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This past Christmas I sent out 25 holiday cards. If you exclude the cards from my man, my parents and my travel agent, I think I received five. That's one crappy return rate.

That's what I like about Valentine's Day. I'm sending only one card, and I only expect one card in return. Because the good cards go quickly, I've already been to my local Hallmark to scope out what they have. I saw cards that shouldn't even exist — cards to your brother, cards from the cat, cards to parents who are divorced, from miles away, sorry you're ill but be my love anyway and everything else under the sun.

If I'm not mistaken, Valentine's Day celebrates romantic love. It's all good and wonderful to feel love for friends and family members. Send 'em a thinking-of-you card. Valentine's Day is for lovers, spouses and daters only. Yeah, the greeting card companies may make cards for everybody on V-day, but you don't have to buy them. I still see double-knit polyester reversible pants in stores, too, but that doesn't make them in style.

Even school children shouldn't be forced to send a card to every person in the class. I suppose it teaches you to be nice, even to people you don't like, but there are other ways to convey the same message without the 25 to a box, one for everybody, V-Day card.

Now that we've limited who you might send a card to, let's start shopping. There's also the alternative of making a Valentine. Don't do it unless you are in a serious, long-term relationship. Making a card takes a lot of time and effort, and it conveys a certain seriousness that may not yet exist in your relationship. If I have been dating someone only for a short period of time, I would definitely be wary of the person who dug out the glue and glitter to make my card. Anyone who cuts and pastes too early in the relationship is probably wacky enough to cut and paste letters from a magazine for your ransom note.

That said, you can't go wrong buying a card. That's simply because there are so many of them, there's bound to be one that expresses exactly what you want to say. Don't be afraid to explore some non-traditional outlets for cards. Some of the cutest cards I've ever seen were at Dick's Sporting Goods. You also might try specialty shops for unique cards.

Remember when buying a Valentine, once it's delivered it's out there and whatever is said cannot be taken back. You can't say, "Oh, I was just kidding" when your beloved is horrified at your overly mushy card. Nor can you rush out to buy another when the humorous card is met with tears and disappointment. It's OK to purchase more than one card if you can't find just one that says everything you want to say, but both must be given at the same time. I've learned the hard way — à la being dumped on V-Day — that the wrong card can put a hurtin' on your relationship.

Don't let fear of screwing up deter you from getting your Valentine. You'll have to share your feelings at some point, and it's a whole lot easier for a trained professional to create the verse than for you to come up with a rhyme on your own.

contact erma p. sanders: [email protected]

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