Exactly how important is Valentine's Day?

For some reason, romance has never really been on my radar before, which is surprising because I tend to be ruled by my emotions and fall hard when I do actually fall for someone. Somehow, I've taken on the role of the hopeless romantic without actually being romantic. So does this mean I've just been hopeless?

And I've come to learn that women really do live for romance — even lesbians. Don't be fooled by their cargo pants and comfortable shoes.

I've established a pattern of easy, seemingly effortless romance with my girlfriend. Often, I don't even realize they're romantic gestures until after I make them, usually because if I think of something that might make her smile, even a little bit, I get excited, and just do it. It's an incredibly selfish brand of thoughtfulness.

My first pre-meditated romantic gesture with her came early in our relationship, when I learned that women you're dating don't like to find you stumbling drunk in downtown St. Pete at 2 p.m. It takes quite a bit to bounce back from that when they're already aware that you have a rather pronounced history of abusing alcohol. (It's not really abuse; I usually just whack it on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper so it gets the idea of exactly what it did wrong.)

She wouldn't talk to me the next day. This one is going to take some work to fix, I thought. Usually a sheepish, lopsided smile and a charmingly witty comment was enough for most women.

So I decided to get her a flower.

Having never purchased flowers for anyone before, I had nothing but questions. Do I get one flower or several? Do I go with the romantic fallback, roses? Or do I find something more unique and meaningful? Do I have them delivered or do I hand them to her myself?

It turned into a massive research project, the duties of my actual job ignored for a day. I created an Excel spreadsheet of floral possibilities, compiling dossiers for each one after Googling them to learn about different types, costs, meanings, color choices and more. I polled my friends on Facebook, texted them, IMd them, called them on my lunchbreak, gathering a variety of opinions — and everybody had one.

Despite the amount of research I'd done, I was still feeling pretty clueless by the time I got to the florist. I left work a half hour early in order to get there before the shop closed, rushing in with only minutes to spare before the door was locked and my romantic gesture would be delayed another 24 hours. By then I'd likely have a whole new plan; it was imperative to take action in the moment of inspiration.

The woman behind the counter looked at me wearily. "Can I help you?"

"Help is exactly what I need." I looked around the shop, overwhelmed by the colors and options. "I need to make a subtle, romantic gesture, with just one flower — something simple, understated and meaningful. It can't be so simplistic it's lame, though. But I also don't want anything so obtrusively creepy that it frightens her. Can you help me with that?"

"Well, do you know her favorite flower?"

"Believe it or not, it's never come up in conversation."

"How about a rose?" She continued to clean up the counter, obviously wanting to head home for the day.

"Do I seem like the kind of girl who would give a rose?"

She sighed. "Ok, why don't we just go look at some flowers in the case?" She grabbed her keys and slid open the glass door of the main, central case. She pointed at a handful of pink and white flowers in a vase. "How about a lily?"

"Oh, so that's a lily."

"Or how about this," she said, gesturing to a cluster of colorful flowers in orange, purple and yellow.

"Well, which is more romantic?"

"They're both romantic."

"Yeah, but which is more romantic? Which one do people like to receive more?"

"People tend to like them both; it depends on taste."

"I'm thinking you might have to make this decision for me. How about this — which one would woo you if you were the one receiving it?"

"Go with the lily. It's more elegant." She took one from the case and handed it to me.

As she rang me up, I asked, "So, now what? What do I do with this?"

"What do you mean what do you do with this?"

"I mean... do I just put it somewhere, as is, or do I hand it to her wrapped up?"

"Do you want it wrapped up?"

"Not really, then it might look like I got it in Walmart. Now it just looks like I stole it from someone's garden or gravestone."

"So then just lay it wherever you want to leave it for her. Or hand it to her."

"That's how this romance thing works? I just put it there? On the ground?"

"Or wherever you plan on leaving it. Trust me, it will be fine."

I walked outside inhaling the scent of the lily I was holding. Before I got to my car, I remembered something I'd read on the Internet during my earlier research and ran back inside before she locked the door. "I forgot to ask, are lilies poisonous to animals? Because I think killing her cat would probably ruin the subtle, romantic gesture." She assured me lilies were safe; later, I found out that she lied to me. She's lucky no animals were harmed in the making of this romantic gesture.

I left the flower on my girlfriend's doorstep with a short note, actually a limerick I'd written; she texted me to say it was beautiful — the flower, not the limerick.

A week later, she texted me to say it was still blooming, and invited me over. We sat outside by her pool and chatted for a while before she took my hand, and quietly said, "I missed you." Simple. Understated. Meaningful.

"It's because of the flower, isn't it?" I told her I'd nearly made the mistake of getting a completely unoriginal, boring rose.

"I'd have taken a rose. Roses are classic — you can't go wrong with them. And just so you know for next time, I'd also be happy with diamonds. Women like these kinds of things."

"My suggestion is that if women like these kinds of things they probably shouldn't date writers."

That was last summer. Now, months later, we're celebrating our first Valentine's Day together. She'll be quick to tell you she's not big on the holiday and is generally unromantic — and she is; after all, for a while she thought it was last week.

And I wonder exactly how important the day actually is anyway. I got her some chocolate, but gave them to her over the weekend just because I knew they would make her happy. Cooking dinner isn't a big deal because I make it for us every week. And her gift, a collection of essays I've written about her, won't even arrive until next week or the week after. (See, these are the types of things you get as gifts if you date a writer.)

So, I'm not sure why I'm wrapped up in the idea of Valentine's Day, giddy almost — cutting as much of our meal as I can into heart shapes, contemplating showing up with yet another flower, writing lengthy heartfelt and somewhat inappropriate prose on the back of a Hello Kitty card that in reality is intended for distribution in a fourth-grade classroom. Deep down, I know romance is at its best when not coerced by corporations looking to bank on it. Truth be told, it's ultimately just an opportunity for me to spend another evening with her, a reminder of how lucky I am that she ever missed me, and an extension of how I try to treat her on a regular basis.

It's finally happened.

I've fallen prey to a Hallmark holiday.

Until now, I've never done much for anyone for Valentine's Day. Never purchased anyone flowers or candy. Sure, some years I went on weekend getaways, to Montauk or maybe to the coast of New Hampshire, with whomever was my then-current paramour. These jaunts had less to do with romance than they did with my compelling wanderlust. Most of the time, I'm not even dating anyone around this time of year.

But there I was last night, in my kitchen at 1 a.m., using cookie cutters to create heart-shaped slices of polenta. I was prepping my Valentine's Day dinner — a vegan, gluten-free and soy-free feast that coordinates not only with my animal-friendly diet, but also with my girlfriend's dietary restrictions. Because if there's one thing I've learned over the past decade or so of dating, there's nothing romantic about accidentally sending your date into anaphylactic shock.

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