Valen­tine’s date?

Break out of your din­ner-and-flow­ers rut

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRITZ HAHN [email protected]­post.com

We’ve got some ideas for get­ting out of the din­ner-and-flow­ers rut that will warm your heart.

Burnt out on the idea of Valen­tine’s Day dates with hearts and flow­ers and Miche­lin-starred prix fixe meals? You’re not alone. “So many people fall into the trap of want­ing to con­form to other people’s views of what Valen­tine’s Day should look like,” says on­line dat­ing coach Erika Et­tin of alit­tlenudge.com, “es­pe­cially when they see other cou­ples post­ing their ‘ ro­man­tic’ evenings all over Face­book or In­sta­gram. Of­ten, the most se­cure cou­ples post the least be­cause, rather than broad­cast­ing their re­la­tion­ship to the world, they are ac­tu­ally liv­ing in it and en­joy­ing each other with fewer dis­trac­tions.” ¶ Then there are the people who just don’t like Hall­mark hol­i­days. “My hus­band and I think it’s a weird holiday,” says D.C. Match­mak­ing owner Michelle Ja­coby. “You should show your part­ner how much you love them ev­ery day.” ¶ Still, there are ways to do it right, such as spend­ing time to­gether in­stead of splurg­ing on jew­elry or gifts. “I like ex­pe­ri­ences more than I like things,” Ja­coby says. “Planning and mak­ing mem­o­ries — to me, that’s re­ally won­der­ful.” ¶ If you’re look­ing for last-minute ideas for re­cap­tur­ing the magic for Valen­tine’s Day, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the long Pres­i­dents’ Day week­end, or just try­ing some­thing you haven’t done in a while, we have ideas and ad­vice. But no mat­ter what, put your phones away and en­joy each other in the mo­ment as much as pos­si­ble. This is about be­ing the cool, se­cure cou­ple, re­mem­ber?

Ro­man­tic art comes in many forms, but around Valen­tine’s Day, fine art, such as paint­ing and sculp­ture, is of­ten down­played in fa­vor of cutesy po­ems or soar­ing bal­lads. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Wash­ing­ton’s mu­se­ums are won­der­ful places for dates — it’s easy to lose time just sit­ting in the Phillips Col­lec­tion’s Rothko Room or the Na­tional Gallery of Art’s garden courts — but there’s also plenty of ro­mance to be found on the walls.

Sev­eral years ago, David Gar­iff, a se­nior lec­turer at the Na­tional Gallery, cre­ated “Love in Art: 1500-1900,” a gallery talk fea­tur­ing his fa­vorite ro­man­tic pieces from the col­lec­tion. They range from the ex­pected, such as Au­guste Rodin’s “The Kiss” and Ti­tian’s “Venus and Adonis,” to lesser­known works, in­clud­ing Jan Steen’s “The Danc­ing Cou­ple.” While the talks are not of­fered, the Na­tional Gallery has cre­ated a Pin­ter­est board of 26 im­ages, which build on Gar­iff ’s theme. Con­sider con­duct­ing your own two-per­son scav­enger hunt: Wan­der through a cou­ple of gal­leries at the NGA, the Hir­sh­horn or the Phillips, and see what im­ages say “ro­mance” to you, and what speaks to your date. You might even learn some­thing about each other.

Cou­ples should op­er­ate as a team, but there’s noth­ing wrong with chal­leng­ing each other to friendly com­pe­ti­tion. Pick an ac­tiv­ity that matches your com­fort level: Putt your way around glow-in-the-dark ogres and skele­tons at the in­door Mon­ster Mini- Golf in Chan­tilly or Gaithers­burg. Spend an af­ter­noon go-kart­ing at the Au­to­bahn In­door Speed­way in Ster­ling, where the elec­tric carts nav­i­gate hair­pin turns and can hit 50 mph on the straight­aways. (There’s an ex­tra up­side to speeding, too: D.C. Match­mak­ing’s Ja­coby points out that “adren­a­line cre­ates chem­istry,” as sci­ence has proved that at­trac­tion is in­creased by ac­tiv­i­ties that get your heart rac­ing.)

Cou­ples could host a mini-olympics — say, best two-of-three in bowl­ing, ping-pong and pinball at Ballston’s Punch Bowl So­cial — or chal­lenge their part­ners to foos­ball, darts and Mario Kart on a Switch at Pitch­ers in Adams Mor­gan. Some­thing less phys­i­cal? Nu­mer­ous bars offer board games, whether you want to go head-to-head at Red Bear Brew­ing or the Board Room, or just have a low-key night of beers and Con­nect Four at the Pub­lic Op­tion brew­pub in Woodridge.

Ei­ther way, It’s fun to make side bets — the win­ner gets to pick the next date night restau­rant, while the loser gets to pick the lo­ca­tion of the next com­pet­i­tive out­ing. As they say, all’s fair in love and mini-golf.

