Prix-fixe menus, dimly lit restaurants, sparkling champagne flutes, roses plunged into freshly filled vases, crisp hotel sheets: For most of us, none of these things will be happening this Valentine’s Day. Our collective quarantine for the past 11 months has quietly morphed into agoraphobia; everyone seems to be staying in, lockdown or not. Getting hot and heavy with our partners? Zoom school is not exactly an aphrodisiac for parents. For singletons, the coronavirus hasn’t made it easy to start new relationships.
Now the pandemic will rob us of yet another holiday, plucking it off the stem and discarding it like all the other celebrations before it. One perk: With all this isolation, it won’t be hard to find time on your partner’s calendar. Still, chances are that Valentine’s evening will look like many others: standing at the kitchen island while frantically shoveling down food with the kids running around or just sitting on the couch alone, doomscrolling through social media.
This year, we may not be booking special dinner reservations or digging out that one piece of sexy lingerie (or maybe we will), but we can still treat ourselves to some sweet — perhaps even steamy — reads. Here are 14 love stories to fill the void.
The Love Proof, by Madeleine Henry. A pair of Yalies fall in love until one of them — physics prodigy Sophie — is forced to cope with the unexpected. Can love transcend this new reality? The author of Breathe in, Cash out explores this theme in her delightful second novel.
The Unbreakables, by Lisa Barr. Caution: There are some blush-worthy, racy scenes here. The Unbreakables is about a love affair in Paris that weaves in sculpture, art, divorce — sex! — motherhood, and personal reinvention.
Love Poems for Married People and Love Poems (for People With Children), by John Kenney. These slim books by the New Yorker contributor and Thurber Prize winner are packed full of laugh-out-loud poems that are all too relatable if you are married with kids — or just married.
The Light We Lost, by Jill Santopolo. One of the best love stories of the past five years, Santopolo’s novel about a pair who meet on 9/11 touches on love lost and found again, obligation vs. passion, and the vagaries of fate. Be prepared to cry.
Love Your Life, by Sophie Kinsella. A woman goes to a writing/yoga retreat and falls in love at first sight. But how do things go when Mr. Right on the Retreat enters her daily life? Best-selling author Kinsella is at her wittiest self in her latest, hilarious comedy.
Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith and Resilience, by Allison Pataki. In this memoir, historical fiction author Allison Pataki chronicles what happened when her young husband had a massive stroke when she was pregnant with their first child. This is a testament to true love, grit, loyalty, and the power of the body — and love — to heal.
The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd. A historical novel about a fictitious love affair between Jesus and Ana, an early feminist who tossed aside what was expected of her to run away with the one she loved.
Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs in and out of the Kitchen, by Alyssa Shelasky. A fun, romp-y read about Shelasky’s adventures in love, sex, and the foodie world, while dating an unnamed famous chef.
Writers & Lovers, by Lily King. A grieving waitress and aspiring author starts dating a renowned, best-selling author after he dines at her restaurant with his kids one night, but is he really right for her in the end? King’s prose is stunningly gorgeous in this engrossing love story.
Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, by Dani Shapiro. Best-selling memoirist and novelist Dani Shapiro delicately traces the course of her marriage in this candid, tender memoir.
Montauk, by Nicola Harrison. A Hamptons housewife circa 1938 can’t deal with her city-bound, cheating, awful husband and connects with an unexpected group of women — and one unexpected man.
Party of Two, by Jasmine Guillory. Two strangers, a white man and a Black woman, meet in a bar and have quite a night. Turns out that one of them is a senator. The always fun Jasmine Guillory serves up another saucy tale.
American Daughter, by Stephanie Thornton Plymale. This beautiful memoir is a testament to how the right partnership in adulthood can redeem even the hardest upbringing, and how even the temptation of great wine, flirtation, and a snowy day with a handsome client can’t beat finding love in your own relationship again, even if it means pretending you’re strangers at a restaurant.
Swiping for Prince Charming: A Modern-Day Fairy Tale, by Sabrina Marzaro. Set in Paris, this illustrated work of fiction is an ode to one chic, fabulous woman trying to find her Mr. Right and, after swiping right (or left) and dating all the wrong guys, she finally realizes she has everything she needs inside herself. It’s a perfect gift for anyone out there in the bleak, pandemic dating world.
Owens is host of the podcast “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and editor of the forthcoming book, “Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology.” She wrote this for the Washington Post.