It's that time of year again when couples clamber to reserve spots at fancy restaurants and declare their love for each other with flowers, chocolates and all things pink.
While there's nothing wrong with any of those things, you don't have to celebrate Valentine's Day like everyone else. Break outside the heart-shaped box this year and try something new with your sweetie, which has the added bonus of strengthening your relationship.
"When you do stuff together you enjoy, it makes you happy and releases endorphins," says Reggie Madison, relationship educator at First Things First, a local nonprofit organization focused on providing healthy relationship skills. You then associate those warm and fuzzy feelings with the person you love, he says.
"You're keeping things fresh," adds First Things First CEO Julie Baumgardner, as to why trying new things as a couple is beneficial to a relationship. "There are so many things you can do around this area, and endless ways to go on a really fun date and for very little money."
Here are a few of our favorite suggestions:
Learn a new skill together.
Ideally it should be something you can do or practice together, such as a ballroom dance lesson at Dance Tonight Chattanooga. You'll likely need more than just a single class to achieve a presentable level of skill, so consider paying the $25 for a yearlong membership. Then, you can join any beginner group class throughout the year for $10 as opposed to the usual $15.
Or, try a language class at Chattanooga School of Language and plan a romantic getaway to a destination where it's spoken so you can practice what you've learned.
You can't go wrong with The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" or John Prine and Iris DeMent's "In Spite of Ourselves," or check your favorite playlists and find a duet you both like. Practice a few times — preferably coming up with a few coordinated dance moves as well — before heading to Sing It or Wing It to perform for the crowd.
Not the karaoke type? Madison suggests going to a coffeehouse and working together to write a song about your relationship.
Take a short road trip.
Make a playlist of some of your favorite songs as a couple and head somewhere 1-2 hours away. One good option is Cartersville, Georgia, which has two world-class museums: the Tellus Science Museum, where you can explore tons of hands-on exhibits or gaze upon the stars in the observatory, and The Booth Western Art Museum, which is associated with the Smithsonian Institution and boasts the largest permanent exhibition of Western art in the United States.
Head to Sir Goony's Fun Zone, where you can try your hand at mini-golf, play some Skee-Ball and drive go-karts and bumper cars to your heart's content. Alternatively, revisit the location of your first date or your favorite restaurant from when the two of you first met.
Explore new territory together on the Ritchie Hollow Trail, a just-opened trail built by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust in Prentice Cooper State Forest. With a distance of 5 miles round-trip and a 1,000-foot elevation gain, the moderately strenuous trail passes several old moonshine stills and doles out a generous reward at mile 2 in the form of a 30-foot waterfall. One of only a few trails that connect the Tennessee River with the Cumberland Trail system at the top of Signal Mountain, Ritchie Hollow Trail is accessed by the gravel lot across from Pot Point Cabin at 17805 River Canyon Road.
What better way is there to celebrate love than to share it?
Volunteering with your special someone helps to create a meaningful bond, and you'll also relate the positive feelings you'll get from helping someone else with your significant other. Build your relationship as you build a home for someone in need with Habitat for Humanity, bond over your love of animals at the Humane Educational Society or volunteer to spend the night at one of the Community Kitchen's night shelters.
Wait, one more
While you've got romance on the brain, sit down with your sweetie and come up with a list of fun things to do together. Valentine's Day shouldn't be your only date of the year. Write each activity on a small sheet of paper and gather them into a basket you can pick from on your next date night.
"It's really important to keep on dating as time goes by," Madison says. "Dating is what revitalizes and refreshes your relationship."