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Are men afraid of greeting cards?

In my own recent cocktail party surveys, I have yet to find a man who enjoys trolling the card aisle searching for just the right sentiment.

A woman may tear up over a sappy Hallmark, but the thought of choosing one makes most men want to weep.

It's no coincidence that as the more verbose half of the species, women buy and send more cards than men do. According to Hallmark's research, 82 percent of all greeting cards are purchased by women.

We'll happily spend an hour combing the card display searching for the perfect combination of verse and visuals that expresses exactly what we want to say.

But this last Tuesday, Feb. 13, or more likely Feb. 14, at 5:59 p.m., men across America reluctantly drug themselves into the drug or grocery store and faced their worst fear: choosing a Valentine for the one they love.

A man can safely go about his business all year long completely avoiding poetry and prose, but on Valentines Day, he better make good with the words.

Women believe that if a guy really loves you, he'll choose a card that expresses the subtle nuances of his innermost thoughts and yearnings, creatively set to rhyme and emblazoned with meaningful graphics.

And woe unto the man who thinks that a simple "Happy Valentine's Day" is enough. Unless it's scribbled on the bottom of first-class plane tickets to Paris or etched on the key ring of a Lexus, most women think that it takes more than three words to express true love.

Greeting card designer Lisa Banes says, "Words on cards make men nervous. It's like 'we need to talk' on paper. They don't want to risk saying something they didn't mean to say or making some commitment they didn't know they were making."

Banes, whose cards are featured on www.greatarrow.com, recently got an inside glimpse of the male greeting card fear factor.

A trade show staffer helping her take down a display exclaimed, "My wife loves greeting cards," so Banes offered him some sample cards for free. He declined, saying, "Oh, I wouldn't know what to pick."

Here this poor guy knows his wife loves cards, yet he's so intimidated, he won't take home a single one, even when they're free.

The underlying problem is: Men know that women attach meaning to every single word, so they become paralyzed at the thought of choosing anything.

My own sometimes prose-challenged husband says, "If you get something too funny, she might not think you're serious about the relationship. If you get one that's too flowery, she'll think you just bought it based on how it looks and didn't really think about her."

His solution for overcoming greeting card paralysis?

"Read every dang one of them and assess them all based on the relationship at that moment in time, which is hard because the relationship can change between when you bought the card and when you deliver the card."

Good lord, I'm surprised the poor man has time to work during the month of February.

Maybe it's time we give men a break and quit reading unspoken emotions into every word they say or, in this case, every word they buy.

If you're a man, the card aisle often feels like a paper minefield of potentially hazardous female emotions. But don't let fear or insecurity stand in the way of slaying the Valentine dragon. All most women really want is for you to tell her that you love her with your heart and soul.

And if you're a woman and the words on his card aren't quite right, remember they were written by a hired hack in a cube at Hallmark. But the act of braving a store and buying it for you were courageously undertaken by the nervous man clutching the paper heart.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect: Finding Joy, Meaning, and Satisfaction in the Life You've Already Got and the YOU You Already Are." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.ForgetPerfect.com.

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