We've all been there. Valentine's Day and single. Nothing but you and that ticking clock on the kitchen wall. No April rain, no flowers bloomed. No wedding Saturday within the month of June. Your mother just called to say, "I love you ... oh, and why aren't you married yet?"

You could tell her the truth, that you're dateless and desperate. You're single and searching. You're unattached and uninspired. But you don't want to depress her ... or yourself. That is because hope springs eternal. Really. And although it doesn't feel like it, there are thousands of people out there who are just like you.

What you need is not a date, but some good advice. So, here's a dos-and-don'ts list that will help you survive what is easily the cruelest of all holidays:

Do lie and say you're dating someone out of state. No one will know the difference, and it's the perfect excuse for when your friends and co-workers come to you and try to arrange a happy hour to "finally meet that someone special you've been hiding all this time."

Don't lie and say you're training for the 2006 Winter Olympics and your coach has told you to swear off relations until after the Games. You'll probably find someone in the next four years!

Do send a nice Valentine's Day card to that special grandparent, godparent, aunt, uncle or elderly cousin you've been neglecting for years. A surprise card out of the blue will make them feel very special and it will make you feel good, too.

Don't hold a protest rally at a Hallmark store. Yes, Valentine's Day was created to bolster the greeting-card chain's profit margins. Yes, Hallmark goes way overboard each year at this time, appealing to couples in love. But Hallmark Cards Inc. is a Fortune 500 company that has been an honorable competitor in the American retail industry since 1910. It has more than a dozen subsidiaries and employs thousands of hard-working Americans. Just let it go.

Do listen to Metallica. Preferably "Master of Puppets" or the Black Album.

Don't listen to Air Supply!

Do spend Valentine's Day evening at home stuffing your face with chocolate until you're knee-deep in Weight Watchers and Clearasil. When I am down, food is the only thing that consoles me. And nothing makes me feel warmer inside than a bag of Hershey's fun-sized bars and a keg of milk.

Don't spend Valentine's Day evening eating chocolate, drinking milk and crossing out old high school yearbook photos of former classmates who are now married or engaged. It's not productive. It won't make you feel better. Besides, yearbook pages make much better dartboards.

Finally, Do go over to your parents' house and ruin their evening. It's not your fault you're single on Valentine's Day. You're a warm and special person. Your parents are the ones who had you. Why couldn't you have been born in a time when families arranged relationships?

In the end, Feb. 14 is just another day, another night. So, what's the use of crying over spilled milk? Unless, of course, you still have half a bag of chocolate bars, and there's no more Vitamin D in the fridge!