Spending Valentine’s Day outside the box

Meghan Hamilton climbed with Shane Welsh at The Boston Rock Gym in Woburn.
Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe
Meghan Hamilton climbed with Shane Welsh at The Boston Rock Gym in Woburn.

After a breakup a few years ago, Nikki Marin knew the easy — and clichéd — thing to do would be to sit at home alone, sulk, and rely on the healing powers of ice cream.

But instead, she climbed, spending countless hours at The Boston Rock Gym in Woburn, where she riddled out what she called the “puzzles on the wall.”

And little did she know that her cure for a broken heart would lead to a chance meeting with her future husband, Matt.  


Because it’s active, fun, and unusual, rock climbing has essentially “defined us as a couple,” said the Beverly resident, who was married last June.  

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There are many interesting stories behind relationships. So why, then, on a day dedicated to love, should celebrations be confined to a heart-shaped box?

This year, check out these not-so-conventional ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with that special (or hope-to-be-special) someone.

First: Try it Marin’s way. The Boston Rock Gym is offering two-for-one passes and intro classes through this weekend. (See info box for more details.)

If you’re an experienced climber, great; go off and explore with your sweetheart. Otherwise, take part in the three-hour intro classes, which cover the basics of climbing, from vocabulary, to knot-tying, to safety essentials.


“Climbing’s really natural, as long as you can access some of the inner kid,” said gym owner Chris O’Connell, describing it as both a physical and mental challenge, a problem-solving puzzle, and a centering, in-the-moment, and meditative activity.

As odd a way as it might seem to celebrate Valentine’s Day, climbing is actually a great way to forge — and strengthen — relationships, O’Connell said. To do it right takes cooperation, communication, and — most importantly — trust, all cornerstones of any good union.

Given that climbing partners have to be always communicating, “It accelerates the ‘getting to know you’ process a little,” he said. Even if that goes horribly wrong, at least you find out relatively quickly whether he or she is the one (or not).

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
Sam Valentine, Trinity Simons, and Ruth Russo buy Taza chocolate products from Alison Hard and Suhayl Ramirez after the Taza Chocolate Factory tour is over.

Marin, who climbs regularly with her husband, finds that it continues to bolster their relationship. The teen director at the Ben Beyea Youth and Teen Center in Rockport and part-time Rock Gym instructor described the emotional support involved, as well as the sharing of goals and achievements.

And a bonus for the first-time daters? Doing something adventurous is said to make you feel more attractive, and also gets the adrenaline pumping.


“If people go on a date and really show that they can trust each other, communicate, and share goals, it’s far more romantic than eating a dinner or sharing a box of chocolates,” said Marin.

But if you’re looking for a little more advocacy with your exercise, head on over to Market Square in Newburyport Thursday night.

And don’t be late: Promptly at 5 p.m., a flash mob will break out in tandem with countless thousands of others across the world, set to the song “Break the Chain.”  

Organized by the movement V-Day — and locally by the The Dance Place in the Tannery in Newburyport — the “One Billion Rising”  event aims to raise awareness of violence against women. The name derives from the statistic that about 1 in 3 women in the world — or 1 billion — will be beaten or raped in her lifetime.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
Taza chocolate products are seen at the Taza Chocolate Factory retail store in Somerville.

Fontaine Dubus, owner of The Dance Place, acknowledged that a flash mob is supposed to be “spontaneous and without warning.”

But they’re stretching the parameters of that a bit, because the event is ultimately about the cause.

“It’s beautiful; they’re going to be doing it all over the world,” she said. “Dance is universal; it speaks to everybody.”

Anyone is invited to participate (or just watch), but all are encouraged to learn the choreography ahead of time (available on YouTube).

Dubus described the dance as “pretty simple and repetitive.”

“Do what you can,” she encouraged. “Nobody's gonna mind a few mistakes.”

Want to be spontaneous and romantic?

Send a singing valentine.

The age-old barbershop favorite is still around, delivered courtesy of The Northshoremen. The Beverly-based group — together since 1948, and encompassing around 40 members — aims to deliver around 100 every Valentine’s Day, surprising loved ones at schools, in restaurants, sitting in their cubicles, even covered with grease at the car shop, according to organizer Jack Dowd.  

Cost is $50, and the valentine is “delivered” at a surprise time between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. by one of several quartets that roam from East Boston to the New Hampshire border.

Recipients get a rose, and four dapper men in tuxes, red bow ties, and cummerbunds serenade them with old classics such as “The Story of the Rose” or “Let Me Call you Sweetheart.” 

Beyond shock or surprise, reactions most often include tears, laughter, hugs, kisses, and sometimes threats along the lines of “I'm gonna kill him,” Dowd chuckled.

If you still want a more conventional, chocolates-and-flowers experience, try a tour of the Taza Chocolate factory in Somerville at 2 and 4 p.m. Thursday, and at several other regular times throughout the week.

The 45-minute walk-through includes a discussion of the South American farms that provide the company with its cocoa beans, according to marketing manager Robin Ruttle, as well as the processes of harvesting, drying, fermenting, and bean roasting and winnowing. Depending on the production schedule, you’ll get a fair dose of mouth-watering chocolate being made right before your eyes.

This Valentine's Day, Taza is selling a special bar for $8: The 3-ounce Coco Besos, which includes chocolate shavings within the actual bar and, as the name implies, a good amount of coconut, too.

“The appeal of the tour is learning about where chocolate comes from,” said Ruttle, noting its Mesoamerican roots. “It’s something that a lot of people love, but that they maybe don’t know that much about. This is a way to be mindful about what you’re eating, and take a look at something you’ve enjoyed forever from a different standpoint.”

Taryn Plumb can be reached at