- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Stand in line. Go online. Those rosy red reminders that St. Valentine's Day is here are everywhere.
In the grocery store, I was amazed by a huge red Hershey's kiss. In the drugstore, I was attacked by a giant red and white teddy bear. Amid the balloons and cards in the gift shop, the zirconia and red rhinestones reign.
Diamonds, anyone? Financing a February romance can get pricey.
On AOL alone, they suggest you "buy sexy heels to impress him" or "give him a wet one on the cheeks with a Norelco razor that keeps it smooth." How about a bubbly "Valentine Vacation" for two?
AOL will tell you on Monday how to "find true love"; on Tuesday, how you can "win them over"; on Wednesday, how you can "plan the perfect date"; on Thursday, how you can "be the perfect date"; by Friday, you'll need to know how to "keep the love alive."
Whew. These young folks are being encouraged to find them, wine and dine them and maybe be ditched by them in five red-hot days? No wonder the divorce rate in this country is one of the highest in the world. You get a 50/50 fighting chance.
Do we really "believe in true love"? Consult the stars or celebrities. Want to "see if you're soul mates?" Take a two-minute test.
Talk about whirlwind romances. Talk about instant gratification. Does anybody really know who the person is who's sitting across the table once the petals have fallen off those expensive long-stemmed roses?
I consider myself one of those free-spirited, live-and-let-live types of gals, but sometimes I worry about the value system in this consumer-crazy culture that reduces something as sacred and serious as a loving relationship to heart-shaped boxer shorts.
OK. We can be a little silly because what is a good partnership with a few hardy howls? But in all this Valentine's Day hype I hope folks don't lose sight of what's really important to love and be loved. Chocolate-covered cherries or none.
Love, and fond friendship, is a special something on which you cannot place a price tag. Treasured time is more precious than trashy trinkets.
Don't get me wrong: What woman or man wouldn't like to receive a little gem in a blue box with a white ribbon bought at Tiffany's? Unless it means you can't sleep at night for worrying how to pay for those jewels.
Sadly, I know women and men who don't feel they're loved unless their Significant Other spends a small fortune on every trumped-up excuse for a holiday that Hallmark can manufacture.
Some folks choose to duck Cupid's arrow and are single or happily divorced. They just don't buy into the hype.
But what if you don't have a special Valentine on this one day of the year that merchants browbeat us with cutesy couplehood and feel left out? Look and find the love of all the Significant Others who surround you: the love of God, the love of family, the love of friends, the love of colleagues or church members. Most important, the love of self.
If you don't love yourself, you could end up spending a whole lot of wasted time and money "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places."
The older we baby boomers of the "free love" generation get, I think the more we realize that truly free attributes like honor, respect, humor and love are worth their weight in gold. That communication, compassion, compromise and commitment along with common goals and interests can't be had in a hurry nor wrapped in pretty red ribbons.
Someone wise once told me that the best relationships are ones in which both parties think they got the better deal.
If only we took greater care in teaching our young people these priceless values that make for healthy relationships. Maybe there would be no need of government-sponsored programs promoting abstinence and marriage.
Indeed, I too am a self-professed romantic who enjoys red roses and fine wine by cozy candlelight. I, too, get great pleasure from the gifts my sweetie buys me. But nothing compares to the sweet and tender look of love that shines for me in his eyes.
Valentine's Day or not, I've learned the hard way that "money can't buy me love," not standing in line or ordering online.
Adrienne T. Washington's e-mail address is @atwashin zaol.com.

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