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Valentine's Day Alternatives 

Who needs a man when you have chocolate?

Depending whether you follow the Greek or Roman tradition, St. Valentine's Day began in 496 AD as a day of religious remembrance to honor the martyred patron, dubbed the saint of lovers. The tie to matrimonial bliss is no doubt the reason it has the air of innocence that is so commercially popular today.Leave it to the Romans to take a perfectly good Christian observance and twist it into a sexual free-for-all that whispers hints of lust and falls conveniently in the middle of the month. The Romans called it the celebration of Lupercalia, a festival of eroticism in honor of the goddess of "feverish" love -- Juno Februata. Though this legend has many variations, one version claims the unmarried men and women of a village would put their names into jars in sort of a lottery, to be paired for the duration of Lupercalia -- which is believed to have centered around feasting and sexual game playing.

I have to admit, I like this idea much better than the candy, cheesy gifts, $6 Hallmark cards, and overpriced dinners we have today. At least with Lupercalia, all you have to do is show up, the pressure's off, and you're guaranteed to have an instant date for the night. They'll even give you a brand new one every year. What could be easier? I wonder if anyone has proposed that Charlotte City Council resurrect this long-forgotten festival?

The mother-of-all-couple's-holidays is thus fast approaching. Two girlfriends, along with myself, have ended relationships with our prospective beaus within the last month, and we decided that we'd be damned if we were going to stay home alone and avoid the couples-only crowd. We booked a reservation at Vidalia and Grapes on East Boulevard, and have made the commitment to spend the evening penis-free.

I mean, why let the little one-eyed monster anywhere near you when you have an endless array of tapas, fine wines, and all the chocolate you can eat (when that luscious dark substance is orgasmic in and of itself). I can almost feel the spoon sliding across my tongue now as I prepare to swallow the most sinful of all foods, and the one that brings me instant euphoria -- or turns me into a real bitch when it doesn't appear on demand. You can get creative and find new uses for whipped cream. Be bold -- get it out of the bedroom and allow it to find its way onto a dessert or two.

We're confident that no one at our table will feel there was no other choice but to be out that night, or feel obligated to be there. We won't have to leave work early to scramble for the picked-over greeting cards or a token gift, and we'll get to spend an entire evening watching guys pull out credit cards for dinners that will barely get touched -- and dinner may not be the only thing that's left cold.

I sometimes wonder how many relationships Valentine's Day damages as well as enhances. I can just imagine the women who are expecting an engagement ring this Friday -- the ring that didn't quite make it under the tree last Christmas -- and the guys having to figure out how they're still going to keep having sex while leaving the touchy subject alone for the rest of the year. It makes me giggle at the scores of men who will go shopping for jewelry purchased at 22.9 percent interest. Even worse, though, is showering a woman with expensive gifts on extended payment plans, only to have her dump you two weeks later and make off with the goods. It may not be a mere coincidence that the next major holiday that follows Valentine's Day is primarily associated with drinking. Whoever set up the calendar was obviously looking out for our best interests.

Long-term relationships aside, guys get screwed on the flip-side of the heart-shaped box, too. It can create a situation that's stickier than a Godiva black cherry truffle, when he just met a woman a month ago and he's struggling, trying to gauge what's socially appropriate without totally pissing her off. He'll be digging deep to find a card that is romance-oriented but doesn't feature the word "love." He absolutely doesn't want to send any mixed signals.

I'm totally sympathetic to his plight. The holiday inevitably causes a lot of pressure for a guy, which is precisely why it's the one time of year that I fully appreciate every aspect of my femininity. More often than not, we get to be on the receiving end, but the way society views and portrays February 14, you'd think that being single in Charlotte is to be part of the minority, rather than the majority that it is.

So this year, my friends and I decided to start a new tradition and go at it solo. No roses, no cards, no candy, and no jewelry. If it sounds depressing, when you consider the true benefits of our planned-out evening it makes perfect sense: Each of us gets to spend the entire evening with the people we love the most, without having to worry if the other will be around next year.

Enjoy your weekend, and don't do anything I'd enjoy writing about.

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