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Posted at 1:35 PM ET, 02/14/2011

Happy Valentine's Day! Can someone explain this 'love' thing?

By Alexandra Petri


Today is, apparently, Valentine's Day. I'm surrounded by candy hearts admonishing me to do phonetically spelled things like "B MYN" or "LUV U" and bombarded by Groupons inviting me to Couples Wine Outings. But before anything gets more serious, let's clarify our terms!

This might be an awkward day to ask this, but what's this "love" thing? If you can explain it, I'll send you a "free, funny E-card," which Google tells me is what everyone is looking for today!

I think I've been in love before, because once, for a whole week, I lost all feeling in my left foot, and I am pretty sure it wasn't a stroke. People say love makes the world seem more colorful and the personalities of everyone around you more winning, but based on the literature I've read, I think people are confusing love with the drug Ecstasy. "Love is not love that alters when its alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove," said Shakespeare. "Oh no, it is an ever-fixed mark." I have no idea what this means, but it sounds like Shakespeare's dry cleaner was taking advantage of him.

In order to find out how love works, I did what I usually do. I Googled it. Apparently, it's something that happened to Lord Byron one time in the 1800s. But I might be confusing it with "dying." I tried Bing. The results were sort of inconclusive, but in the process I bought six shakeweights!

Then I spoke to eHarmony's Senior Director of Research & Development, Dr. Gian Gonzaga. He tried to explain to me what goes into relationships. The more he talked about these ships, the more they sounded like the Titanic -- mostly, everyone just wants to get off. "No one is perfect for you," Dr. Gonzaga said. "There is no person who's going to fit all the criteria that you want."

If this is the case, I am about to place an irate call to Disney. I spent my entire childhood being reassured by anthropomorphic animated figures that, as long as I spent enough time reading, I would eventually wander into a castle and find myself in a relationship with someone who looked like Chewbacca in formalwear. Is this not so?

According to Dr. Gonzaga, no, it's not. "What are the things that are really truly important to you?" he asked. "And what are the things that you can kind of surrender on or give up on?" Do you have ten essentials? "Cut it in half to five. Order those and take the top three. The other things you can make trade-offs with."

Apparently, this is the secret to eHarmony. My top criteria in a man are that he has all his limbs, that he is able to speak English at least fluently enough to communicate his needs, and that he still has most, if not all, of his original teeth, although I am willing to negotiate on the last point. This is not quite the usual list. According to eHarmony, the top two must-haves for everyone are a "sense of humor" and "chemistry." Forget a sense of humor! The only reason everyone says they want their mate to have a sense of humor is that it's creepy to list "ample cleavage" on an online dating form. And chemistry? I'll settle for applied math.

Dr. Gonzaga also explained that something called "gift-giving" is essential. "It doesn't need to be expensive or fancy," he said. "It needs to indicate understanding and knowledge about the person. Understanding is one of the big components of building intimacy in a relationship."

Already, I don't like the sounds of this.

For years, I assumed that gift-giving in relationships was restricted to giving people magnetized kissing bears from Hallmark. You are supposed to get cute boy-girl bear pairs and make them kiss, but I liked getting same-sex pairs so that they would appear to be repulsed by each other because of the cruel dictates of our heteronormative society. "Isn't this a sad commentary," I planned to say to my boyfriend, as the two bears frantically bobbed and wove to avoid kissing. "Look at our society! Look at what we're doing to our children!"

I couldn't really picture his response. Most of my understanding of how relationships work comes from reading a lot of Proust too early in life. So I have this fixed idea that just as things take off, someone is supposed to die in a bicycle accident.

But the ever-helpful Dr. Gonzaga offered suggestions. "My wife is from Fresno," he noted. "So I gave her a Fresno Fabulous t-shirt. It wasn't very meaningful but indicated that I knew she came from Fresno." That's even better than same-day flower delivery!

But it sounded awfully involved. Didn't Dr. Gonzaga understand? I'm a Modern Person. To me, Other People are just hairy blurs that occasionally I have to stand behind in checkout lines. Fran Lebowitz once noted that "the opposite of talking isn't listening. The opposite of talking is waiting." Relationships would require me to listen to other people when I want to be talking about myself. Who wants that?

So today, as every other day, I look forward to pursuing my hobby: Going up to those interlocked couples on the Metro and murmuring, "You realize that all relationships end in break-ups or in death." Usually they ignore me. But, hey, it's Valentine's Day! I think it's worth contemplating.

By Alexandra Petri  | February 14, 2011; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Big Deals, Petri, That's awkward  | Tags:  Valentine's Day, law of the jungle, sex  
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Awhile ago, there was a commercial for enemas or something that said, "It's better to have lived and had heartburn, than never to have lived at all." As a living person, "never to have lived at all" is not an option. And what does this have to do with enemas?

Your last paragraph helped me to finally understand this commercial. I found the original quote they ripped off to make the commercial, which is also why they deserve an enema:

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Posted by: divtune | February 14, 2011 8:31 PM | Report abuse

I would eventually wander into a castle and find myself in a relationship with someone who looked like Chewbacca in formalwear. Is this not so?

Love it! You have a great sense of humor. ;)

Posted by: FairfaxStation2489 | February 15, 2011 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Yeah. Right. ... Look, just be taller, OK? Not necessarily the tallest. Just taller. ... Oh yeah. And smell good. If possible, try smelling like pumpkin pie.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | February 15, 2011 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Makes you wonder what the Grim Reaper is doing on Valentine's Day. Probably sharing a latte in Caribou with the Easter Bunny, the bringer of fertility.

Grim Reaper: (sip) Think the Wizards will win another road game?
Easter Bunny: Stop, you're killing me!

Posted by: jimward21 | February 16, 2011 8:05 AM | Report abuse

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