small Christmas tree with scraps of material and paper hearts. Twenty-five years later Gargiulo continues this practice with her husband.
"Over the years," says Garguilo, "I have taken scraps from various garments—wedding dress, flannel pajamas, a sentimental tie that belonged to my father—and we make little heart ornaments out of them. It's corny, but always lots of fun and like Christmas tree decorations, [they] bring back so many memories."
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Over-the-top expectations for Valentine's Day can leave couples feeling disappointed. A mass-produced diamond pendant is nice, but it's not unique. Unconventional traditions celebrate love by being different and meaningful, even if that meaning comes in a heart-shaped pound of ground beef. I wouldn't trade my yearly Wendy's for any $102.50 meal, because it reminds me that when our plans turn into a bloody debacle, my husband and I can just laugh and pick up a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger. And for us, that's real romance.