Each year onn February 14th we “celebrate” the day of St. Valentine by exchanging gifts with our loved ones—or at least that’s what the marketing people in the flower and candy industries would have us believe.

In actuality, it’s a day when the price of flowers are increased 300%, restaurant reservations double and 50% of the men in America get into some type of trouble for either not giving just “the right” gift, going to “just the right” restaurant or worse yet; are castigated for forgetting this day altogether.

But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this day?  The history of Valentine’s Day is not altogether clear, and according to what I’ve been able to research, “Valentine’s Day” gets its origins from Roman times around the 3rd century AD

While researching the question I first had to ask myself if a Saint Valentine actually existed and if so, did he bring roses and take his girlfriend to dinner?  According to the Catholic Church there appear to have been three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus—all of whom where priests and martyrs.  Two of the stories have very romantic implications and therefore are probably not true; but nevertheless are 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 supposedly 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 that is still in use today.  And somehow I have difficulty believing this one—it smells a bit too much like something that might have come from Hollywood or 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.  This “romantic” 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, Valentine 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 were beaten, tortured and had to endure the harshest of conditions.  It’s told that Valentine helped Christian prisoners to escape these ghastly conditions, was found out, and subsequently put to death—but it’s not at all clear how this later translated into cards, flowers and the expensive dinners that are now 21st century traditions.

What do these three stories have in common?  That Valentine was a champion or hero of sorts and defied the existing authority—kind of a Zorro with a rose.  He appears to have been a romantic figure and the legend grew.

So how does this apply to us in the year of our Lord 2002?  I believe that whatever its origins, women have come to view the receiving of gifts, flowers, candy and making Valentine’s Day special as a sign of respect.  And if ever there was a “rule” to follow when dealing with women, it’s that men must always treat women with the utmost dignity and respect.  Give them attention and affection, and make them feel special.  The reasons should be obvious.  First, they deserve it; after all, women are very special creatures (you knew I was going to say that)—and secondly, it’s always in our 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 or 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 that 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 (it also helps the valley’s economy) there are other less expensive ways to demonstrate respect.  And a sure-fire way to show respect is to talk to your special lady.  It is amazing how many men never really do this.  Men would be well served to realize that true conversation is powerfully seductive.  One way of actually demonstrating respect is to begin by asking a woman about her life (or her day)—and 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!

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