Ask Dr. Beth: Valentine’s Day Edition

Ask Dr. Beth: Valentine’s Day Edition

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There are many people who already hate the concept of Valentine’s Day. They see it as just a corporate holiday only made to sell greeting cards and chocolate. The global pandemic isn’t doing the holiday any favors, either. How can couples go about celebrating a time that encourages intimacy and closeness…during a time where the closest we can be is six feet apart? Dr. Beth Ribarsky is a professor of Communications at UIS, and no stranger to student concerns about love, dating, and sex. The following interview talks about how to celebrate, communicate, and stay safe during the 2021 Valentine’s Day season.


UIS Journal: Valentine’s Day might look a bit different this year for a lot of people, and for obvious reasons. How can lovers go about spending Valentine’s Day during a pandemic?


Dr. Beth: I really think that there are, obviously, two different approaches that are going to happen here. You have some couples that are obviously social distancing together, but we also have a lot of couples that aren’t able to physically be together.


The thing with Valentine’s Day is that it is kind of that Hallmark holiday, right. But it’s an important day that we can almost set aside as a chance to really remind our partner how much we really care for them and love them.


For couples that are actually social distancing together, there are different things you can do, like going stargazing. Weather permitting, as long as people pack snacks in a nice several warm blankets, it’d be a fun and romantic activity.


Go to the park for a date! I know people don’t think about Valentine’s Day and day dates, but day dates are just as fun! Even if people don’t live in Springfield, there’s still lots of places to go. For instance, Lincoln Memorial Gardens is a beautiful place, and it’s right along the lake, or maybe make a trip out to the Apple barn ahead of time and get some snacks and coffee, and then walk around. Again, it’s a little bit about thinking outside-the-box.


Make a meal at home! Of course, making a meal at home is always a great way for people to connect with one another.


If you can’t cook, I suppose you could go to one of the grocery stores and get one of those premade meal order kits. Even if you don’t necessarily feel comfortable in the kitchen, a lot of those things are very step-by-step. If cooking isn’t your thing, then maybe you order in, right? It’s a great way to support local business. And I’m all about that! And of course, it’s a great way to have somebody else do the work for you.


For both these types of couples, the important thing is to have fun, and whatever it is that you do to have fun with your partner is what you should be doing. So, if you love playing video games, play video games together! If you love board games, do that. Whatever it is that excites you.


I know that Zoom and FaceTime it gets a little boring after a while, but there are lots of online escape rooms that are now available. And a lot of them are very reasonably priced. There’s even one based out of Urbana Champaign that is like $10.


Taking an online tour! So many places are doing these really cool tours, like tours of the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum or things like that. Again, it’s all about what makes people happy and excited, and simple ways to remind your partners that you love them.


UIS Journal: With COVID still in full swing, there may be a number of people who actually can’t see their loved ones in person. While Zoom and FaceTime are nice, there is still a certain longing that comes with loving someone who isn’t near. How does one get over that “homesick” feeling they might have for a loved one?


DB: A lot of what I think about what is happening now is comparable to long-distance relationships. That’s one of the things that people kind of forget and miss out on: they forget about how important it is just having open lines of communication and checking in often with your partner.


Ask them how they’re doing, ask them how their day was, almost create a routine in some ways. Because having that routine and that consistency is a way in which we reduce our uncertainty not only about our life in general, and we have so many different areas of uncertainty that are happening right now. Keep that sense of connection and let them know that you’re thinking about them.


So often, we think about days, like Valentine’s Day as being about this big grand gesture but that’s not what our relationships are built on. Our relationships are really built upon the day-to-day, everyday stuff that makes us feel really connected to our partners, like sending a “miss you” text or a meal.


UIS Journal: Because of social distancing, it might be hard to even keep some relationships alive! How can couples work to overcome this new barrier?


DB: Oh, it is 100 percent a new challenge that gets added in – but again, you have couples that are long-distance couples doing it for years on end.


Of course, distance is such a huge stressor because of the uncertainty that surrounds the relationship. But I like to think about this as almost as a little bit of encouragement for how we can really work on our relationships. We know that the best of relationships are built upon both emotional and psychological closeness, not just that physical aspect.


So again, that’s where that communication aspect really comes in…encouraging couples to work on those really foundational aspects. And if distance becomes too big of a stressor on it – maybe they didn’t have that stability they really needed in order for it to be a successful relationship.


 Now, I’m not saying that all relationships are doomed. Long distance relationships have been found to be as close, strong and stable as geographically close relationships. It just means that you have to do things in a little bit of a different way. So you have to take advantage of all these technological advances that we have that allow us to have that face-to-face connection. It’s not the same, but it’s something, right?


Stressing more than ever how important that communication is, that we can’t just rely upon our partner being in the same room as us or on the couch as us. And letting us know that they care about us because they’re holding our hand. But instead, again, opening up those lines of communication, and really working on ways to connect with those partners.


UIS Journal: Any more tips or comments on staying safe and responsible this Valentine’s Day? 


DB: Again, this is where communication becomes really instrumental – talking about what it is that you’re most comfortable with.


I’ve kind of joked a bit through the pandemic that a lot of these conversations that we’re having regarding COVID safety sound like STI conversations. “Where have you been? How safe Have you been? How comfortable are you doing these things?” It’s a very similar type of conversation.


If you can’t have these very important and very honest conversations, then it’s a sign that perhaps you’re not ready for that type of intimacy in that relationship. So again, having those conversations about sexual safety, even, is incredibly important. Again, you if you can’t talk about things like sex, then you probably shouldn’t be having sex. Sex is one of those things that culture continues to make even a little taboo to talk about. But you have to be comfortable talking about it in order to really engage in those safe types of practices.


Check out Dr. Ribarsky’s advice columns on The Journal’s website for more advice on love, relationship and dating.