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Book of Odds Looks at Valentine's Day: Ten Things About Love's Holiday

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Valentine's Day, like love, is complicated. It is named for a saint, yet its roots are pagan. It raises expectations and heart rates, but doesn't always deliver on its tender promises. It is hugely popular -- the odds an adult plans to celebrate Valentine's Day are 1 in 1.7 -- yet 1 in 3.3 women in relationships call it "overrated" and 1 in 2.9 women think of it like a lukewarm date: fun but not significant.

Still the poet said love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired. Valentine's Day is like that, irresistible. So instead of fighting it, let's sort out its complexities, Book of Odds style, with 10 interesting things we found about Love's Holiday.

1. Couples Night Out. The most common way to celebrate is with a night on the town. The odds a man will give a woman dinner are 1 in 1.7 and most women say that is fine with them. Some guys go farther, literally, and give a romantic trip. About 1 in 17.2 (6 percent) of guys plan on this and 1 in 11.2 (8 percent) of women hope for it. Hawaii, Australia, and Italy are top 3 dream vacation destinations.

2. Be my Valentine. The legend is that St. Valentine cured his jailer's daughter of blindness on his way to martyrdom, leaving a note which read "From Your Valentine." The reality is it is a big business pioneered by Esther Howland in 1847. She made craftsy cards from her home in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her home-factory had an all-female assembly line, and grossed more than $100,000 a year. In today's dollars her business would gross $3,250,000.

Today it is big, big business. Over 142 million Valentine's Day cards will be exchanged at a cost of over a billion dollars.

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Image credit: Mauricio Noguera

3. Sweets for my Sweet. More than half of us give chocolates or candies for Valentine's Day. This used to be a one-way street, with guys raiding the heart-shaped boxes at their peril. Now 1 in 5 men say they hope to get chocolates too.

4. Roses are Red, my Love. Although a winter holiday, it is fresh flowers we give each other, and red roses above all. More fresh flowers are bought on this day from florists than on any other, and 63 percent of these are red roses. The number of roses grown expressly for Valentine's Day is 233 million. As with chocolates the gifts go both ways between men and women. The odds a woman will buy flowers for her spouse are 1 in 2.7; a man for his? 1 in 1.7.

5. Gifts of the Magi. As in the O. Henry story, we often give with a true heart but not quite the right thing. A website called CreditDonkey.com has looked at this mismatch. More women get flowers and chocolates than want them. Fewer women get electronics, gift cards and clothing than wish for them.

6. Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend. The odds a woman hopes to get jewelry for Valentine's Day are 1 in 4.5, and 90 percent have their wish fulfilled. People will spend about $4.4 billion on jewelry, gold and silver this Valentine's Day.

7. Venus envy. The odds show some men hoping for the very love tokens associated with manly wooing. The odds a man wishes for flowers on Valentine's Day are 1 in 43.6 and about ten times as many hope to get chocolates.

8. Romance Means More Than Flirting. A popular feature of the pagan holiday was naked men running through the streets of Rome improving the fertility odds of Roman matrons. (Read here for a short history by historian Kathleen Minnix.) According to Kristen Marks, the odds an adult considers sex "an important part" of Valentine's Day are 1 in 1.2 or 85 percent. This holiday has a way of disinhibiting, to judge by the Romans. Marks finds among her sample that 1 in 1.8 men and women "are open to trying something new sexually, just because it's Valentine's Day."

9. Wedding Bells May Chime. Despite ever lower marriage rates as people invent their own forms of intimate partnership, Valentine's Day plans have often included wedding proposals and still do. Six million people intend to propose or expect to be proposed to this Valentine's Day. Out of a year of such intentions, this means 1 in 2.3 of them are planned for February 14th. How do they work out? It is what we wonder every time we see a wedding proposal on the Jumbotron at a sports arena. They can't all say yes, simply because 30,000 people are watching. Here is a video we found of painful, public rejection at half court at an NBA game so "no" happens.. We suspect the same is true of Valentine's proposals. If each of the at least 3 million envisioned proposals were actually made and agreed to, one would expect more than the 2.2 million marriages we average in a year in the US.

10. Love is Contagious. Give people a holiday devoted to love and they will find ways of expressing affection for more than just their partners. Many people give Valentine's Day gifts to children, parents, grandparents and other family members. Some give gifts to their children's classmates and teachers; others to their co-workers. And of course, their pets. The odds an adult will buy a Valentine's Day gift for his or her pet are 1 in 5. What do these gifts add up to? $815 million! That's a lot of heart-shaped kibble!

About the Authors.
Amram Shapiro, Louise Firth Campbell and Rosalind Wright are the authors of "Book of Odds, From Lightning Strikes to Love at First Sight, The Odds of Everyday Life" It collects the odds which describe us and the world around us in a visually striking book. It is published by William Morrow and HarperCollins.