It's hard enough being single, but listening to those Valentine's Day gift-buying countdowns feels a lot like being Jewish and unable to participate in Christmas. So what if there are just five shopping days left before Feb. 14? It's like St. Valentine took over St. Nick's body, and now the whole coupled country is in another mall-bound tizzy. Maybe it's sour grapes, but I don't get all the hoopla.
Does the grand romantic gesture really pay off?
I asked my married friend, David, who said, "Look, Lori. Money can't buy you love, but it can definitely buy you domestic harmony."
Apparently, for those in relationships, gifts on Valentine's Day are like Machiavelli's open secret: they're a means to an end -- usually of an argument.
And in a culture defined by the grandiose, the grand romantic gesture is starting to seem a little, well, gross. It's not just the pink balloons, stuffed teddy bears and baby talk that make otherwise sensible adults seem like postpubescent 5-year-olds.
Call it "keeping up with the Cupids," but a card and candy won't cut it anymore. Exhausted from three days of jewelry shopping for his girlfriend, my neighbor complained about the trauma of what he called "V-Day -- and the 'V' doesn't stand for 'victory.'" Another friend worries that her husband might buy her lacy lingerie when she really wants a night out on the town. A colleague who's packing a suitcase for what she hopes will be a "surprise" weekend getaway put it this way: "He better get it right this year!"
One of my smug married friends tried consoling me. "Ah, honey, don't worry. You'll find a Valentine," she said, her tone dripping with pity.
I'm not so sure I want one. Hallmark calls it "the most romantic day of the year," but what's so romantic about disappointment, overblown expectations and hemorrhaging money like a hemophiliac with a paper cut?
Then I saw an ad for Kwiat Spirit Rings, or what The New York Times recently dubbed "bling rings" -- and being single didn't seem so bad. These rings, worn on the fourth finger of a woman's right hand, are supposed to be gifts for yourself, thus signifying an independent spirit. As the Diamond Information Center's marketing campaign puts it, "Your left hand says 'we.' Your right hand says 'me.'"
Being self-absorbed and single, I figured a "me" ring sounded perfect. And, OK, a little desperate, but since Halle Berry wears one, at least I'd be in good desperate company. Then again, Halle Berry probably has the $5,000 to buy one of these "symbols of the feminine spirit." When I asked the saleslady at Saks (diamond ring on left fourth finger) if she had anything more in line with, say, "the feminine wallet," she shot me a condescending look. To her, I wasn't just desperate, but also down-market.
Of course, Wal-Mart advertises its own "bling ring" -- the Keepsake Independence -- but who wants a cheapo imitation? I mean, what message would I be sending to myself on Valentine's Day? That I wasn't worth, well, what?
That's when I realized what's really wrong with Valentine's Day: We want proof that we're loved -- that we're as special as a night at Ventana and as valuable as a ring from De Beers -- but neither really does the trick. Being loved is about being understood, accepted and adored, despite the fact that your baggage isn't exactly Tumi or "a symbol of your feminine sanity." Maybe something more low-key and personal, like a single Stargazing Lily, shows that your lover remembers your favorite flower. But the best Valentine's gift, I think, isn't available at 1-800-Flowers, the Beverly Center or on redenvelope.com.
As a materially low-maintenance woman trapped in a psychologically high-maintenance body, I often require the emotional equivalent of dinner in Paris. So if I could replace V-Day with, say, E-Day, for 24 hours I'd get sensitive replies to questions like, "Do you think I'm more attractive than she is?" "That's not a gray hair, it's blonde, right?" and "What do you mean by, 'It's not you, it's me?'"
Now, if only there was a holiday for that.
Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is author of the memoir "Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self" (Simon and Schuster, 2000) and "Inside the Cult of Kibu: And Other Tales of the Millennial Gold Rush" (Perseus Books, 2002). Her Web site is at www.lorigottlieb.com .