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The day before Valentine's Day, I was in the grocery store looking for the perfect card to give my wife. I could just as well have gone looking for world peace.

But I was in trouble for something expensive and Valentine's Day is the perfect day to make it right. The card needed to convey the right message. I didn't want anything too gaudy, too sappy, too tasteless — or too expensive.

If I have to pay $6 for a piece of pasteboard and a snip of ribbon, it better express the precise nature of our marital bliss.

Every relationship is different. Relationships also change over time. We started out with complete infatuation and have arrived at a place where we can't imagine a world without each other in it.

Today, our love is equal parts just being there for each other, two parts history and one part not having the fire department show up at our house again. This was the expression I was looking for.

There were simple cards, tasteless cards, unfunny cards and cards that looked like Martha Stewart and a bottle of tequila spent all night on them. Bows, sparkles and cards written in the calligraphy of angels.

An older woman noticed my indecision and offered to help. Her husband had been buying her Valentine cards for 61 years. She knew what women expected from the men who adored them.

According to the woman, love had lots of different phases. Girls liked mushy sentiments and professions of undying love. Women liked steady men who were still in love with them despite the effects of time. Candy always worked. Had I thought about that?

Me: "Yeah, I used to buy her candy because I love her. Now I buy her candy so she won't punch me in the face."

Her: "Oh. Goodness, look at the time."

I picked out a blank card. If the greeting card industry couldn't come up with the right words, I'd write them myself.

Then it was on to the candy aisle where a dozen less-experienced husbands were pawing through the shelves looking for just the right chocolate-covered assortment. Coconut. Peanuts. Mint. Caramel. Nuts.

Despite what I said to the woman, this part was easy. I know exactly what kind of candy my wife loves.

Regardless of how dull a guy is, it's impossible to be with a woman for nearly 40 years without learning at least a couple of things about her. That fire department thing is one. English toffee is the other.

Flowers. This was easy, too. A rose is the flower of romance. No guy ever won a woman over with a dozen long-stem dandelions. I learned that one the year I bought a Venus flytrap for Valentine's Day.

Leaving the store, I considered how fortunate I was to be ahead of the game. I wasn't going to be one of those clods who completely spaced it off. Women notice stuff like that. Especially wives.

I took the tokens of my affection home and hid them in the closet. It was important that it come off exactly right. The following morning, I brought them out.

Me: "Happy Valentine's Day."

Her: "Oh, thank you. You know Valentine's Day is tomorrow, right?"

She was happy with the flowers. The candy was also a hit. But it was the card that really got to her. It's amazing how much love will fit into a carefully worded apology.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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