It's been said there are two kinds of people in the world: dog people and cat people. In the realm of valentine cards there are two types of people, too: those who buy short, pithy cards and those who go for the long and sappy ones.
You know the cards. Big roses on the front. Maybe even some lace. Verse after gushing verse inside. "You're the smile in my morning, the joy in my night, the warm, gentle touch that makes me feel so right. You're the glow in my sunset."
As the nation treks to card stores in the next three days to pick out nearly a billion - yes a billion - Cupid-inspired messages, we'll again distinguish ourselves by what we buy.
In fact, spend enough time in the aisles of card shops, and you'll see it's mostly the men who pick out the syrupy ones. Given their one chance a year to lay bare their full emotions, men often go wild.
Take David, a silver-haired man from Bath, England. He stands in a Hallmark aisle in Boston, his feet planted firmly in front of a bank of what the store labels "cherished" valentine cards - big, frilly, sentimental ones.
He pores over the words, earnestly comparing the text in each, searching for the card with "just the right message" for his wife of 12 years.
Of the other, more flip cards down the row, he says with a hint of disdain, "Sometimes they're a bit too racy, you know."
Typically the "cherished" cards aren't for someone you've just met, says Allison Novela, the holiday specialist at Hallmark's Kansas City, Mo., headquarters. "They're bought by people who've been together a long time. And, especially for men, they're a great way to communicate what's tough for them to say; we do it for them," she says.
But then there's Barbara, a sweat-suited mother of two who's been married seven years. With a fistful of cards, she declares her choices are "all fun and no sap."
Like most women in America, she buys many cards. In fact, women buy 87 percent of all valentines - usually picking up some for the in-laws, the children, and friends.
If it's moms who buy the most, however, it's kids who are the most prolific givers. With classrooms being one of the biggest valentine venues, the average child pens 22 cards. Apparently they give lots to teachers, because year after year America's educators are the biggest recipients.
Meanwhile, men buy just 13 percent of cards - usually just one. And if men are the ones who gush on Valentine's Day, it usually takes them a little longer to let loose with all that emotion.
Carla, for instance, is a Boston twenty-something in a black leather jacket who's dating a man in California. She figures he'll be late. "I'll mail mine so it gets there on the 14th," she says with a knowing smile. "But he won't mail his until the 14th."
For those who haven't quite found the time - and can't quite find the words - there's still hope. Through the wonders of the Internet, you can have your very own prose-penning Cyrano de Bergerac at your side.
At www.nando.net/toys/cyrano/ the Cyrano server is fast, easy, and free. Just enter a few adjectives, a noun or two, press the button, and Cyrano saves the day. Cyrano then e-mails a message to the recipient, who can then go to the site and view a "personalized" greeting.
Actually, Cyrano is just one of several Internet sites that allow you to send virtual valentines. For starters, desperadoes can also try these addresses: www.hallmark.com or www.greetingcard.com.
But amid all these valentines-at-the-click-of-a-button, lest anyone lose hope, those Romeos-with-a-plan do exist. In fact, some even come early.
Take Todd. On Feb. 7 - a full week before Valentine's Day - he's in a Hallmark store with a bouquet of red and yellow roses nestled under his arm. This Patagonia-clad college student says his girlfriend is having a rough day, so he's starting early. "This will be a good start," he says.
His choice of cards? With a picture of two grizzly bears tussling on the front, the inside says, "Love is always having someone wonderful to goof around with."
The card is "kinda cheesy," Todd admits. "But she'll like it anyway," he says with a confident grin.
Could Todd be edging toward sappiness?
Well, that may not be such a bad thing, says Hallmark's holiday specialist. In fact, Ms. Novela has a theory that sentimentality can even be a guide to finding the ultimate romance. "You know she's the right one," Novela counsels, "when those 'cherished' valentines don't look so sappy."