Dressed in her finest sweatpants, Sam Little, 36, washes buffalo sauce from her hands after a dinner of wings and chili, and then plops down on her couch in front of a TV. She waits for Stephen King’s It to spread across its 65-inch screen. Jeremy, Little’s husband, sits at the other end of the couch, too far to embrace if evil clown Pennywise spawns any fear. But Little’s not concerned. She has friends scooted up close on both sides, and another dozen companions taking over a three-tiered, stadium-style seating arrangement set up in the Little’s living room.
For the Bensalem couple, this has been Valentine’s Day for the past decade: a scary movie night shared with many of their favorite people, coupled with “unromantic and easy-to-prepare” fare. Chicken wings are Little’s specialty.
“There are two rules — you have to wear sweatpants, and you can’t sit next to your significant other if you have one,” says Little.
For the Littles, the tradition grew out of a love for throwing parties and watching movies. They screen two films each year. The first is a “B-list” flick (think Attack of the Killer Donuts or Zombeavers), put on in the background as guests arrive and mingle over wings and homemade broken-heart cookies. The lights go down for the headliner, always a popular horror movie, like A Quiet Place and Final Destination. It should incite fear but include enough corny scenes to encourage a continuous stream of commentary — fueled by plenty of beer.
“It’s not like we’re anti-love, but Valentine’s Day has become this pressurized day where you somehow prove your love to an individual using cards or gifts or dinner, and an anti-Valentine’s Day party is the opposite,” says Little. “There’s no pressure when you’re relaxing with all of your friends.”
Whether in a relationship, forever single, or ready to throw your ex out the window, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Feb. 14 that don’t involve navigating crowded restaurants, buying fancy presents, or sitting at home alone.
Casey Alrich, 39, of South Philly, echoes that. All of Alrich’s fondest memories of celebrating Cupid involve belting out his favorite Vietnamese love song, Uoc Gi by My Tam, to a room full of friends.
“Valentine’s Day sucks, so I turned to karaoke,” says Alrich, who started the tradition back in 2010. “I wanted to put something together that was fun for people of any relationship status and also relieve the stress of feeling a little bit lame if you’re not out doing something.”
Alrich loads up on cheesy Dollar Store decorations, bourbon, and candy hearts, and pulls together around 30 people to fill a private room inside a Chinatown BYOB, rotating the location from year to year. As more friends have kids, he’s now strategizing a family-friendly version.
If you don’t feel like playing the party planner role, public karaoke sessions make a great option, too. Drop into Yakitori Boy or Tango, and you’re bound to find plenty of others singing their hearts out to Beyoncé’s Single Ladies.
Then there’s First Person Arts’ annual Ex-Files storyslam, bringing another, and even bolder, opportunity to take the mic. Here, random audience members share their best and worst real-life stories involving an ex.
John Deary, 33, of Fishtown used his onstage moment to dish about the time he found out his girlfriend was cheating on him.
“We went to a drive-in movie theater with a group of friends, and there was a man sitting behind us that I had no idea she’d been cheating on me with,” says Deary in relaying his first Ex-Files story. “He started to cry because of seeing us, and I didn’t know what was happening. I was making fun of him on the drive home for crying at the movie, only to find out later I was the butt of the joke.”
The event usually sells out. If you want to participate, be ready to throw your name in a bucket once you arrive. Ten people per show are chosen to spill their guts on stage. Winners score a $100 prize and the chance to compete in First Person Arts’ season finale GrandSlam. Deary, who is cohosting this year’s Ex-Files, says one of the best parts of the whole event is the instant connection it creates.
“It’s a 50-50 mix between comedy and just honest storytelling,” he says. “The stories become a nice reminder that you’re not the only person who’s dealt with an unfortunate romantic situation.”
For the past 30 years, Rittenhouse’s Irish Pub has hosted a more casual version of Ex-Files. The event, Desperate and Dateless, draws as many as 100, mostly single patrons to the bar every Valentine’s Day. At its center is Date From Hell, a game where you write down your all-time worst dating experience for a DJ to read aloud. The story that gets the loudest applause wins prizes, like gift certificates and Eagles gear. It’s followed by the Dating Game.
“We’ve had a few successes from that one where people go home together,” says general manager Lauren Kim.
A single female contestant creates questions to quiz four male contestants and decide who’s most date-worthy. While it doesn’t always lead to love, it almost always kindles plenty of audience laughter.
But what if you just want candy? Whether single or hitched, you needn’t throw out all classic traditions to celebrate anti-Valentine’s Day. If you’re a chocoholic, by all means, eat chocolate. Just consider building a little extra anticipation.
“My favorite holiday of the year? February 15 drugstore candy sales,” says Alison Cornell, 32, Kensington.
Starting in college, Cornell began shifting her Valentine’s Day celebrations to the day after, using the occasion to stock up on discounted heart lollipops, pink Hershey’s Kisses, and fluffy, heart-adorned slippers.
“If I find a little heart plush, I’ll buy it, cut it open to stuff with catnip, sew it back up, and give it to my cat, my true Valentine,” she says.
Drugs-store-candy-sale day is also how Danielle Lazaroff and her bargain-hunting boyfriend celebrate. As she watches one girlfriend after another post Valentine’s Day bouquets to Facebook, Lazaroff says she’s patiently waiting for her boyfriend to make his annual Feb. 15 trip to CVS.
“It’s a little insulting, but it’s funny. On the 15th, I get my sweet revenge when I show off my huge haul of love presents,” says Lazaroff, taking in the decadelong tradition with a lighthearted attitude. “We’re talking about bags and bags of candy, stuffed animals, just so much stuff.”
“Because he wants it, too,” she adds with a laugh.