The thin red line

February 11, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

Is it love, or is it fear?

The shadow is upon us once again. Black Thursday. Feb. 14, the day when men must pay reparations for everything they have done (or not done) in the previous year.

For days, or even weeks prior to the dreaded occasion, furtive, awkward-looking guys haunt unfamiliar places, such as greeting card emporiums, florists’ boutiques, chocolate shops, and jewelry stores, hoping that this year they will get it right.

In the hours leading up to the day in question, a guy’s sole mission in life becomes the search for a way to appease the love gods so that he might earn a year of peace.

It begins about the time the bubbles fade from the New Year’s Eve champagne and the Christmas tree is tossed out onto the lawn.

It starts slowly, with gentle, almost subliminal, messages reminding men of what is ahead.

The pressure continues to build, gradually increasing in urgency and intensity until it reaches a fever-pitch, with ads that practically scream, “DON’T SCREW IT UP!”

It seems that today, everyone is getting into the act.

Auto dealers, hardware stores, and even appliance retailers try to promote their products as the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, but don’t be fooled, fellows. This is not a day to be practical.

Misery and woe are sure to rain down upon any hapless man who presents his sweetheart with a lawnmower or shiny new washing machine on this of all days.

It matters not that he is simply trying to make her life easier; she will almost certainly take it badly if he strays down this path.

The safest bet is to stick with something traditional. Jewelry is a popular choice, and it is easy to understand why.

Just as the early explorers tried to distract the natives by showering them with trinkets and beads, guys today lay down gifts of precious metal and pretty stones on the altar of their love, and hope that it will be enough.

Beware, lads, there is danger ahead. While it is important to do enough, one must be careful not to go overboard, because whatever you do today, you will need to top it next year and every year to come. Setting the bar too high is a recipe for disaster.

It is not only the gift itself that can trip one up. Beyond the price and quality of the offering, women also take into account the thought and effort that went into it.

Apparently, they have some sort of elaborate formula for calculating this, and it is a formula that no man has ever been able to crack. The women understand it, and that is all that we need to know.

It should be noted that the stress surrounding Valentine’s Day is strictly one-sided.

No woman has ever lost any sleep worrying about finding just the right gift for the day of doom.

All a woman has to do is show up, and her man will be perfectly happy.

Guys don’t care if their wives or girlfriends fail to come across with a reciprocal gift Feb. 14. Like the brave explorers before us, we are satisfied if we are allowed to deliver our gifts without being massacred.

There has been no documented case of a man sulking around the old domicile or giving his girlfriend the silent treatment for a week because he was dissatisfied with the Valentine’s Day gift he received, or the amount of thought she put into it.

Women cannot lose on this day. Guys will fall down at their feet in gratitude for any effort women choose to make.

It should also be noted that men do not judge their wives or other men’s wives on Valentine’s Day.

One will never see groups of men huddled together around the water cooler on Feb. 15 comparing notes on what they received for Valentine’s Day.

Apart from congratulating one another on having survived the day, men are unlikely to mention it at all.

Women, on the other hand, keep copious notes about these things, and can’t wait to share them with their girlfriends.

They will get together and conduct a thorough evaluation of each man’s gift-giving performance and general conduct.

One can’t help wondering if there isn’t some sort of central database that women use to record this type of information.

A woman’s only concern on Valentine’s Day is whether or not the man in her life will measure up to expectations.

Men, on the other hand, are forever doomed to walk the thin red line between love and fear.

We love the women in our lives, but fear the dire consequences that await us if we muff another Hallmark moment.