Backstory: The cupid index
Valentine's Day is all about love - well, it's about marketing, too - but there's also a hate/hate relationship in play for many people. Those who aren't in love, or at least dating - that is, single - dislike it because it reminds them (oh, so mightily) of their status.
Those who are in love, or at least dating - that is, part of a couple - worry that whatever they got for their partner, they probably blew it. They spent too little on flowers or chocolate or diamonds. Or they misread the signs and spent too much and skipped the flowers and chocolate and bought diamonds.
It's a tough holiday that St. Valentine left us, not that he knew that when he was with us. He was a Roman clergyman who was executed Feb. 14 around 270 AD for secretly marrying couples in defiance of the emperor. Or so one legend has it. Another story says it began as a legitimate Roman fertility festival. Americans supposedly started exchanging handmade Valentines in the early 1700s. Tuesday, about 180 million Valentine's Day cards will swap hands in the US. That means two thirds of us partake in this romantic frenzy, making the holiday second only to Christmas in card-giving.
Last year's big hit was a red foil card, embossed in a lace pattern with black ribbon and a photo of a rose on the front, according to Hallmark spokeswoman Rachel Bolton. Inside, it read, "Each time I see you, hold you, think of you, here's what I do, I fall more deeply, madly, happily in love with you.''
This year, a popular card features a kitten on the cover. When you open it, you hear a snippet of "Wild Thing." "When it comes to love, people are more alike than different," says Ms. Bolton.
Of course, some people now prefer to send text messages rather than cards. A word of caution here: A poll of mobile phone users in Britain found that 1 in 4 sent the message to the wrong person - sometimes even to ex-partners.
Americans don't scrimp when it comes to opening their wallets in the name of romance. They will spend $13.7 billion on Valentine's Day-related items, with the average consumer dropping $100, according to a National Retail Federation survey. Men will pony up an average of $136, almost doubling the $69 spent by women. But the significant other doesn't get all the booty. Most of the money - about 60 percent - goes to a partner, but teachers, co-workers, friends, and other family members receive cards and carnations as well.
More than 32 percent of us will choose flowers. Last year, about 180 million roses were bought. At one KaBloom store in the Boston area, you can buy a dozen roses for $34.99. Early last week, a dozen roses would have cost you $16.99, but a woman at the store explained today's roses are fancier. You get greens, filler, ribbon, and water tubes, which adds to their lifespan. But there's a little floral capitalism going on here as well. "Growers increase their prices: It's a huge part of their business, too," says a salesperson. Price of a single rose Tuesday: $4.99, compared with a $1.99 last week. Definitely fancy.
Chocolate remains a favorite way to show affection on Valentine's Day, unless a partner is swearing off sweets, in which case they're usually meant for the person doing the buying. Americans consume 25 pounds of candy a year, though less of that occurs on Valentine's Day than you might think. V-Day accounts for about 16 percent of annual sales, according to Susan Fussell of the National Confectioners Association. Halloween, Easter, and Christmas all trump Valentine's for candy consumption.
Nonetheless, no shortage of places exists to get your Ghirardelli and See's. More than 3,500 candy stores dot the US. Some 1,270 places make chocolate and cocoa products. Even Godiva, high-end chocolatier of Belgium (1 pound box of 36 nuggets: $40 ), has been in the US since 1966. It is owned by Campbells.
For the well-heeled romantic, diamonds and pearls still draw attention. Americans bought $2.4 billion worth of jewelry in February 2005. "There's a definite increase in activity in the two weeks prior to Valentine's Day," says Richard Finn, CEO of E.B. Horn Company, a family-run jewelry store based in Boston.
Far more bling is bought at Christmas than Valentine's Day, though. Jewelry sales in November and December 2004 accounted for 32 percent of industry sales, versus 14 percent in January and February. "It is a good segment of sales for jewelers," says Matt Kramer, managing editor of Modern Jeweler, a trade magazine. "But it's not as popular as Christmas."
In an age when Americans are working longer hours and multiple jobs, many consider the workplace the "new tavern" for striking up relationships. One recent survey found that 30 percent of working adults have dated a co-worker.
Despite the dangers of office romances - impact on the morale of other workers and sexual harassment complaints - nontraditional workplace partnerships are increasing. According to John Challenger, CEO of the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, that means such things as more romances between people of disparate age groups and more "office spousing" (relationships in which two workers share a close friendship but are not romantically or physically involved).
If people aren't meeting on the job, many are meeting online. Some 14 percent of American Internet users - more than 22 million people - browsed personal ads in 2005, according to JupiterResearch. The biggest spin women put in their profiles about themselves: that they're 10 to 20 pounds thinner, and blond. The main spin among men: that they're two inches taller, a few years younger, and make more money.
Some 2.2 million people marry in the US each year, more than 6,000 a day. The average age of a bride in the US is 25.8 years and 27.4 for a groom, both of which have been rising, according to the Census Bureau. One third of those who get married each year have been married before.
Las Vegas remains the nation's wedding capital with 114,000 a year. (Istanbul, Turkey, is the top wedding city in the world with 166,000 annual nuptials.) If a "normal" ceremony isn't what you're looking for, you can get married in Vegas in a helicopter, while bungee-jumping, or by an Elvis impersonator. Craig Luell, owner of A Las Vegas Garden of Love (five chapels, one location), expects to book about 150 couples for V-Day. "We do about 1,000 to 1,500 a month," he says. "Elvis," for the record, conducts about 5 percent of them.
• Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.