- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Hearts, flowers and he-man behavior: Valentine's Day is a showcase for gents out to do the right thing.
The average American male will shell out $158 to appease the romantic needs of his sweetie today, buying favor with a big night out and perhaps a plush gorilla with a sincere expression and a sign that says, "I'm ape over you."
The sweetie, in turn, will spend a reciprocal $36 today. Why is this?
Therapists might suggest that holiday generosity is a "non-threatening" form of expression for the manly man, or a way to purge guilt. Some retailers attribute it to simplistic masculine buying behavior: Man goes to store. Man buys stuff. Man goes home.
"It's more than just buying. Men who give their sweetheart flowers and take them dinner are preserving a long-standing tradition," said Sarah Scheuer of the National Retail Federation.
Admiration and tenderness, in fact, is up all over the place. We will spend 12 percent more on the objects of our affection this year than last, providing "warmth and solace in these difficult times," says International Mass Retail Association President Robert Verdisco.
Difficult times also have spawned kindly behavior.
"Though you may not be with the one you love today, know that you are very loved by all of us here. We thank you for what you are doing for us, and pray God keeps you safe," reads one of thousands of valentines sent to "any service member" through numerous public outreach projects.
U.S. troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere are not forgotten.
Children in 4,000 elementary schools around the country got out the doilies, red construction paper and library paste to craft valentines to send overseas, an effort coordinated by Mary Jo Myers, wife of Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The work and thought that went into these tens of thousands of cards clearly shows our country's overwhelming support for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines expressed through the heartfelt sentiments of our children," Mrs. Myers said.
Meanwhile, short and sweet still rules at Necco, the Massachusetts-based maker of wee candy hearts that tell of love in eight letters or less.
Indeed, "EZ-2-LOVE," "For keeps" and "2002 kisses" cut to the chase for the conversationally challenged, though the company says that "Marry Me" is the most popular heart, tucked into many a blue velvet box with an engagement ring.
But Necco has its own literary legacy. The company has manufactured the hearts since 1902, and has made enough to encircle the Earth 40 times. And rest assured that good old gushy stuff is alive and well: "Be mine," "Be good," "Be true" and "Kiss me" have been part of the repetoire for a century.
Still, sentiments shift with the cultural tides. There have been peace signs, music and movie references, admonitions to "Page me" or discarded phrases like "You are gay," which, well, are subject to interpretation. This year's crop of 100 sayings equates fashion with romance, and includes "In style," "Tres chic" and "Vogue" in the mix.
"Telling someone they look great is the first step towards romance," says Necco spokeswoman Lori Zimbalatti, who helps choose the new messages.
Necco has not lost its kiddie touch. Based on hundreds of letters from schoolchildren, the company introduced "What's up" and "U R A Q T" this year. While company policy forbids anything "offensive, distasteful or too wordy," the public is invited to submit ideas for future mottos by e-mail (www.necco.com).
Not to be outdone, Louisiana-based Elmer Candy will custom print mottos upon the tiny hearts for weddings, parties or family events, though the sweets come at price: $100 for 10 pounds. The company has its restrictions, though.
"Elmer's reserves the right to reject obscene or tasteless phrases. No obscene tarts," reads an advisory at its Web site (www.elmercandy.com).


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