What's worse than getting nothing for Valentine's Day? Try getting two dozen long-stemmed red roses from the guy you went out with just once -- and that was under extreme duress from your matchmaking Aunt Ethel.
Valentine's Day is all about love and romance. But if one person is doing too much too soon in a relationship, the other person may just run screaming for a restraining order.
"I think simple is better," says Robin Gorman Newman, founder of LoveCoach.com. "If it's someone that you might be interested in, keep it low-key. If you're not sure where you're coming from, less is always more."
A lot of people feel that they have to make a big deal out of Valentine's Day, even if they aren't in a serious relationship.
"Guys feel pressure to step up and do the perfect thing -- flowers, jewelry and all of that," says dating coach Steven Sacks of matemap.com.
Rushing Into a Relationship for the Wrong Reasons
Guys aren't the only ones who feel the pressure.
"Women tend to make more of a big deal [about Valentine's Day] than men do," says psychologist Larina Kase, president of Performance and Success Coaching LLC. "Part of it is that women tend to compare themselves to their friends."
If all their friends are married or dating someone seriously, they may try to rush into a relationship, she says. In doing so, they may overlook that they're dating someone who is totally wrong for them.
Or, if they push things along too fast, they'll end up appearing desperate -- and frightening.
"If it's too much of a response, if they go way overboard, it can scare the other person off," says consum-mate.com's Toni Coleman, a relationship coach and psychotherapist in McLean, Va.
Does that mean that if you're dating someone new, you should avoid Valentine's Day like the plague?
No, says Newman -- but you should keep it low key.
"If you are taking someone out on Valentine's Day and especially if it's a first date, you don't want to go overboard," she says. "No candlelight, no big bouquet of flowers."
Don't Overdo It
Just don't make a big deal out of that Feb. 14 date, says Peter Post, author of "Essential Manners for Men" and director of the Emily Post Institute (he's a great-grandson of the famed etiquette maven).
"I think that it's nice to pay tribute to the day, but you're not going to call him 'your valentine' just yet," says Post. "You don't have to ignore the idea that the day is there. It's not like you have to sweep it under the rug, but you don't have to make it a big romantic time."
He suggests small tokens for such an occasion -- a small bouquet of flowers, some chocolates (but not in a heart-shaped box). If you have the money, tickets to a special event, such as a play or ballet or the symphony, might be nice.
But if you don't have a lot of extra cash, don't feel obligated to buy something expensive.
"Too much of the focus is on spending money, whether it's on dinner or presents or what not," said Sacks, author of "The Mate Map: The Right Tool for Choosing the Right Mate."
If a couple has just started dating, a simple card could be just the right touch. And even the romantic flourishes don't have to be expensive. "Having a romantic dinner is important, but it doesn't have to be the fanciest place in town," says Sacks. "One person can cook dinner. ... There's so much you can do without spending money."
And the present doesn't have to be overtly romantic. A CD or book is a thoughtful gift, as long as it's chosen with the person's interests in mind, says Sacks. "Maybe the woman's a dog lover. Get something for her pet."
Why Can't Women Buy Men Flowers?
Traditionally, men have been cast more in the role of gift-buyers, but there's no reason why that can't change.
"I think it's really nice when women do stuff," says Coleman. "People always saw the guy as the one with the pocketbook. I think that's changing; I think that's changing a lot. I know women who have bought flowers [for men]."
It's important to consider the personality of the person you're with, as well as how long you've been dating and how fast the relationship has been moving.
"A lot depends on the depth of the relationship," says Post. However you decide to mark the day, "you want to do something in keeping with your personality and the personality of the person you're doing it with."
And you might also consider whether a gift is too suggestive -- like lingerie. "You have to be real careful with that," says Kase. "You don't want to be doing that on the second date."
So what if a person you're less than keen on does go overboard, getting you a big, fancy, expensive present?
If you're feeling awkward about it, say so. Politely.
"That would be an awkward situation," says Newman, author of "How to Meet a Mensch in New York." "Maybe you could be, 'I love it, but I don't feel ready to accept such a generous gift."
If you do accept the gift, you should still make your feelings clear. And if you feel very uncomfortable about it, says Post, "I'd feel better not accepting."
Great Expectations May Mean Big Disappointments
What if you really hoped the guy you're dating would use Valentine's Day to do something romantic, and he didn't get the hint?
"I really urge women not to read into it too much," says Sacks. "Don't raise the expectation of Valentine's Day because you're setting yourself up for disappointment."
If the relationship lasts, you might hint that it would be nice to be a little more romantic next time. But if one person in the relationship expects a big to-do and the other person is more low key, it may be time to take a look at whether your values really mesh.
And if your Valentine's Day doesn't work out the way you wanted it to, remember, there will always be other chances. And you don't have to wait for next Feb. 14 for them to come along.
"It really is just one day," says Newman. "You don't want to put all your eggs in the Valentine's Day basket."