THE ASSAULT BEGINS WHEN I GO to the drugstore. There they are, everywhere: rack after rack of glossy Valentine cards and big, heart-shaped boxes of candy.

I open the newspaper and there they are: page after page of advertisements for heart-shaped diamond pendants or a romantic dinner for two or a dozen long-stemmed roses delivered by a kid dressed as Cupid.

I turn on the radio and it's all I hear: the sounds of "Endless Love" and "When a Man Loves a Woman" and "We've Only Just Begun."

Yes, dear reader, as Valentine's Day fast approaches, they're playing songs of love.

But not for me.

Right now, it's not looking so good for yours truly in the hearts and flowers department. Who was it who said that Valentine's Day is the cruelest holiday of them all, mixing memory and desire? (Elton John? Merv Griffin? Oprah Winfrey?)

And who was it who wrote:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporanea;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Roumania.

Why, Dorothy Parker wrote that, of course. The same Dorothy Parker who described herself, when it came to affairs of the heart, as "the greatest little hoper in the world."

Sometimes, however, hope is not enough.

That's when memory kicks in to fill the vacuum. Temporarily, one hopes.

So. Here I am on a Saturday night, sitting alone in my bathrobe and trying to remember the best Valentine's Day I ever had.

Actually, it was two. You see, I got engaged on Valentine's Day.


Once to my ex-husband. And once to my ex-fiance. (Ex, you might say, marks the spot in my life -- romantically speaking.)

I remember both engagements as quite romantic. Although I should warn you that my memory may be failing or, worse yet, overcompensating. One engagement took place in a blizzard; the other on a tropical island. Which leads me to speculate -- with no scientific foundation, of course, for such a thesis -- that extreme weather may play a role in matrimonial decisions.

(Note to travel agents: For a slight fee I would be happy to appear in ads for cruises to Alaska or the Caribbean, testifying to the above benefits of travel, marriage, romance, etc., etc.)

And speaking of travel, such thoughts lead me back to the memory of the worst Valentine's Day of my life.

I was 13 years old; the boy I coveted was Jerry Lizt. Jerry was my older brother's friend and scarcely knew I existed. But after months of screwball plans at getting noticed (I won't go into details, but one scheme involved a complicated falling-off-the-glider-and-onto-Jerry's-lap trick) Jerry asked me to go to an ice hockey game on Valentine's Day. So far, so good. Right?

How was I to know that Bunny Stubbs was going to show up in a short ice-skating skirt and blue angora sweater -- the kind of sweater that, if you were built right, made you the Pied Piper to 16-year-old boys?

I cried for three days. A reaction which prompted my mother to remind me that "beauty is as beauty does." However, my Aunt Claire -- a most sophisticated woman who lived in a hotel and wore fresh violets pinned to her fur coat -- reacted somewhat differently.

She took me to Elizabeth Arden's Salon for a complete beauty makeover. Unfortunately, when we got home, my mother made me wash the henna out of my hair and lose the push-up bra. Then she said something like: "If someone's going to love you, don't you want it to be you they love?"

Just for the record, my Aunt Claire countered with something like: "It doesn't really matter who you love when you marry, because the next morning you're going to wake up and find out it's someone else."

I, of course, agree with them both. Recognition. It's what we're all looking for in the eyes of a new lover, isn't it? The look that says, "I know who you are. And I like what I see." But most of us are a bit intimidated at the thought of shedding our outer layer of defense to expose the tender skin beneath.

But what the heck. I'm going to place one of those "Personals" ads in a magazine. And I'm going to be brutally honest about myself. It will read: "TEBSQICSVANBF (tall, extremely beautiful, slim, quite intelligent, confident, successful, very athletic, naturally blonde female) seeking same in man.

"Must be willing to travel to Alaska or the Caribbean."

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