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Massacre Valentine's Day

February 14, 2006

ST. VALENTINE WAS SUPPOSEDLY a martyred 3rd century priest, not a shill for the flower industry or a marketing genius for a certain Kansas City, Mo., greeting-card titan. Still, with all due respect to his martyrdom, we think it's high time the holiday bearing his name be abolished.

Call us hopeless romantics on this page, but we find that true love is overwhelming, irrepressible and spontaneous. Romance shouldn't be confined to a particular day; nor need it be triggered by the arrival of Feb. 14. Compulsory love is an oxymoron.

You could say the same thing about other holidays, we suppose, and some of our mothers say it about Mother's Day. And shouldn't we appreciate George Washington, or our veterans, every day of the year? Well, yes, sort of. But c'mon, passionate love is different. We've all been there, heard the songs ... love lifts us up where we belong, hurts, blinds, is a crazy little thing. It's all you need.

So be a real romantic and say no to mandatory love. Show up empty-handed tonight; don't sign that card. Repeat after us: "Honey, I won't submit my boundless love for you to this manufactured charade. Honey, listen, I...."

And for those of you (and us) who are not loved on this holiday, not even in that Pavlovian sort of way, there's some good news on the medical front. It turns out it might not be you; it might be the happy pills swallowed by the one you love. At a conference held at UCLA last weekend, Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher said her research suggests that Prozac, Zoloft and other antidepressants may be keeping millions of Americans from falling head over heels. According to her theory, the medications stave off depression by regulating the exact part of the brain's neurochemistry associated with the mad feelings of new love.

Using brain images from a small group of the recently smitten, she found that the areas linked to reward and pleasure, which are filled with dopamine receptors, were lighted up. Other studies have shown another neurotransmitter regulated by antidepressants, serotonin, is 40% lower in those newly in love than in normal people. Researchers believe the mix of changes in dopamine and serotonin creates the elation and obsessiveness seen in lovers who can't stop thinking about each other.

Come to think of it, when the day comes that all Americans are on antidepressants, maybe we will need a Valentine's Day.

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