Valentine’s Day is upon us, and I am quite naturally awash in sentiment, which is equal parts smarm and charm. While it is as easy to puncture the syrupy pretensions of this day with satirical barbs as it is for Cupid to ravish human hearts with his honey-tipped arrows, I have decided to bring a measure of fairness, if not balance, to this romantic occasion by discussing this sweetest of days and the human affection that accompanies it in ways that might convince even love-smitten readers that I am not a complete cynic.
I know that some men buy their lady loves jewelry for Valentine’s Day, but the idea somehow suggests a sixteen-year-old boy purchasing a golden, heart-shaped locket for his first steady girlfriend. Perhaps advertising has conditioned us to believe that diamonds last forever, but most contemporary relationships seem a bit less durable.
I’ve been told that some Romeos buy lingerie for their Juliets, but I’ve never met one of these men, largely, I suspect, because they spend most of their time lurking in dark alleys, hanging around bus stations, or cruising the seedier neighborhoods of eBay.
Women need to understand that it is very difficult for men to give them chocolates for Valentine’s Day, especially if the confections come in frilly boxes. In fact, seeing the word “frill” in print can cause otherwise insensitive males to break out in a rash, and some men believe that touching the stuff will infest them with cooties.
I am aware that some love doctors advise their masculine patients to get an anti-cootie booster shot each February, but I have a simpler remedy for sentiment-borne diseases. Any male who wishes to remain psychologically balanced on Valentine’s Day should watch the “Oprah Winfrey Show” until he passes out from boredom; for any man with an emotional IQ above the double digit level, ten minutes of viewing should suffice, and his immunity to mawkish drivel will last at least one month.
However, the major risk males face when giving candy to their girlfriends is that doing so might result in a discussion of weight, one of the most hazardous minefields in the relationship battle zone. Nothing will more quickly reduce a man to stammering incoherence than seeing his lady stare ruefully at her Whitman Sampler and, after a few deep sighs, have her ask, “Do you think that I’m too thin?,” a statement that even the most poetically obtuse male can interpret as, “Don’t you love me the way I am?”
Alas, a dangerously prideful man who seeks to avoid this doleful conversation by purchasing diet chocolates for his beloved will likely compound his emotional felony, and in these technology-driven times, the almost inevitable question, “Do you think that I’m too fat?” translates as, “The moment you leave, I’m going to access dumphim.com.”
Women need to be prudent about the sorts of conversations they initiate during special Valentine’s Day dinners, since men, especially young ones, fear that in such a romantically-charged atmosphere even the most casual talk might suddenly veer into a discussion of “us,” the most emotionally taxing subject for males. Just thinking about this calamity can give some men a migraine.
Rather than take his current love interest to a restaurant, a man would be wiser to cook her a good meal, but always at her place, so that if the subject of “our relationship” comes up, he can make a quick exit. I also suggest renting a movie, in part to forestall any risky after-dinner conversation, and it would be thoughtful for men to choose a film that steers a middle course between excessive love interest and its complete absence. Thus, Return to Me and Predator would be bad choices, while Die Hard 2 would be perfect.
Some boyfriends like to buy their sweethearts perfume for Valentine’s Day, and while this seems like a selflessly sweet gesture, I suspect that part of their motive for doing so involves the fact that they get to flirt with the pretty, alluringly fragrant women who sell the stuff. It’s a good thing that girlfriends don’t know this, or else their male consorts might be charged with scent-based cheating.
Buying flowers is a daunting challenge for some men, and florists should therefore understand that they can make male customers feel uncomfortable and incompetent by the simple and altogether innocent expedient of asking, “Can I help you?” In truth, men often purchase a dozen red roses not because they are unimaginative but because doing so is conventional, and there is emotional safety in convention. In matters of the heart, being creative or original can be a dangerous tactic. What if the lady fair doesn’t like yellow roses or had actually been expecting red ones? Males are not especially intuitive creatures, but they are born knowing exactly why roses have thorns.
Some men fall prey to the “amplification fallacy,” the misguided assumption that, “if twelve roses are good, then twenty-four must be better.” These hapless males fail to comprehend that many women will regard this largesse as evidence of their “non-specific guilt,” a female synonym for “being male.” If in the course of the relentless interrogation that is almost sure to follow such suspicious behavior, the accused should for any reason whatsoever utter the words, “I’m sorry,” his apology will be construed as proof positive that he has “done something,” which of course he has, by virtue of drawing breath.
Even if a man is financially destitute, I recommend that he should think carefully before engaging in the floral subterfuge undertaken by one of my college classmates, especially since it is decidedly at odds with the spirit of the day and more than a little morbid. Finding himself short of cash but long on ardor, this enterprising young man presented each of his three girlfriends with a lovely Valentine’s Day bouquet that he had acquired at a local cemetary. Unfortunately, his romantic duplicity was exposed when one of the girls discovered a card inside her flowers that read “Condolences.”
Flushed with sentiment-induced pride, some men might be tempted to compose a poem to accompany their sweetheart’s Valentine’s Day gift. If they are reckless enough to do so, they should avoid using the archaic “thee,” even if comparing their lovely lady to “a summer’s day” or, in a less exalted idiom, “a Chevy truck,” unless, of course, the female in question is either a Quaker or a clerk at AutoZone.
As I promised at the beginning of this posting, in the interests of fairness, I will now make a few brief but positive comments on the subject of love. Naturally, I cannot defend its delusional excesses, but I will nonetheless advocate its possibility. Whenever I find myself despairing over the fact that so many things in modern life conspire to degrade the human heart, I reread A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I regain confidence that, with a bit of magic, the haunted wood of self-absorption can once more become the enchanted forest of romantic love.
Leo Tolstoy once worried that human love is entirely self-centered, but he changed his mind after witnessing a modest but remarkable event. Walking down a boulevard, he came upon a grandfather seated on a bench next to his granddaughter; the old man was feeding the little girl strawberries, and while Tolstoy was not surprised by the delighted look on the child’s face, he was converted to the cause of altruism by the sight of the old man beaming, since his joy had nothing to do with self and everything to do with the happiness of another.
My last bit of testimony on behalf of romance concerns a paradox that no one can logically explain but which all lovers have experienced: the profound weight of absence. That is, when the beloved person is not present, the heft of nothing sits upon one’s heart like a cold mountain. Despite the mass-produced sentiments and emotional froth that regrettably attend Valentine’s Day, its rituals can nonetheless remind us that love is related to levity, since it lifts our hearts by affirming the truth that we truly love only when we take ourselves lightly for the sake of someone else.