Today's the day for love, for celebrating life.
But some of us aren't very good at knowing just how to do this. In today's society, you want to do it right. You can't afford to flub up in this area.
If you're one of those who could use some help, there's good news: Mail order has come to the rescue. You can buy romance in a box.
For less than $30, UPS or your favorite postal carrier will deliver love to your door. Just add a lover, and you're off and running.
I know, I know: This is crass commercialism. Totally incompatible with romantic love. Probably something dreamed up in Southern California.
Right, on all counts.
But guess what: Northwesterners are ordering Celebrate Romance kits, at $29.95 apiece, faster than people almost anywhere else in the country. The only exception is in Southern California, home of the company called Celebrate Romance.
``You won't believe all the orders I'm getting from the Northwest, especially Washington,'' said Eileen Buchheim, a former accountant who changed her career and invented the kits. ``All too often, romance is put on the back burner,'' she says.
After California, ``the Northwest is the hottest area in the country'' for the kits she sells by mail, she said. Last year, she sold about 1,500 kits in Washington, roughly 22 percent of all her sales outside California.
Why is this? Do we Northwesterners need remedial help in expressing our love? Do we have trouble figuring out how to have a good time? Are we too busy protecting the environment, skiing, hiking and watching whales?
``I haven't got a clue,'' Buchheim said. ``Your guess is as good as mine. All we know is that there is a difference, and it is a very marked difference.''
Though Buchheim has learned some things about the Northwest while selling kits called ``A Formal Affair'' and ``The French Rabbit,'' each complete with props, greeting cards and an ``Adventure Guidebook,'' from her office in Long Beach.
Whenever she takes an order, Buchheim asks the customer where he or she heard about Celebrate Romance. The answer goes into a computer. In most of the country, the answer turns out to be ``the media'' of one type or another.
But her computer tells her the majority of orders from the Northwest are referrals from friends.
``People up there must talk to each other more, and have friends,'' she said. ``People down here have a very short-term-oriented lifestyle, and it carries over into their personal relationships.''
To a Southern Californian, a ``friend'' is more likely to be a contact, or somebody to network with, than someone to spend time with or share anything personal with, she said.
``We found that in the Northwest, when people go to a hotel or an inn, there's a guest book you can write something in,'' she said. Some of her Northwest customers have heard about The French Rabbit from such guest-book entries, which sometimes include her company's telephone number (213-597-5755).
``Nowhere else in the country'' has she noticed anything like that. ``People here don't have time'' to write entries in a guest book describing their weekends, she said. ``They are already late for their tennis game.
``In the Northwest, you must have more time to talk, and you must talk more intimately,'' she said. ``People here are very booked. Literally they are thinking every minute about what is the next thing they're going to do.''
Southern Californians who buy her kits ``tend to be younger people looking for what is the hottest new thing,'' she said. In the Northwest, most of her pre-packaged romantic adventures are ordered by two groups: housewives who have been married 20 years or more and ``want to add a spark to the relationship,'' and professional men such as doctors and lawyers.
``Men in those professions are very busy, and they have money. They want to do something very special,'' Buchheim said. ``This gives them an outline, while it allows them to be a bit creative. They like that. It gives them a sense of security.''
I know, I know. You're eager to find out what is in a mail-order love kit that could possibly be worth $29.95 and be worth describing in a bed-and-breakfast guest book.
You'll find out. But first you should know that each kit is scientifically designed to provide the different things men and women want in a romantic encounter.
If you've been keeping up on your reading, this won't surprise you much: According to Buchheim's research, women want the emotional part of romance: intimate conversations, romantic dinners, caresses and weekend getaways.
Men, on the other hand, like the sensual part of romance: ``shared activities that lead to sex,'' said Buchheim. ``Men find romance to be most exciting when it offers adventure, intrigue, variety and unpredictability.''
When you open the box of the adventure kit called A Formal Affair, you will find inside a wooden penguin that looks as though it could be a Christmas tree ornament; a cassette tape of ``romantic piano masterpieces'' by Chopin, Mendelssohn and Liszt; four ``event cards'' with envelopes; two pillow cases decorated with drawings of the penguin; and the Adventure Guidebook.
The guidebook tells you how, starting a week in advance, to set up a romantic rendezvous centered on a formal dinner at home, in a hotel suite, a restaurant or some other special place.
First, send your sweetheart an invitation, using ``the card with one heart.'' The day before the event, give your partner the penguin and ``the card with two hearts,'' confirming the arrangements.
In this age of changing sexual expectations, Buchheim has thoughtfully provided an optional card, depending on your after-dinner intentions.
If those intentions include the bedroom, you will have already placed the penguin pillow cases into service on your bed. At dinner, which is served on your finest china, with silver, linen, candles and fresh flowers, you give your sweetheart ``the card with three hearts,'' with a tasteful but unmistakable invitation to the bedroom.
The final card, with (you guessed it) four hearts, goes in the mail to your guest the day after dinner.
Do these kits work? I can offer only brief testimony based on personal experience. Late last Friday night, I arrived home with The French Rabbit kit, intending to open it and study the contents sometime over the weekend.
As soon as my spouse saw the box, she opened it, went through the contents, disappeared into the other room and came back attired in bunny ears, among other things. I'll leave out the rest of the details, but take my word for it: These kits have a certain appeal. It must be the research.
Buchheim's research also reveals an underappreciated fact, one that could be a clue for women looking for romance: ``Men are most romantic when they feel appreciated.'' Even in the Northwest.