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Send Me No Flowers

A Valentine's Day resistance movement – with a line of cards.

Behold Cupid, the dimpled cherub of yore: a pink-cheeked, golden-curled purveyor of love, affection and heart-shaped Whitman's Samplers. He's everywhere this month -- and, suddenly, so are people who want to wing him.

[Taste] Grant Robertson

"Cupid," reads an e-card from American Greetings. "For years, he's been a pain in your rear end. Now it's time to return the favor." Recipients can shoot arrows at Cupid's backside.

The interactive card is among American Greetings' anti-Valentine's Day collection, an ironic offering from an industry that profits greatly from Feb. 14. Even in a cautious economy, the National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend more than $14 billion this year on Valentine cards, meals and gifts. Valentine's Day trails only Christmas in card sending, and it is the busiest holiday for the U.S. florist industry, which expects a quarter of adults to buy flowers this week.

But there's increasing grumbling about Valentine's Day, a vaguely defined occasion that forces people, at arrow-point, to declare their deepest emotions, and maybe even to manufacture some that aren't there. Some call it FAD, "Forced Affection Day." True, there are those who bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, or the seemingly contrived nature of Mother's Day or Administrative Professionals Week. Yet Valentine's Day is the only American celebration with a resistance movement. It comprises singles who resent the incessant emphasis on romantic love, parents who resent the necessity of procuring 24 Disney princess cards with red lollipops attached, and devoted couples, married and not, who resent the compulsion of it all.

These days, it is also made up of businesses eager to capitalize on that resentment. Most major American cities have at least one restaurant or bar throwing an anti-Valentine's Day gathering, such as the "Cupid Is Stupid" party at Santa Fe Station in Las Vegas. Crunch Fitness locations across the U.S. are offering anti-Valentine's Day boxing classes, where participants can bring photographs of their ex-amours to help them work out "post-relationship aggression." Jimmy Beans Wool, a knitting-yarn company, used to highlight a red yarn each February, but now says on its Web site that it's rebelling and substituting blue this year.

In San Francisco, Sasha Cagen, author of a book celebrating single life, promotes her sixth annual "Quirkyalone Day," encouraging women to duck "the barrage of red and pink" and buy themselves daisies.

In Boston, three friends -- Kara Sweeney, Sarah White and Kristin Ostrem -- decided to discard Valentine's Day for something they really cared about: the deep-fried dumplings known as crab rangoons. They declared Feb. 13 to be National Crab Rangoon Day and organized celebrations this year in Boston, New York and Vail, Colo. Crab rangoons do not yet outsell conversation hearts, but they're hoping.

How did we get here? How did a day devoted to love, affection and chocolate come to inspire loathing and ridicule? Blame the public schools. It's there that compulsive Valentine exchanging begins, innocently enough at first. In grade school, teachers usually insist that children provide a Valentine for everyone in the class. Alas, boys and girls graduate into a life where, sometimes, theirs is the only desk in the office without a bouquet.

"Valentine's Day has so much baggage attached to it, this cliché feeling of disappointment," says Ms. Cagen. She went to a high school in Rhode Island where students routinely sent carnations to other students on Valentine's Day, "and, if you didn't get one from a boy, you felt bad."

A sense of humor helps. Melissa Monachello, a publicity manager for a book publisher in Philadelphia, once sent her single friends sympathy cards that read, "You are not alone in this time of sorrow" for Valentine's Day. Now engaged, she is sending normal Valentines to family and friends this year, but she and her fiancé are not doing anything special on Feb. 14, figuring it's the other 364 days of the year that matter.

Even marriage does not ensure a lifetime of angst-free Valentine's Days. Meredith Wollins Paley, vice president of public relations for the women's clothier Talbots, says that "on a whim" the company posted a "tell us your worst Valentine's gift" contest on its Web site. On the first day, more than 2,500 women responded with tales of receiving things like electric nose-hair trimmers and cemetery plots. "Apparently, Valentine's Day is less romantic than greeting-card companies would have us believe," Mrs. Wollins Paley says.

"I Hate Valentine's Day" is the name of a pop song (by Jewel), a book (by Bennett Madison) and a forthcoming movie (directed by Nia Vardalos). And, as in all categories of social unrest, there's even a petition to get rid of the day. The one at reads, in part, "Valentine's Day is the most evil day of the year." There are, as of this writing, 66 signatures.

Should anyone succeed at abolishing Valentine's Day, she will be in good company. The Roman Catholic Church, unable to verify the history of Saints Valentine (there were at least three), struck St. Valentine's Day from its official calendar in 1969. And, Cupid, take cover: All three Valentines were martyred. The anti-Valentine movement goes way back.

Jennifer Graham is a writer in the suburbs of Boston.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W11

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