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Valentine's Day A fine romance
So you think Valentine's Day is just another sentimental trap. Well, think again. Romance is about more than hearts and flowers: It taps into what's best in all of us. It's also dead sexy. Columnists CERI MARSH and KIM IZZO offer the Urban Decorum guide to being a decorous lover

Saturday, February 9, 2002

Valentine's Day

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  • It's become fashionable to hate Valentine's Day. In the age of irony and trash talk, the notion of romance has become a fantasy best left to teenagers and Meg Ryan flicks. But the U.D. team is here to tell you that courtly love is not only a vital element of a healthy relationship, it's an all-round civilizing influence.

    Just as essential to couples in long-term partnerships as those on the dating circuit, romance is, above all, about decorum. Good manners make you sexy. Being polite will make you a more desirable person - not just romantically and, yes, sexually, but also socially. With crassness fast becoming the social norm, politeness is seductive. It's also contagious: The attentiveness, consideration and respect that proper etiquette requires bring out the old-fashioned lover in all of us.

    This Valentine's Day, take a few minutes to remind yourself of the importance of romance the year round. Rather than rely on the old standbys - the roses, the chocolates, the Hallmark card - give your sweetheart a more enduring gift: an attentive, considerate, decorous you.

    Reach out and touch someone

    The No. 1 public romantic gesture is holding hands. More than putting your arm around someone, taking his or her hand can be dizzyingly sensual. Just look at newly smitten teenagers: Their fingers are welded together. In fact, most couples stop holding hands all too soon. So maybe you no longer need to do it while buying groceries, but take your partner's hand when you're walking in the park (and at home when you're watching TV).

    How a couple treat each other in public is vital to the romantic health of the relationship. Never, no matter how angry you may be, berate or criticize your partner in public. Always open doors for each other or, if you love tradition, wait for him to open the door, and allow her to lead the way to the restaurant table.

    Always introduce your partner to acquaintances you bump into, and by all means let the person know you're with your significant other. Most couples work the terminology out ahead of time, as in "This is my husband/partner/boyfriend Jack . . ."

    As for public kissing, it's an essential bonding ritual, but it needs to be done right. It is far more romantic to softly kiss a cheek than to be swapping spit on the corner of a busy intersection. Restraint is, after all, a powerful aphrodisiac.

    Talk nicely to me

    Stimulating conversation is always a turn-on, no matter where you are. However, while verbal pyrotechnics are wonderful, intelligent listening is the most important habit a lover can possess. Whether it's a lingering heart-to-heart over coffee as the restaurant is closing or that relaxed post-coital chat, communicating is bonding. It's how you learn about the new person in your life and how you stay close to the person you've been sleeping next to for the past several years.

    In a newer relationship, we tend to ask questions about the other's taste in art, movies and books, and then stop asking those questions when we think we know them. That is to assume people stop evolving once they get involved with you. It's also essential to go beyond those questions. Ask what it was like growing up on Manitoulin Island or going to school in France. And don't be afraid to ask a really romantic question such as "Do you believe in love at first sight?"

    Always - we can't stress this enough - listen to the answer. Don't finish their sentences. Don't jump in with your own story.

    Compliments get top points in the romance game. For no particular reason, tell your lover all over again why you love her, how attractive and smart she is, and how lucky you are to be with her in the first place. Trust us, everyone likes to hear these things.

    It's a date

    An essential part of a successful date occurs in the planning. In a new relationship, the most polite and romantic thing to do is to make the request well in advance. Calling the day of, or even the day before, is such casual behaviour that you risk being misunderstood. Pals make last-minute plans together - and you don't want your Valentine to feel like a pal, right?

    Regular dates should be made at least three days before, and a big date like Valentine's should be made a week ahead. This is particularly important if you've been with your Valentine for a long time, living together or not. Nothing reassures your sweetheart that you don't take him or her for granted like asking if they're free to be taken out to that trendy new restaurant next Saturday evening.

    And while the intimate dinner for two is the gold standard for first dates or newly minted couples, for long-term relationships a bit more inventiveness is in order. Why not ask your partner to join you for cocktails at a ritzy hotel bar and when he or she arrives, hand over the key to a room where you've already left an overnight bag? And guys, don't worry about what to pack for your lover: Clothing is usually optional.

    You may also choose to make your date at home. You could even make the entire date in bed. Plan a surprise boudoir picnic: There's nothing more romantic than feeding each other truffles and champagne beneath the sheets!

    After dinner, set the scene with candles, music and, yes, dessert. Consider it the primer to you being the finale.

    Oh, you shouldn't have

    A truly thoughtful Valentine's gift will go beyond the conventional chocolate and flowers, much as we love them. Find her a first edition of her favourite book from childhood and you're definitely going to get lucky. But the status of your relationship will always determine the gift. Don't go overboard if it is still early days. Expensive jewellery is inappropriate if you've been dating only for a few weeks.

    But flowers are always appropriate, though there are more interesting choices than the standard red roses (okay, some of us still love them). The language of flowers is rich in meaning, and exotic blooms can be had all year. So spend time choosing something meaningful, and send it to her office the day before Valentine's, so she knows you love her all year. And, remember, flowers are not just for women.

    Let's spend the night together

    If your evening goes romantically, chances are you'll end up in bed together. While wild passion is certainly on the agenda, this does not signal the end of decorum.

    It's romantic to snuggle up in the crook of your partner's arm and read him his favourite poetry or novel (in instalments, of course). And while the standard massage never hurt a gal or guy, nothing can beat great conversation. Pillow talk is a much underappreciated romance tool.

    But, of course, there really is nothing more romantic to do in bed than have sex. Remember, reciprocity is the most polite policy.

    Kim Izzo's and Ceri Marsh's book, The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum, was recently published in the United States and will be published in Britain in May.

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