As Valentine's Day approaches, love is in the air.
And some people think it stinks.
"I'm sort of like soured by the whole thing," moans Elson Trinidad, a 27-year-old computer programmer and musician in Los Angeles who prefers to call the holiday by its more suggestive initials "VD."
For millions of love-struck Americans, February is a time to get mushy. But for the single and the spurned, Cupid's arrival is as eagerly anticipated as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. And when the miserable look for company, they turn to the Internet.
Trinidad created "Anti-Valentine's Day Central," one of a growing number of acidic anti-holiday Web sites with names such as "Love Sucks Month," "Protest V-Day," and "Bitter : You got a problem with that?"
Trinidad says he's not bitter, just a nice guy who's been misunderstood - and shot down too many times. His site is an effort to buck up lovelorn fools like himself.
To that end, his Web site offers self-penned essays on romance such as "Love Stinks" and "Rejection." He also offers comparative data so visitors can decide whether "my love life is more pathetic than yours." A sampling: "Pick-Up Line: none; No. of Current Love Interests: 2; No. of Current Love Interests Which Actually Exist: 1."
But men aren't the only ones soured by the season.
Tricia Gdowik, a 26-year-old Philadelphia Web designer, created what appears to be the first Web site to bash the messenger of love. Its subtitle: "Remember: Cupid Rhymes with Stupid!"
The site was born of frustration. "I was in love with this guy for a long time," she explains. "And he never wanted to be with me." To make matters worse, she was working in a mall where every store was "plastered with red hearts and fluffy dolls and boxes of candy and mushy cards. It was torture."
In the early days of the Web, her "Anti-Valentine's Day Page" was the sole listing under Yahoo's Valentine's category, and got 200 to 300 e-mail messages a day - not all of them supportive. "Sometimes I get letters that read like, 'Roses are red, violets are blue, why are you so bitter, too bad for you!"'
Although Gdowik now has a boyfriend and says she's over that "little phase," she plans to keep her Web site up as a public service. "It seems almost like an institution," she says. "I want other people to know they're OK even though they might be spending the day single."
And the site may even have an upside. One male visitor, for example, wrote her: "I like your opinion Can I date you ?"
Not all holiday haters have loved and lost. Some protesters dislike Valentine's Day's rampant consumerism. "It's really the sense that companies are preying on people's insecurities," says Ron Avitzur. "Their message is: to find fulfillment, all you have to do is buy things."
The 32-year-old San Francisco software entrepreneur throws an annual Anti-Valentines Day party in protest, posting a multimedia invitation on the Web that features a 3-D video of a notched woodsman's ax slicing through a plump ruby heart.
Partygoers must respect some ground rules. Everyone dresses in black and couples "may be subject to ritual humiliation," the invitation warns. As his guests arrive, Avitzur hands each a party favor package that includes a cuddly teddy bear and a knife. His fondest memory of last year's soiree: Discovering the teddy bears impaled on the iron fence in front of his house the next morning.
Although the party was in jest- his girlfriend even got into the act and brought him a bouquet of dead flowers - Avitzur admits the anti-Cupid crusade scared off his more romantically inclined friends. This year he may do away with the Freddy Krueger elements - such as the knives - but he says "several people have already complained that I'm losing my edge."
If you think this angst and anger over Valentine's Day are 20th century phenomena, think again. The Web offers evidence that Anti-VD sentiment was in vogue long before the Internet or for that matter, before Hallmark.
In the Victorian era, Valentine's Day cards with cruel or derisive comic verses sold millions before they gradually disappeared in the 1930s.
Called "vinegar valentines" or "penny dreadfuls" (after their 1-cent price tag), they were epitomized by an 1890s classic entitled "A Face That Would Stop A Clock," with this remarkable doggerel:
In prison you ought to be doing some time,
For to wear such a face must be surely be a crime.
If you 'mongst Gorillas had chanced to be born,
They would have disowned you with loathing and scorn;
For a monkey - no matter how homely a brute
When placed beside you would be ranked as a "bute."
Vinegar valentines were often exchanged by quarreling lovers or sent anonymously to enemies. In Britain, they nearly brought Valentine's Day into disrepute - especially since recipients of letters paid the postage.
In "The Valentine & Its Origins" historian Frank Staff writes: "Many an irate father was called upon to pay postage for insulting and rude valentines sent to their plain daughters!"
V-Day got you down? Join the crowd:
Anti-Valentine's Day Central
The Anti-Valentine's Day Page
Ron's Anti-Valentine Day Wake
To see how Victorian Americans insulted their ex-lovers, visit these collections of historic Valentine's Day cards:
The University of Southern
Mississippi Valentine Collection
Malcolm Warrington's Collection of Victorian Valentines