(LifeWire) -- For some, Valentine's Day can be heavenly. For others, it's just plain hell.
Take Felicia Sullivan, of Brooklyn. Four years ago, she and her live-in boyfriend -- the guy she thought she would marry -- were having a pre-Valentine's Day brunch when Sullivan leaned over and whispered a few sweet nothings in his ear.
"I said, 'I'm so happy to know that you're the one for me. Aren't you glad to know I'm the one for you?' " says Sullivan, 32, who works in marketing.
"And there was this silence. And then he was, like, 'I know you're the one for me now. But can you give me until summer to make a final decision?' "
Aghast at his response, Sullivan quickly broke things off -- but she couldn't move until she found a new apartment. Home alone on February 14 in the apartment they shared, she decided to snoop through her ex-boyfriend's e-mail and discovered he'd had contact with several other women while they were together.
"I've never been a big fan of the holiday," Sullivan says. "But now I typically refer to it as Black Monday..." Watch whether romance is still alive »
Good times, bad times
Sullivan isn't alone in dreading Valentine's Day. Thanks to super-sized expectations and over-the-top commercialization, February 14 has gone from a sentimental aside to a pressure-filled gauntlet lined with chocolate boxes, tennis bracelets and cheesy stuffed bears. See where the love dollars go »
"The holiday's designed to make you feel (bad)," says Judy McGuire, author of "How Not to Date."
"If you're in a relationship, it's never anything that it's supposed to be. And if you're single, you feel like a big loser because you don't have anybody. I think people should lower Valentine's Day expectations to pretty much nil. That way, anything that happens is good."
Brian Wise, a 32-year-old technical writer from Seattle has seen his Valentine's Day go sideways repeatedly -- most memorably the time he ended up in handcuffs (and not in a good way).
"Last year, I was in Singapore and I met this beautiful woman who took me to dinner at this hot, new restaurant,'" he says. "But then she gets food poisoning and ends up in an alley with major gastrointestinal problems. And while I'm standing guard, the cops pull up and think I'm paying her for sex."
Wise talked his way out of an arrest (luckily, one of the policemen had eaten at the same place) but he's found no release from his unlucky Valentine's.
"It doesn't matter who I'm out with," he says. "The day is just cursed."
There are ways, though, to avoid a miserable holiday.
Most women will admit they like to celebrate, but a fancy night on the town isn't necessary.
"Sometimes, hanging out at home can be a lot more fun than going out to some restaurant filled with couples," says author McGuire. "Stay home with champagne, caviar and maybe a new toy from a tasteful sex shop."
If you're not dating anyone, take some time to indulge yourself (a luxurious bar of chocolate, a pedicure), do something relaxing (take a yoga class or get a massage) or spend time with some of your closest friends.
Make sure you're on the same page
And if you do make plans, stick to them.
Galen, a 28-year-old secretary from Seattle, and her boyfriend had made special Valentine's Day plans a month in advance. But on the big night, his buddies showed up and talked him into going out with them instead.
"I was dressed to the nines," says Galen, who asked that her last name not be used. "When his friends stopped by, he says, 'Do you mind if I go with them?' I said, 'Fine, go,' being totally sarcastic, and he picked up his coat and left."
Although they talked about it later, Galen said, her boyfriend seemed not to understand that she was unhappy with his wanting to ditch her for his buddies. The two later broke up.
Breaking a date on Valentine's Day is definitely bad form, but automatically expecting one to happen (a much more common scenario) is also problematic. To avoid a disconnect with your significant other, McGuire suggests being honest. Simply expecting your partner to know what you want is unrealistic.
If you decide to go the gift route, McGuire recommends not settling for a cliché like a stuffed animal or a hastily purchased bouquet of flowers.
"Listen to what the person talks about," she says. "She may want the new 'Godzilla' game for her Wii. His underwear may be riddled with holes."
Another thing to avoid, advises Katie Briggs, 44, of Seattle, is the gag gift.
A few years ago, Briggs and a new beau went out to a nice restaurant where they shared dinner, drinks and presents. Briggs gave her date homemade cookies and a Starbucks gift card. He gave her a beautifully-wrapped box -- of Spam.
"He thought it was the best joke ever," says Briggs. "But it just wasn't thoughtful. If you're going to go with a joke, you need to back it up with something else." E-mail to a friend
LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Diane Mapes is the author of "How to Date in a Post-Dating World." Her column, "Single Shot," appears in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.