So you think you send that lovely Valentine's Day card because you are such a sweet, thoughtful person?
Perhaps – but not necessarily, says Dr. Frank Melone, a retired psychologist from Pennsylvania State University, who believes some people send cards because of real sentiment while others are inspired by psychological and hidden motives.
And while it's far from a Jewish-oriented holiday, St. Valentine's Day long ago lost any religious connotation, and remains one of the country's more honored secular days to express love and romance.
"With most people," Melone explained, "there are usually four basic motives for sending Valentine's cards":
• To follow a ritual or tradition;
• To manifest affection;
• To soothe the feelings of someone you've hurt;
• To reach out in an attempt to start – or cement – a relationship.
And the people who don't send them?
"They simply rationalize that every day is Valentine's Day," says Melone. "Very few people would send notes expressing love if there wasn't already a designated day to do so. The day is the excuse we need for doing something that should always be done – expressing affection or friendship. We either don't take the time or don't have the time."
According to the National Association of Greeting Card Publishers, the greeting-card industry boasts more than $1 billion in retail sales each year.
And this year is expected to exceed last year's figure, particularly with so many people wanting to express warm feelings.
"There is no question," conceded one marketing executive in the association, "that the industry exerts much influence upon the public's observance of Valentine's Day."
Undoubtedly, the big hype the industry gives to sending cards accounts for the success of the sentimental day. How many people would think much about buying a card if there weren'tfi a designated day to do so?
With the explosion of the Internet, people can now send greetings to one another and even create their own cards in cyberspace. General knowledge has it that women are more selective than men in their choice of cards, and put more importance into the meaning of Valentine's Day.
Often, the buying of a card is a last-minute thing, with the surge at the card counter reaching its peak the day before Valentine's Day.
In this topsy-turvy, fast-forward age of technology, people can get a bit depersonalized, yet there are still hordes who like to spend time choosing just the right card, buying the fine box of chocolates, sending flowers, finding the perfect gift.
"I think Valentine's Day is a wonderful holiday," notes Harriet Seltzer, an eighth-grade teacher, who shows her husband all the cards her students give her each Valentine's Day. "If he hasn't sent me one, that does it – out the door he runs to get one before I put on my 'hurt' expression."
With some couples, one spouse may be the card-giving type while the other simply does not respond in kind.
Carol and Harold Bernstein "do things a little differently," according to Carol, a stay-at-home mother of two. "Harold is very romantic, always bringing me home flowers and a lovely gift to surprise me. But never a card."
Harold admits, "I'm just not a card person."
Richard Haaz, an attorney from Flourtown, admits "my wife loves getting something on Valentine's Day. I try to send flowers each year – and, hopefully, have time to get out and find a gift for her as well. I usually take my daughter, Chloe, with me. She knows how to choose a 'ladies gift' better than I do."
Melone believes a significant number of people – perhaps 15 percent – who genuinely want to express very positive feelings make their own cards or add some meaningful note on a card to the person they love. "These are two indicators they truly want to send a card as an expression of their feelings."
Today, there are cards for almost anyone on the list: fiancée, spouse, parent, child, grandchild, friend, teacher, boss, employee, mail deliverer, student.
Jan Goldman, a clinical psychologist from Cheltenham, feels that the main reason people send cards is "not to be left out – to be included in this particular day. For many women, love is the main act in life. They feel a loving relationship is the main way they define themselves and feel good about themselves.
"Women need an affirmation of love on a day that is socially designated for that to happen. Men know this, and want to please women. Men also want to feel love, but it is not so central a way in which they define personal identity."
Dr. Richard Greenberg, a surgeon at Albert Einstein Medical Center who lives in Malvern, recalls that "one year, my wife, Page, gave me a tie with hearts all over it. I really like it, although that's the only day I wear it."
The origins of Valentine's Day can be traced to the time of Emperor Claudius II's decree that soldiers remain bachelors. Claudius believed that soldiers would be distracted and unable to concentrate on fighting if they were married or engaged.
When a priest named Valentine came upon the scene, he defied the emperor and secretly performed marriage ceremonies. As a result of his defiance of Claudius' rule, Valentine was put to death on Feb. 14.
After his death, Valentine was named a saint. As Christianity spread through Rome, the priests decided that Feb. 14 be named St. Valentine's Day. And the rest, as they say, is history.