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Lovers and other strangers

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A cynic goes in search of romance

I don’t know about you but the day after New Year’s day I breathe a sigh of relief that the holidays are over. No more family get togethers, no more shopping, no more forced good cheer.

Then suddenly, no sooner are the Christmas decorations down than red hearts begin to bloom in retail outlets across the land, like a rampant virus replicating itself at impossible speed. Before I know it cherubic Santa Clauses have been replaced with cherubs, and as my stomach twists into knots and I break out into a cold sweat, it dawns on me that another Valentine’s Day is soon upon us.

As you may have guessed I’m not a big fan of this holiday. Actually it’s not really a holiday; you don’t get a day off or anything, all the banks are open, although if they were closed, I could imagine their slogan, " We’re closed today to show how much we really love your money."

Of course you could say the same thing about Halloween (now there’s a holiday). All right I’m hopelessly biased, I admit it.

"So what drove you to this bitter outlook on a day that celebrates such a fundamental human emotion?" I hear you ask. Well it’s the obvious answer: yes I was dumped by a serious girlfriend around this time of the year (I know, boo-hoo, get over it).

So then how does someone like me end up with the assignment to write about something I so obviously have no interest in – two years running, I should add? What can I say, my editor has a twisted sense of humour.

"Why not write a piece on Valentine’s Day?" he says with a sadistic gleam in his eye. "The most romantic day of the year," he adds somewhat unnecessarily.

I managed to qualm my hearty guffaws long enough to say gamely, "Sure, I guess I can give it the cynical outlook approach."

He reminds me that that was exactly the same spin I gave it last year. So he wants something romantic, something carefree and whimsical, to remind people of their special someone on this special day?

"Yes, that’s it!" he says.

You sick bastard, I think to myself. Then I smile and nod enthusiastically, "Okay, I’m on it."

Well easier said that done. Since I’m single (again) this year I decide that perhaps I might just try and get to the bottom of this whole romance thing, and perhaps in doing so find a love of my own and change my outlook on Valentine’s Day forever (no, seriously). I mention my plans to a few friends and they give the sort of encouragement one gives to a friend who has just announced that he plans to move to Hollywood and become a movie star: "Great; go for it; losta luck."

For some reason my friends seem to labour under the impression that I am incapable of forming any serious romantic entanglements. To make matters worse I have noticed that in the past year a disturbing number of them have made serious commitments of their own. (How many is a disturbing number? Well, roughly all.) Honestly I don’t see what the big deal is, I mean how hard can it be if you really put your mind to it? You meet someone, find out if you have anything in common with them, say I love you and get hitched.

"If it’s so easy then why don’t you do it smart guy?" I’m sure a few of you are wondering. Well like I said I plan to try, but I realize it may require some help, so I decide to check out Love Nest – I mean come on, Love Nest, it’s their business. If they can’t help me then nobody can.

Once there I meet the very friendly Tanya. I inform her of my quest and ask if she has anything that might be helpful – love potions, aphrodisiacs, maybe an inflatable blond. She suggest pheromone cologne.

"It has natural pheromones that make you irresistible to the opposite sex," she tells me.

Okay, sounds good to me. I try a test spray; to me it just smells like Dakar Noir which, considering the homoerotic imagery they use in their adds, may not be the image I want to project.

"So what do you think?" I ask Tanya. "Do you find me irresistible?" (Notice how I managed to avoid the obvious Austin Powers line here.)

"No, but I’m already involved with someone so it probably won’t work on me."

I’m a little doubtful about her reaction to the pheromones and their potency, but I’m curious about her romantic entanglement, thinking maybe I could learn something here.

"So how did you meet?" I ask.

"We started as friends." (Friends first, this is good, I can use this stuff.) "It was really casual to start with and you know, it just evolved."

"So is there anything in particular that he says or does that melts your heart, so to speak," I ask, hoping for a good line that I might use myself.

"Yes he’s pretty good at it, he’ll squeeze my arm and say ‘let’s see if I can get some honey out of you honey.’ Or if I say we’re out of angel hair pasta he’ll say ‘Why don’t I just use a few of yours.’"

Yes, like most of the men reading this, I cringe on hearing this stuff. But don’t knock it, it seems to work.

"Well," I say, "that certainly sounds like love."

"No not really, I mean I wouldn’t say that he’s the one."

Now I’m confused. "If he’s not the one , then how do you know he’s not the one and what makes someone the one in the first place?"

"I don’t know, but I’ll know it when I see it."

I sigh and shake my head. Such blind faith. I’m starting to think that I may be in over my head.

At times like these, I usually seek solace in the numbing effects of alcohol. Plus, a crowded bar will give me a chance to better test the pheromone cologne. The Amsterdam Cafe looks crowded enough. I find a place at the bar, but unfortunately most of the patrons are male. Undaunted, I ask the female bartender, Heather – Big Hair Heather to her friends, if she would like to take a whiff of my pheromone cologne. I mention to her (perhaps unwisely) that it is suppose to make me irresistible. She declines saying, "You’re irresistible enough." The sarcasm meter goes off the scale.

Okay, so I’m oh for two on the cologne, but I press on thinking maybe, like Tanya, Heather has some take on this whole romance game. Does she have any opinion on Valentine’s Day?

"It’s cheesy, it’s just another cheesy commercial holiday."

Heather sounds pretty cynical, probably not the sort of person I should be talking to.

"Am I to assume then that you are single?" I ask.

"No I have somebody," she assures me. "I’m just not that into romance."

This is interesting. It seems to me that a lot of people out there are involved in relationships that don’t amount to much more than monogamous casual sex.

"What about your boyfriend? Does he share your opinion?"

Heather shrugs. "I don’t know, I guess."

"I suppose that means you’re not expecting flowers or anything?"

"No, I like flowers. I’m definitely getting flowers."

Is it me, or are all the women in the world messing with my head?

Later on I meet some friends for drinks. they’re both female so I figure this could be another chance for some useful research. I mention the pheromone cologne, which results in more sarcasm.

"Oh my God it’s so strong, someone hold me back!" Exclaims one.

Yes, very funny, but at least I’m making the effort.

"So what about you?" I ask the comedian. "What are you usually doing on St. Valentine’s Day?"

"I’m usually single," she admits. "Or I have my period."

I’m starting to think that maybe being single isn’t such a bad option after all. I could be like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, sort of tortured and brooding. Of course it’s romantic when he does it, whereas with me I would probably come across as some guy who’s just really boring. Although in a way, walking off into the mist with Claude Rains does sound somewhat appealing (no not that way). I mean I could run around in circles trying to find someone to fall in love with and go to all the trouble of trying to figure out if she prefers flowers or chocolates, and think up cute sayings so she can tell her friends how sweet I am, only to wake up one morning and have her tell me I’m not the one , whatever that means.

Or I could say to hell with it and go on as I have. Still, something tells me I won’t.

Joining the French resistance and fighting the Nazis was never really an option. If I’m honest with myself (I rarely am), I have to admit that I would be much more likely to get on the plane with Ingrid Bergman and let Claude Rains have the Nazis to himself. Which means that I guess I’m not going to give up searching for someone to fall in love with (even if I don’t necessarily believe in it).

So watch this space and maybe next year I’ll be so full of nauseating platitudes on the virtues of romantic love that you will shake your collective heads and say "I remember him when...."

By the way guys, the pheromones don’t work, but it doesn’t hurt to smell nice.

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