How do I love thee?

The Baltimore Sun

Let's see, how to begin? Buttercup? Too juvenile. Lover? Too indiscreet. Baby doll? Only if you're a 1920s-era gangster toting a loaded Thompson submachine gun.

For most men, writing a Valentine's Day note to a wife or girlfriend may be just about the most dreaded moment of the year. It's tough enough to get past the salutation, let alone find the right words to express one's innermost feelings, but the penalty for abject failure can be severe. Trust me, the last thing you want is a woman motivated to make your life more miserable than usual.

But let's face it. We're not a bunch of Cyranos, we're more like his pal Christian, men of action, decent by most any standard but literary. If our significant others had wanted such qualities in their suitors, they should have married a melancholy Victorian poet who looks at a Grecian urn and sees something other than a heckuva nice cuspidor or worse, target practice.

Unfortunately, that does not free the manly nation of its obligation today to scribble something nice and romantic to those lacking the Y chromosome. Nor does the purchase of a greeting card with its overpriced, mass-produced (and Lord help us these days, musical) observations. Yes, it can be a start, but merely signing someone else's love note is akin to trying to win an argument with Web site links.

Sorry, but for some occasions, only original thoughts will do. And no, adding a row of X's or O's does not invalidate the Hallmark copyright even if a smiley face is involved.

That leaves several options. One can plagiarize. (Note to the practitioners: Forsooth, thou shalt not copy Shakespeare, lest thy loins be girded to speaketh Elizabethan in thy normal conversation.) Or you could express yourself like a guy ("I like you a lot. What's for dinner?") but that hasn't seemed to work since the far more stoic Eisenhower years and even then Mamie probably pitched a fit.

Fear not, there is a compromise available. In the interests of romance and fewer billable hours for divorce attorneys, we offer the following simple - and adaptable - template for those who want to do the right thing but can't seem to find the right words. There are no guarantees, but for best results, don't just rip it from the newspaper and hand it over to her. Insert a substantial amount of money, too. Works every time.

Dearest (Insert her name here; check driver's license if necessary),

Words can't express the (depth, breadth, inconvenience) of my feelings for you. Ever since the day we met at (the supermarket, the corner bar, Central Booking and Intake Center), I've thought of no one else. You (brighten, scorch, monotonously lengthen) each day we're together.

I wouldn't trade you for all the (gold, jewels, stimulus bills) in the world. When I sleep, I can only (think, dream, have recurring nightmares) of you, your blue (eyes, Mohawk, thong), your golden (hair, retriever, orthotics), and your exquisite (form, credit rating, well-stocked liquor cabinet).

What a (lucky, blind, trapped) man I am.

Thank you, my (little cabbage, honeybunch, angry wart hog) for the magical (years, months, minutes) we've shared together.

Love always,

(Insert your first name here; do not use pencil or crayon)

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