Each year on February 14th we celebrate the day of St. Valentine.  Kids exchange cards at school, husbands & boyfriends pay 300% more for flowers, and the only reservation times that ever seem to be available are before six or after eight, and God help the man who forgets to make this day special for his wife or girlfriend.  And while that’s all fine and well, the question that keeps popping up in my mind is, just who was this mysterious saint, and why do we have a special day for him anyway?

The history of Valentine’s Day is not altogether clear, but according to what I’ve been able to glean, its origins date to the 3rdcentury A.D.  But regardless of the day’s historical origins, I think it’s more interesting to investigate if a Saint Valentine ever even existed at all?  And if so, did he bring his girlfriend roses and take her to dinner on a special day?  The Catholic Church tells us there are three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus—all of whom where priests & martyrs.  Two of the stories have very romantic implications and therefore are probably not true; but remain delightfully apocryphal legends to pass on from generation to generation.

The first legend contends that Valentine was a priest who was jailed for reasons unknown; and while in custody he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter (no jokes please.)  While in jail her wrote her love letters (the first Valentine card?) that allegedly said, “From your Valentine.” an expression still in use today, although I have a hard time believing this one as it smells a bit too much like something that might have originated in a Muppet movie or on Madison Avenue.

The second legend has Valentine in Rome about 250 AD.  During this period of Roman history, Claudius the Emperor felt that single men were better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men who wanted to serve in the Roman army.  This version of the Valentine’s Day story contends that a young priest named Valentine (or Valentinus) felt the order of the emperor was unjustly cruel to young people and decided to defy Claudius’ edict and performed marriages for young lovers in secrecy.  When Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions, he was put to death—plausible, yes, probable, who knows?

The third Valentine’s Day legend speaks to the fact that a priest named Valentine was sympathetic to the plight of prisoners in the Roman jails of the day, where they endured the harshest of conditions.  Legend has it that Valentine helped Christian prisoners to escape these ghastly conditions, but his actions were discovered, and he was subsequently put to death—but it’s not at all clear how this later scenario translated into cards, flowers and the expensive dinners that are now 21st century traditions.  So, what is it that these three stories have in common?  Answer: that Valentine was a champion of sorts who defied existing authority—sort of like Zorro with a rose.  He appears to have been a romantic figure and the legend grew.

But regardless of the authenticity of these stories, one thing I have come to understand regardless of the backstory, is that women view cards, gifts, and flowers as a sign of respect.  And if ever there was a rule to follow when interacting with the fair sex, it’s that a man must always treat women with the utmost dignity and respect.  Guys, shower your special lady with attention & affection and always make her feel special.  The reasons should be obvious.  First, she likely deserves it; after all, women are simply very special creatures in their own right—and secondly, it’s always in a man’s best interests to do so.

Respect is an interesting word, and the reactions one receives from women regarding the subject are truly remarkable.  Whenever I hear women speak of men who are respectful, the tone and timbre of their voices change, taking on an appreciative and almost reverential quality.  Perhaps it’s cultural and the result of being second-class citizens for so many years, but the response to respectfulness is always visceral.  It’s an aphrodisiac for women.  Respect is being deferential to all that is wonderful in a woman and above all, showing women they are held in esteem.

So, while dinners, gifts, and “market price” flowers and the like are wonderful ideas and I certainly encourage the continuance, there are other less expensive ways to demonstrate respect.  And a sure-fire way to show respect is by actually talking to that one special woman in your life.  And it is amazing to me how many men never really do this.  Men would be well served to realize that honest conversation is powerfully seductive.  So, perhaps the best way of demonstrating respect is to begin by asking a woman about her life (or her day)—and then listening to the answers!

So, on the off-chance that some of you forgot this special day it’s still not too late to go out and buy a rose, a card or make a reservation somewhere; but may I also suggest that the best “present” to that special someone may be to just “be present.”  And “being present” doesn’t’ meant being there physically—it means being emotionally present—even just for the day.  Hey, why not try it fellas; you may even enjoy the results!

Quote of the day: “What’s your favorite planet?  Mine’s the sun. Always has been. I like it ’cause it’s like the king of the planets.”— Will Ferrell