- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Breathless love, gaga love that is what we crave on this, the first Valentine's Day of the century. And we'll do most anything to get even a tingle from the tangle known as modern romance.

Numbers tell no lies.

By day's end, Americans will have spent over a billion dollars on candy and $300 million on cards, sent 110 million roses and surrendered 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate to sweetie pies near and far.

More than 230,000 couples will get engaged today, and it's the third-most popular night to go out for dinner all this in a country that spends $500 million a year on little newspaper ads that reduce heartfelt poesy to "SF ISO SM."

At least we have help from inventive marketeers who peddle passion or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Greg Godek, who wrote "1001 Ways to Be Romantic," suggests the sentimentally challenged fill their intended's automobile with balloons, write "I love you" on the bathroom mirror in soap, and make heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast, among other things.

"It's totally understandable that men cringe at Valentine's Day. It's not women's fault it's Cupid's fault," Mr. Godek said. "Our image of romantic love is a cute, naked angel-baby. Hardly a masculine role model."

For a mere $11, the folks at Love Cycles will determine "key times and dates of relationship opportunities," based on one's astrological data.

"It's fine-tuned romantic advice," said spokesman Jeff Jawer. "And it's meant to maximize opportunities and minimize conflicts."

Love also takes gumption.

"Forget Cupid," said Ken Gordon, a former Manhattan stockbroker who now markets motivational tapes that "empower men and women to take control of their own romantic future."

The tapes include pickup lines, sob stories, unusual excuses and a master plan for meeting that elusive soul mate.

Ohio-based therapist David Lima, meanwhile, offers a "Love Workbook" for those who want love and happiness in the same elusive combination.

"It gives step-by-step exercises for people who want to discover love, find a partner, resolve relationship problems or improve relationship intimacy," he said.

Sometimes, though, a mere workbook is not enough.

For $29, for example, Romance by You Publishing will create a personalized romance novel for the lovelorn, complete with steamy cover that includes the first names and up to 25 physical characteristics of the principal players.

Thirty thematic titles are available, from titillating neighborhood liaisons to something called "Medieval Passion" for those with a Gothic fixation.

Harlequin Books, meanwhile, has an author on standby today at its Web site (www.eharlequin.com), ready to dispense tips to folks pining to pen their own romance novel or one heck of a Valentine's card, anyway.

"Lori Foster, known for writing sizzling love stories, is on line to teach visitors how to write a passionate, compelling sex scene," a spokesman noted.

Valentine's Day, however, yields cautionary notes from all over.

The American Dietetic Association, for example, issued a warning that tonight's "intimate meal is more likely to be on the gastrically hazardous side if the man of the house is handling the food."

Male cooks, apparently, cause the objects of their affection to sicken over goodies that combine "raw meat juices with ready-to-eat foods," according to the ADA.

The Agriculture Department warns that "nematodes" could be hiding in the petals of imported roses today; smeller beware.

The E Policy Institute cautions would-be lovers to keep their emotions out of cyberspace.

"Twenty-seven percent of all Fortune 500 companies have battled sexual harassment claims based on employee misuse of e-mail," noted spokeswoman Nancy Flynn.

She advises the romantically inclined to write their messages "as though Mom were reading it."

Valentine's Day also inspires polls.

Fred Cuellar, author of "The World's Greatest Proposals," found that of 10,000 marriage proposal stories he reviewed, 18 percent ended in rejection.

The makers of Dentyne gum surveyed 600 people to determine that the majority said "fresh breath can make or break a perfect Valentine's Day kiss." The makers of Colgate toothpaste polled 1,000 and found that 71 percent felt that Valentine's Day should be a "food-related activity."

Colgate got sociological too, revealing that most people "met their special someone through friends or relatives, at school or at work," while 2 percent found their match at a bar and just 1 percent on the Internet.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association polled 1,000 men about an ideal Valentine's gift: Should it be beer, chocolates, after-shave or flowers?

Strangely enough, beer barely beat chocolate, 36 percent to 34 percent, among men from 21 to 34. Men 35 to 44 preferred candy 30 percent to 23 percent. Only among men from 45 to 54 did beer outpoll chocolate by a wide margin, 34 percent to 26 percent.

"I was surprised," said a spokeswoman. "I don't know if it was the way we phrased the question or what."

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