“It is said that wise men are not affected by women.

“Then there ain’t no wise men in this ‘appy world!”

– Exchange between two of the villain's henchmen in the Doc Savage novel Meteor Menace, originally published march 1934 (Quoted from memory so don't be too rough on me...)

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Every February 15th, the ancient Romans used to take part in a fertility ritual known as the Lupercalia, so named in honor of some obscure rustic diety known as Lupercus.

Much later - sometime in the Third Century, if you're taking notes - men began commemorating the martyrdom of St. Valentine every February 14. That date just happened to be the anniversary of the day that Valentine was beheaded by the same Romans who were so fond of observing the Lupercalia.

As much as I hate to admit it, I'm just not as up on my ancient Roman history as a good 21st century newspaperman probably ought to be. Therefore I can only assume that the proximity of these two distinct celebrations explains how St. Valentine's Day came to be associated with romance.

Even if it doesn't, though, the correlation between romance and martyrdom is most apt. Because you and I both know that love has caused more people to lose their heads than every guillotine and chopping block ever built.

Why else would Charlie Brown spend one week every year sitting under his mailbox, waiting for the valentine cards that never seem to come? 

Why else would a man like Mike Brady marry a woman with three bratty daughters when he already has three equally obnoxious sons of his own? 

Why else would an otherwise intelligent woman like Melissa Small willingly put up with an all-too-often thoughtless, boneheaded lout who insists on masquerading as a newspaper columnist and the occasional author of pulp-inspired fiction and creative mythography?

It can only be one of two things: love or stupidity. Or is that being redundant?

There are those who think so. And it really doesn’t take a great deal of insight to understand why; love can make people do some pretty strange things.

A little boy will break his arm falling out of a tree that he probably wouldn't have been climbing in the first place if he hadn't been so intent on impressing that little girl who just moved into the house next door. A little girl will walk up to a boy out on the playground and brazenly announce in a voice loud enough that everyone can hear that he WILL be her boyfriend, or else!

That's how I found myself involved in my first serious romance, at the ripe old age of seven. Alas, that particular relationship was doomed from the very start. There was an incompatability problem - I liked climbing trees and watching Batman, she liked playing with dolls and having tea parties with make-believe tea - that we were just never able to overcome. 

Plus I pushed her down on the playground a few times, and once actually punched her in the nose for kissing me on the cheek when a couple of my buddies were looking during recess. You’d be surprised how quickly that will cool a girl's passion. 

Of course I could have kicked myself just a few years later, when we were both in high school and I got a good look at what she’d blossomed into while I was busy watching Batman. Ah, well…

And then there are those cute little grade school Valentine's Day parties. Children eat candy hearts and cupcakes with pink icing, and trade blood-red envelopes with heart-shaped valentines stuffed inside, containing messages such as: "You're so sweet, I hope we can be friends forever."

Of course, what they REALLY want to say to one another at that point in their lives is more along the lines of: "You look like something my dad ran over back and forth with his Hummer. Go stick your head in a Cuisinart and push for puree." And that’s perfectly normal behavior. I didn't understand it then and I certainly don't now, but to kids that age, that's the real thing. That’s LOVE.

By the time that little boy and little girl have grown into teenagers, they're not quite as willing to give their love out so freely. Suddenly there are a number of complex socio-psychological factors to be considered before one enters into a relationship with a member of the opposite sex; most of them have to do with what their peers have to say on the matter, which always seemed to me to be a damphool way of going about it.

Sometimes the relation progresses without the participants' knowledge. A couple who started out by being "just friends" may one day decide to begin "seeing each other"; then, before they know it, they’re "going together."

Once upon a time, the truly committed couples went from "going together" to engagement, and finally - at last! - to marriage. These days, however, we've added all kinds of extra in-between stages - such as "pre-engagement,"whatever the heck that means.

The easiest way to determine the current status of any relationship is to look at what type of ring the female half is currently wearing. Merely exchanging class rings went out about the time Melissa and I exchanged ours; nowadays we have friendship rings, sweetheart rings, promise rings, pre-engagement rings, and Lord only knows what all else. I'm telling you, if some jeweler was to come up with a design for a "just divorced" ring, or a "single but looking" ring, he'd make a fortune…

Now me, I was one of the lucky ones. I found the girl I was going to marry right away; Melissa was the first, last and only girl I ever dated in high school, although she'd had a couple of boyfriends before meeting me. Makes you wonder what kind of losers THEY were, but the important thing is that I was fortunate enough to have never found myself going through most of the traditional dating rituals so many of my friends had to endure before they found the right mates. For this reason, most of what I know about dating comes from watching other people do it.

Take blind dates, for example.

I've never been on a blind date myself. I was smart enough to steer clear of them before I was married, and I'm reasonably certain my wife would have something to say about it if I were to go on one now. Still, I've sat back and watched enough of my friends go through this over the years that I have at least a rudimentary idea of how the system works. Which makes me all the more glad I didn't have to go through it.

The real danger of a blind date is that there's no telling what you're going to get yourself into. A high school friend of mine once went on a blind date that went so badly that, before the night was over, it was pretty obvious that he was going to have to get her a little drunk. But by the time he'd located a little drunk, she'd gone home with somebody else anyway, so I suppose it all worked out in the end.

That experience notwithstanding, my friend actually went out on another blind date a week or so later and they hit it off pretty well. They dated for a couple of years and even talked about getting married at one point - until she came by his apartment one day and told him she was seeing another man. 

His first response was to tell her to rub her eyes and look again. Finally she convinced him she was serious and the poor guy fell apart. He reminded her how he had always been there for her, which is never a wise move.

He said, "Remember when your grandma died? I was there. Remember when you flunked out of college? I was there. Remember when you lost your job? I was there!"

And she said, "I know – you're bad luck."

This whole love-and-romance thing was so much easier back in the old days. Back then there were only two stages to the relationship. First you were betrothed, either through the political machinations of the local monarch or by going out and slaying a dragon. Then you were married. And that was that.

The system must have worked, because they all lived happily ever after. It says so in all the books.

And before that it was easier still: if a fellow saw a girl he happened to like, he just gave her a little club over the head and dragged her back to the cave. Yeah, boy, those were the good old days...

But modern relationships are rather like modern automobile engineering; so many new components have been added to the system over the years that we’ve pretty well gummed up the works. Little wonder, then, that the kind of "real romance" some of us grew up with has gone the way of the Studebaker; little wonder, too, that some folks seem to care less and less about little things like Valentine's Day with each passing year.

Well, that’s okay. After all, there are plenty of other holidays out there. So to those of you who have pretty much already written off next Valentine's Day as a bust, let me be the first to wish you the happiest of St. Patrick's Days…