10 great — cheap — ways to win her heart

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Women love Valentine’s Day, and why not? It’s all about love and relationships and life’s wonderful intangibles. It’s also the one holiday each year that validates their Chocophilia and precludes interaction with their mothers.

Men, on the other hand, have a far different and darker view. For them, Valentine’s Day is a rigged crapshoot perpetuated by the nation’s florists, jewelers and “chocolatiers” to separate us from our hard-earned cash with only slim prospects of a return.

In fact, for those with a Y chromosome, Feb. 14 feels a lot like April 15, only wrapped in big red hearts.

It’s not that men are cheap or uncaring. Quite the contrary: Men are cheap and caring. It’s just that our classic Valentine’s Day disclaimer — “I don’t need a special day to tell you I love you” — is pretty much the definition of a romantic nonstarter.

Let’s face it; women and men want the same thing out of Valentine’s Day: a gesture of thoughtfulness and caring unsullied by commerce that stokes the fire between us.

In the spirit of healing a divided nation, here are 10 wonderfully romantic ways that guys can survive and possibly even enjoy this annual “affaire de coeur” without gratuitous spending.

1. Take a romantic hostage. Forget seduction, try abduction. Drop by her workplace midmorning on the Friday before Valentine’s Day, blindfold her with her best red scarf, usher her to your car and drive off — with her boss’s prior permission, of course. What to do with your romantic hostage? How about lunch where you had your first date? Or a picnic at the courthouse where you were married? Or a latte at her favorite art museum or bookstore? Then again, there are always romantic possibilities at home.

2. Create a spa-tacular. The only difference between your bathroom and a swank spa is imagination. OK, and maybe a staff of six. Still, chances are you already have the basic ingredients — water, towels, candles and smelly stuff — somewhere in the house. All that remains is to combine them to create a relaxing mood for her. First, kill the lights. Next, add as many candles as fire code permits; tea candles are best because they won’t tip over. Arrange them at different heights around the room to create a fairyland effect. Warm your towels and robes in the dryer. Add light jazz or New Age music on the sound system, scatter rose petals in the bath, leave a trail of love notes leading from the front door to your private grotto and welcome her with her favorite ‘tini.

3. Buff up her Manolos. Want to really thrill your Valentine? Shine her shoes for her. All of them. Well, the leather ones, then. I know, I know, she has a lot of them. That’s the point, Einstein. Here’s how you do it: Arrange to take Thursday off, but pretend you’re going to work as usual. Then double back to the hacienda, pull out the shoeshine kit and get to work on those puppies. As you complete each pair, slip it into its own brown paper lunch sack, label it with a marker and return it to its rightful place in her closet. (No, I don’t know the correct names either; just try to get close and have a laugh about it later.) Once you’re done, close the closet door and affix the most creative big red craft paper heart you can muster with your names tied together with shoestrings. She will freak out.

4. Stage a chocolate intervention. This is essentially a surprise dinner party with a bit of “Punk’d” thrown in. You’ll need the help of a few good friends to pull it off. Come up with a pretext to delay her arrival home from work, to give the guests time to assemble. Have them arrive with two things — a healthy veggie you assign to them (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), and something of their choosing from the chocolate family. Before she arrives, seat everyone around the table with their two items concealed and terribly concerned looks on their faces. Seat her facing them and inform her that this is an intervention. Then, one by one, have each guest place their veggie on the table and express their concern for her health. When everyone has spoken, let the tension build, then ask the group, “How can we help this girl?” At which point everyone shouts, “Chocolate!” and unleashes the flood of treats. Then proceed with party. Variations include ice cream or wine.

5. Dazzle her with detailing. Car detailing, that is. The less attention your Valentine typically pays to the cleanliness and appearance of her ride, the more she’ll appreciate this thoughtful gesture. Arrange to skip work on Valentine’s Day long enough to complete the job. You’ll also need to feign car trouble or come up with another good reason to borrow her car for the day. Once she’s elsewhere, start by filling her gas tank. Then wash, wax and polish the exterior, vacuum the interior and clean the upholstery, overhead and dash. Then hang a fresh linen-scented air freshener. For the finishing touch, use car wax or one of those easy-off sports booster paints to draw Valentine hearts with your names in big letters on every window. Then go pick up your Valentine.

6. Suds her duds. This surprise will have the most impact if you’ve never, ever done the laundry. Ever. It’s also the riskiest of these 10 choices. But if you’re relatively confident you can man the machines without accidentally turning your combined wardrobes to a pastel Easter egg shade, soldier on, laundry god. To earn extra snuggle points, fold and stack. WARNING: DO NOT touch knits, woolens, silks or anything frilly! If you don’t know what these are, choose another selection from our list — now. And don’t even think about ironing! You’ve been warned.

7. Candlelight dinner with Chef You. Surprise her with a full-course candlelight dinner at Chez You. If you’re an absolute novice in the kitchen, so much the better. Search online for an uncomplicated romantic meal you can prepare for two; veggie or meat marinara sauce over pasta, tossed salad, garlic bread and a simple tiramisu for dessert are probably within your reach. No guy meals allowed (pizza, steaks, Spaghetti-Os, etc.). Uncork a bottle of your — or her — favorite wine, light a few candles and serve her with your best suave waiter accent. She’ll eat it up!

8. Go on the record. Tell her a story. Read her some treasured poetry or the lyrics to her favorite love songs, or even try to sing a few — you don’t need to be an accomplished vocalist, she’ll love you for trying. Record it in MP3 format and load it onto her iPod or burn a CD for her drive to work. Or reminisce about your favorite trips, funny moments or those little details about her that still make your heart melt. Don’t overproduce it; just be yourself. She’ll love it. Be warned: Mix tapes are a guy thing. Do not — repeat, do not — give a mix tape of any kind to your Valentine. This includes cell phone programming. It falls into the same category as lingerie, computer games and malt beverages, all of which are really gifts to you.

9. Sweep her off her feet. If you dance, you already know where to go. If you don’t, this will sweep her off her feet. Check online for free evening dance lessons in your area: salsa, ballroom, country two-step, swing, whatever. If you like it, it might start a whole new hobby for you to share. Even if you’re the world’s worst dancer, she’ll be touched that you cared enough to try.

10. Don’t just stand there, ‘Say Anything.’ In the annals of I’m-a-fool-for-love movie moments, John Cusack’s Romeo-with-boom-box pose in the 1989 Cameron Crowe classic “Say Anything” ranks right up there with Bogie and Brando. You know the scene — Cusack as loser Lloyd Dobler stands outside Ione Skye’s bedroom window holding that boom box over his head, letting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” do his love talking for him. Granted, it takes a little manly nerve to crank up your sweetie’s favorite Michael Buble or Corinne Bailey Rae track to full volume, hold that boom box over your head outside her window and bring her entire workplace to a full stop. Classics are classics because they work. She’ll love you, even as you’re escorted off the premises.