Forget the pink hearts, dozen roses and pound upon pound of cheap chocolate. For the American teenage male, February 14 is a day of dread.
Why, you ask?
This is the day that, despite a carefully honed image to the contrary, he is annually unmasked as a fumbling pretender in the world of romance.
Steeped in tradition, other holidays give the kid an out. He can simply ride along with the rest of the brood, leaving it to his folks to fuss over the turkey or man the grill.
But Valentine's Day? That's pressure.
The date brings with it the expectation that this laconic species shoehorn his affections, real or imagined, into a heart-shape box of chocolates or an allowance-crushing meal at a local bistro. What's worse: He must do this alone.
So what's a marginally disaffected high schooler to do?
Simple: Stop fighting it, and submit.
Only then will he realize that the Valentine-Industrial complex has made it easy: You see, it's not the thought that counts on Valentine's Day. It's the chocolate.
Of course, it wasn't always so painless for a guy to come out looking like a latter-day Romeo.
Take the Roman Lupercalia, for instance. Held on February 15, this fifth-century festival was a forerunner to Valentine's Day. The proceedings were intended to protect the city's inhabitants from wolves, one of whom, according to legend, suckled Rome's founders Romulus and Remus in a cave on the Palatine Hill.
During the Lupercalia Roman priests would descend the Palatine Hill wielding the bloody skins of sacrificial animals. Seeking out the more nubile crowd members, the priests, or Luperci, would whip the young Roman girls, who, believing it would increase their fertility, willingly submitted.
The holiday didn't get much easier once it became associated with St. Valentine. An early Christian, Valentine is said to have been imprisoned because he refused to give up his beliefs. Legend has it that during his imprisonment Valentine used his Christian faith to cure the blind daughter of one of his jailers. Not that it helped much: They executed Valentine anyway, but before he died it's said that he sent the cured girl a note signed "from your Valentine."
Nope, be it Roman girls or Christian martyrs, Valentine's Day has never been a particularly happy holiday. And I suppose that in that sense the teenage American boy of today is merely carrying on the tradition. Still, today's paramour has one advantage his ancestors lacked: Barbie Milk Chocolate Flavored Shapes.
Fresh from China, these shapes are packed with all the polyglycerol polyrcinoleate and sorbitan tristearate your sweetheart's heart desires. Tricked out with candied Barbie logos, colorful flowers and hearts galore, the shapes have another bonus: They're chocolate flavored.
So who cares that when I offered a Barbie Milk Chocolate Flavored Shape to one of my fairer colleagues, she replied: "If my boyfriend gave that to me for Valentine's Day, we'd be in trouble."
After all, what's a failed relationship compared to martyrdom?