|AVOID. AVOID. AVOID.|
Yesterday's advice was for women but this is not a blog just for women, so perhaps a word or two of advice for men would be apropos.
In Canada and the USA, Valentine's Day is a big old deal, especially among traditionalist women who firmly believe in traditional male roles however they waffle on the female ones. You are going to assume this means a display of wealth, but that is not exactly it. No, the sentimental Valentine's Day fan just wants a nice courtship gesture and/or material objects symbolizing courtship gestures. This is why (in case you are wondering) men don't automatically get presents on Valentine's Day.
In Europe and Australia, Valentine's Day is not such a big deal, but women here and there surely love courtship gestures and their symbols as much as women everywhere else, at least from men they look at with shining eyes. Naturally being male it is difficult for you to tell if a woman is looking at you with shining eyes. This is why you should consult female friends on the subject periodically.
One of our altar servers has declared on Facebook that if anyone is secretly in love with him, now is the time to tell him. He wrote that last year, too, so Facebook demands don't seem to be an effective method of divining truth. Perhaps on Sunday it would be charitable to scrutinize the faces of all female parishioners under 30 looking at him serving on the altar. (Sadly, those best positioned to do that are the other altar servers, and being male, they won't be able to do it effectively.)
Anyway, if you are fond of a woman and want simultaneously to make her happy and to convince her not go out with other guys, it is a good thing to give her something on Valentines' Day. In North America, this is actually essential. And the best gifts of all being time, thought and imagination, you should probably make your own valentine out of red and white paper, as in elementary school. And that is all you need to give a girl you haven't actually gone on a date with yet. (A box of chocolate is impressive, however.) If she likes you a lot, she will be thrilled, and if she likes you only a little bit, she will be flattered and also have a drama to discuss with all her friends. Don't forget to actually ask her out afterwards.
If you are dating a girl, make the valentine, buy the chocolate her best friend (sworn to secrecy) says is her favourite (it could be a Mars Bar), and either make a restaurant reservation or plan a home-cooked supper. If she's super-trad and won't go to your place, suggest you make this supper at her place. If you leave the dishes for her to wash up, there may be trouble, however.
If you are engaged to a North American woman, even more thought is required. A brilliant young lawyer once asked me and a friend what he should give our dear friend, his fiancée, for Valentine's Day, and as one we said "Jewellery". We led the poor chap to Tiffany's, feeling that we were very good friends indeed. Memory does not relate what he bought, but it was from Tiffany's, which has enormous symbolic value to super-romantic girly-girls who only vaguely understand what Holly Golightly was doing for a living. The fiancée was delighted, the lawyer was delighted that she was delighted, and we the friends felt distinctly smug.
If you have recently married a North American woman, you sort of have to prove that, having taken her home, you do not see her as part of the furniture. Although they may seem a pointless and needless expense, the homemade valentine, the favourite chocolate and the romantic meal (homecooked by you absolutely fine) are probably necessary for the first year or two. The symbolic gesture can be a lot more casual after that, as--outwith the Historical House, naturally--married women are generally starved for romance and grateful for whatever crumbs fall from Cupid's table.
By the way, if you buy lingerie, you had better know what you are doing. Naturally Catholic married women do not usually discuss such things, even among each other, but cheap red stuff that looks like part of the arsenal of a desperate drug-addled prostitute is surely welcome to no woman. If you want to treat your wife like a high-class hooker, only the most expensive stuff will do.
Really, when it comes to Valentine's Day gifts, you are safest with valentine and chocolates. Flowers can be tricky, as she may find red roses either the ONLY acceptable flower or a stupid, unimaginative cliché. Probably you should ask her (or the helpful sworn-to-secrecy female friend) what her favourite flower is. Incidentally, it will almost never be carnations and, by the way, you must never send or bring carnations to anyone from Central/Eastern Europe, as they symbolize DEATH. In Canada, they merely symbolize CHEAP. Also good to know is that Slavs don't like even-numbers in flowers, so don't give one a dozen of anything. Five, seven and eleven are good.
Above all, women are all the same but all simultaneously completely different, which means that although the North American ones definitely like the card-chocolates-flowers combination, we prefer them to be tailored to our unique selves. Hallmark + drugstore box of chocolates + bunch of flowers bought in the metro = ho-hum. But homemade card + favourite chocolate (or pastries) + favourite flowers = seriously impressive.
Once again, it's not about the money. It's about the symbolic value. Time, thought and imagination trump money. The fact that you bothered to find out what she really likes is manna to the feminine soul.
Finally, if you meet a twenty-something Polish sword collector with a love for ancient poetry, do not invite him out for a pint. Check out the link at the top of this post and then call the police.