Seeing affectionate couples strolling about on Valentine's Day is romantic for some, but for those who feel left out, there's an unofficial holiday to observe on Feb. 14 (or Feb. 15): Singles Awareness Day. Plan ahead with single friends to celebrate the unattached life and take a break from the commercialism of what many think of as a "Hallmark holiday." These 10 activities all cost significantly less than the traditional Valentine's Day gifts, flowers, and dinner out.
Friends who are into mystery solving and puzzles will enjoy the live-action challenge of getting locked in a room for 45 to 60 minutes and putting together scattered clues to escape. Escape-room games have taken America and Europe by storm in the past few years. A typical game costs $15 to $30 per person, depending on the venue and theme. Masterminds who prefer to set up their own games can find help online; a Quora page offers some good ideas.
In lieu of a romantic dinner for two, bring together a big group of unattached friends to enjoy a family-style cuisine. In Japanese shabu shabu or Sichuan hot pot, raw meats, vegetables, and carbs are boiled in a pot filled with broth. The similar Korean barbecue features spicy marinated meat slices cooked on a hot plate in the middle of the table. Chinese dim sum, usually offered at lunchtime, typically is set up so diners can order small plates of steamed food from carts being wheeled around the restaurant. Some restaurants offer all-you-can-eat dim sum for a flat amount.
Challenge friends to channel Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games" in Archery Tag, a competition in which players shoot opposing team members and five team targets, learning quickly how to shoot and even catch arrows (which can bring teammates back to "life"). There are more than 360 Archery Tag licensees in America, and prices vary by location. A 90-minute session (15 games) at Indoor Extreme Sports in New York City starts at $25 per person on weekdays or $30 on Saturdays and Sundays (such as Feb. 14 this year). Check for coupons and discount codes before booking.
Anyone who's played the popular party game Mafia will enjoy Spyfall ($25 on Amazon) a popular card game that assigns players roles -- with one drawing the lone spy card. Through questions and answers, the spy has to figure out everyone's location without blowing his or her cover, and everyone else must figure out which player is the spy. Spyfall can be played online, too, so long as everyone in the group joins the same game on their phones.
Turn up your noses at cranberry vodka and rum and Coke and gather for a fancy cocktail night. Hidden speakeasy-style bars are well-known for unique, specialty cocktails but often at steep prices -- $13 to $17 a drink at New York City bars. Instead, bring the Prohibition Era feel to someone's home. Select one liquor for the night to avoid buying too many bottles, and try two to three recipes inspired by the raucous 1920s, such as Gin Rickeys (gin, lime, sugar, soda) or Ward 8 cocktails (whiskey, rye, orange juice, grenadine). Flapper costumers and tuxedos optional.
Put on a favorite NBA team's jersey, stock up on snacks, and ask friends over for the NBA All-Star Game. The Western and Eastern Conference teams, starring Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and more, go head-to-head Feb. 14 in Toronto. It'll be a competitive game, making a good excuse to gather basketball-loving friends together.
Valentine's Day isn't the only star in February. The entire month is National Chocolate Lovers' Month. Plan a bar crawl and try chocolate martinis or find the best chocolate-drizzled waffles for brunch. To save money and celebrate at home, pick up an inexpensive fondue set. Classic versions for use with a flame can cost less than $10, but even complete kits with internal, electric heating can be cheap; a highly rated pot is available for $20 on Amazon. Organize a fondue night and ask friends to each bring an item to share and dip.
The couch beckons for another round of Netflix binge watching, but the chances of meeting a partner for next year that way are slim. Instead, take the sneakers and workout clothes out for a Valentine's Day run. There are hundreds of runs scheduled for the day, including the one-mile Cupid's Undie Run taking place in 39 cities and benefiting the Children's Tumor Foundation. Registration at this late date is $55, but there are incentives for signing up friends to join your team.
It's easier said than done -- visiting a new place and meeting new people can be intimidating. Round up adventurous friends as encouragement and look for free or cheap classes happening on Valentine's Day weekend. A quick search on Vimbly can pull up everything from beginner's Krav Maga (the self-defense system developed for the Israeli armed forces) to sumi-e (Japanese ink-wash). Craigslist and Yelp are other good places to look, and both have the ability to jump to specific dates (such as Feb. 14) and filter classes and events in various ways (such as searching only for free activities).
Online dating apps such as Coffee Meets Bagel and Hinge soared to popularity by using Facebook friend connections to match singles with friends of friends. Bring this concept to real life by hosting a get-together for single friends or acquaintances. The catch: Each attendee must each bring a single person who doesn't normally hang out with the group. This breaks the monotony of seeing people in the same social circle. Set out plenty of board games, play background music, and help start conversations with fill-in-the-blank cards, such as "I'd rather be ________ right now."