Even lovers don't have to love Valentine's Day.
While some might look forward to a romantic celebration or secretly wish for a tender nip from Cupid's arrow, many cynical couples and singles alike think the Feb. 14 holiday is just a bunch of heart-shaped hogwash.
Anti-Valentine's day sentiments have long been embraced by lonely singles, but now couples scoff at the holiday, too.
"Today's the perfect day to belittle our single friends," reads an e-card from the cheeky online collection someecards.com, whose tagline is, "When you care enough to hit send."
The cards strike an irreverent tone about everything, including love. Similarly pessimistic T-shirts, candy and greeting cards are now targeting sardonic significant others alongside the bitter brokenhearted.
"It's comforting to know we're equally maladjusted," reads another card from the site, clearly meant as a message between lovers.
Valentine's Day has been maligned for years as a conspiracy of a consumerist society —in essence, a ploy to sell greeting cards. So it is interesting, if not inevitable, that those anti-Valentine's sentiments are now for sale along with traditional hearts and roses.
Brook Lundy, co-creator of someecards.com, says the greetings play off familiar situations and feelings, and that humor is a natural result of a realistic outlook on relationships.
"Our strategy is do a card for every scenario and emotion that we can," he says. Inspiration comes from relationship issues the writers have experienced or heard about from friends, according to Lundy.
Another company sells heart-shaped candies like the traditional conversation hearts, but with messages for "the dysfunctional," "the dumped" and "the dejected."
The collections, created by Despair, Inc., are called "Bittersweets," and each is sold in a tin for $9.95, with the dysfunctional set leading the pack in popularity, according to CEO Justin Sewell. He says that might indicate people in relationships are more cynical about Valentine's Day than those feeling dumped or dejected. (Or maybe it's easier to laugh when you're not lamenting your loneliness, he suggested.)
In the dysfunctional category, hearts sport short messages like, "SOULM8 DUJOUR," "SUB PRIME" and "GAME ON TV."
For ideas, the writers brainstorm about a "broad variety of different nightmare relationship problems," Sewell says. And despite a pretty strict limitation in number of characters that can fit on a candy heart, the company introduces new sayings every year and has an endless supply of material to work with.
Valentine's Day is a holiday that's easy to despise, Sewell says. For the few people in a picture-perfect relationship, every day is a holiday and there is no need a special celebration. Meanwhile, people left behind often feel like it's "incredibly painful or grating or otherwise just nauseating," according to Sewell.
To a cynical culture, laughing at love makes sense. We increasingly favor a good laugh over false optimism. We get our news from comedians and have our antennae out for anything that might not be 100 percent what it seems.
So why believe the saccharine lies when you can be more truthful and not play pretend? Why give your boyfriend a simplistic lovey-dovey card when you can both get a chuckle out of an arguably more realistic message from someecards like, "I want to grow old and disgusting with you"?
And thus, the options to bash Valentine's Day from within a relationship — which the holiday is supposed to be celebrating — seem endless.
The popular T-shirt Web site Cafe Press offers items with cynical slogans such as, "You'll do," "Of course I love you. Now get me a beer," and "I love my boyfriend and his wife."
A site called Poison Pen Letters boasts cards that say on the front, "I didn't have time to wrap your gift," and on the back, "so I kept it," and "The sex was great ... but I'm looking for love."
Even Hallmark, whose budget counts on people buying into Valentine's Day, has tapped into the Anti-Valentine's market with cards that say, "Cupid is Stupid," and "Valentines Schmalentines."
And for cynical couples, the company brings in the oft-ridiculed world of politics. "My arrows are weapons of mass seduction!" says one greeting card featuring president Bush's face on Cupid's body — part of a collection featuring politicians as love's chubby angel.
So where does this hard-bitten cynicism come from?
Psychotherapist Patricia Covalt, from Denver, says it's borne of fear. She says people don't know much about love, they don't know how to reconcile the media image of perfect love with the more realistic up-and-down feelings they experience, and so they respond with a sense of superiority and cynicism.
While healthy skepticism is important, Covalt says, cynicism is a form of pessimism and bitterness and can be harmful in a relationship.
People think: "'I have to show that I'm not gonna fall for all this nonsense,'" says Covalt, author of "What Smart Couples Know: The Secret to a Happy Relationship."
"So instead of looking at butterflies and roses, we scowl at that. We're afraid of our feelings and our emotions and afraid to be soft and vulnerable."
Perhaps it's not a bad idea after all to cuddle up this Valentine's Day and whisper in your loved one's ear — even if it's just sarcastic nothings.