Backstory: The cupid index
Valentine's Day is all about love - well, it's about marketing, too - but there's also a hate/hate relationship in play for many people. Those who aren't in love, or at least dating - that is, single - dislike it because it reminds them (oh, so mightily) of their status.Skip to next paragraph
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Those who are in love, or at least dating - that is, part of a couple - worry that whatever they got for their partner, they probably blew it. They spent too little on flowers or chocolate or diamonds. Or they misread the signs and spent too much and skipped the flowers and chocolate and bought diamonds.
It's a tough holiday that St. Valentine left us, not that he knew that when he was with us. He was a Roman clergyman who was executed Feb. 14 around 270 AD for secretly marrying couples in defiance of the emperor. Or so one legend has it. Another story says it began as a legitimate Roman fertility festival. Americans supposedly started exchanging handmade Valentines in the early 1700s. Tuesday, about 180 million Valentine's Day cards will swap hands in the US. That means two thirds of us partake in this romantic frenzy, making the holiday second only to Christmas in card-giving.
Last year's big hit was a red foil card, embossed in a lace pattern with black ribbon and a photo of a rose on the front, according to Hallmark spokeswoman Rachel Bolton. Inside, it read, "Each time I see you, hold you, think of you, here's what I do, I fall more deeply, madly, happily in love with you.''
This year, a popular card features a kitten on the cover. When you open it, you hear a snippet of "Wild Thing." "When it comes to love, people are more alike than different," says Ms. Bolton.
Of course, some people now prefer to send text messages rather than cards. A word of caution here: A poll of mobile phone users in Britain found that 1 in 4 sent the message to the wrong person - sometimes even to ex-partners.
Americans don't scrimp when it comes to opening their wallets in the name of romance. They will spend $13.7 billion on Valentine's Day-related items, with the average consumer dropping $100, according to a National Retail Federation survey. Men will pony up an average of $136, almost doubling the $69 spent by women. But the significant other doesn't get all the booty. Most of the money - about 60 percent - goes to a partner, but teachers, co-workers, friends, and other family members receive cards and carnations as well.
More than 32 percent of us will choose flowers. Last year, about 180 million roses were bought. At one KaBloom store in the Boston area, you can buy a dozen roses for $34.99. Early last week, a dozen roses would have cost you $16.99, but a woman at the store explained today's roses are fancier. You get greens, filler, ribbon, and water tubes, which adds to their lifespan. But there's a little floral capitalism going on here as well. "Growers increase their prices: It's a huge part of their business, too," says a salesperson. Price of a single rose Tuesday: $4.99, compared with a $1.99 last week. Definitely fancy.
Chocolate remains a favorite way to show affection on Valentine's Day, unless a partner is swearing off sweets, in which case they're usually meant for the person doing the buying. Americans consume 25 pounds of candy a year, though less of that occurs on Valentine's Day than you might think. V-Day accounts for about 16 percent of annual sales, according to Susan Fussell of the National Confectioners Association. Halloween, Easter, and Christmas all trump Valentine's for candy consumption.