Get out of town

Whether you’re try­ing to re­con­nect, spend time alone or just hang out with your part­ner, the easy ad­vice is to get out of town. You’ll be re­moved from all the drudgery of every­day life — no one has to do dishes! Some­one else makes the bed! — and break­ing those rou­tines means you have more time to en­joy each other, es­pe­cially with a long week­end on the hori­zon. Be spon­ta­neous: Pick a des­ti­na­tion, get in the car or buy train tick­ets, and go.

Our fa­vorite des­ti­na­tions in­clude Harpers Ferry for a week­end full of history, hik­ing and nightly ghost tours; Bal­ti­more, where you can es­cape the In­ner Har­bor for sizzling jazz at Key­stone Korner and tour ex­hi­bi­tions ex­am­in­ing women’s con­tri­bu­tions to Amer­i­can mod­ernism at the Bal­ti­more Mu­seum of Art; and Rich­mond, where brew­eries, cideries and restau­rants have been at­tract­ing na­tional at­ten­tion, and Ke­hinde Wi­ley’s mon­u­men­tal sculp­ture “Ru­mors of War,” un­veiled in De­cem­ber, has drawn vis­i­tors to the Vir­ginia Mu­seum of Fine Arts.

Discover the gar­dens at Hill­wood

Re­search has shown that be­ing out­doors, sur­rounded by green plants, can re­duce stress and anx­i­ety. Going on walks with a part­ner pro­vides time to catch up, hold hands or just de­com­press to­gether with­out a plan, with the added ben­e­fits of ex­er­cise.

While there are miles of hik­ing trails in Rock Creek Park and around the area, one of our fa­vorite places to get lost is in the 13 acres of for­mal gar­dens at Marjorie Mer­ri­weather Post’s Hill­wood Es­tate. There’s al­ways some­thing to see, whether you wan­der the box­wood-lined Friendship Walk, seek the stat­ues in the French or Ja­panese gar­dens, or look for flow­ers ap­pear­ing on the Wood­land Path. (Take a look at the Hill­wood web­site’s “What’s in Bloom” page be­fore ven­tur­ing out.)

What makes Hill­wood a per­fect all-weather date is that if it’s too chilly to stay out for long, or if rain threat­ens, you can re­treat in­doors to the fra­grant green­house, in which hun­dreds of va­ri­eties of or­chids and col­or­ful trop­i­cal flow­ers for cut­ting are grown, and the florists are avail­able to talk about the blooms. (There are reg­u­lar green­house tours, too.) Af­ter­ward, head to Hill­wood’s cafe for a cap­puc­cino or a glass of wine.

Re-cre­ate your first date

This is a great idea for two rea­sons. First, it’s obviously ro­man­tic — re­mem­ber how young and ner­vous and full of hope you were? — but it also has the ben­e­fit of be­ing easy on the wal­let. Un­less you were dat­ing out of your league and re­ally try­ing to im­press the other per­son, you prob­a­bly weren’t dining at four-star restau­rants on your first dates.

“If you went out for an old fash­ioned at the bar around the cor­ner, that seems like the per­fect low-key yet still ro­man­tic way to spend the holiday,” says Et­tin, the dat­ing coach. So head back to that happy-hour spot on the Hill for cheap house wine; grab drinks at Clyde’s of Gallery Place and head to a movie up­stairs; try to score prime couch seats at Tryst and sip one of the “big mugs” of house cof­fee, and re­mem­ber why you asked that per­son out again.

Cud­dle up by a fire

There’s some­thing al­lur­ing about a crack­ling fire and danc­ing flames. When you’re sit­ting out­side, around a fire pit or next to a glow­ing heater, you in­stinc­tively cud­dle closer to the per­son you’re with. Add a flush on your cheeks from a chilly breeze, and the warm­ing power of a hot toddy in your belly, and you’ve got the in­gre­di­ents for win­ter ro­mance.

Try Cal­ico, in Blag­den Al­ley, where you can perch next to tall heaters with flames and sip a creamy hot choco­late — made with but­ter choco­late and spiked with dark rum — while cozy­ing up un­der the bar’s se­lec­tion of fleece and flan­nel blan­kets. Noma’s Wun­der Garten may be best known for its kid- and dogfriendl­y Ok­to­ber­fest beer garden, but it keeps the fes­tive vibe going all win­ter long, with chalet-style ca­banas filled with pil­lows and throw blan­kets; large fire pits sur­rounded by couches; DIY s’mores on Fri­day evenings and Satur­day and Sun­day af­ter­noons; and DJS and live mu­sic on week­ends. Ir­ish cof­fee and hot spiked cider are about as fancy as the menu gets, but you can al­ways go in­side the large, heated tent if you need to warm up.

Play the right sort of games

Find ro­mance in art

JANGO JIM FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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