Valentine's Day is the holiday of love, to be sure. It's also the holiday that many singles — with ever-increasing zest — love to hate.
Whether it's organizing bashes for people without sweethearts or even starting an alternative holiday, the unattached are fighting back. In Chicago, for instance, several taverns will be hosting anti-Valentine's Day parties Friday, complete with black balloons.
On the Internet and in stores, anti-Valentine's cards are widely available. "Out of all my wives ... you're the best," says one.
Diatribes against the holiday abound on anti-Valentine's Web sites, with particular scorn heaped on greeting card companies, florists and confectioners.
"The primary motive behind Valentine's is money," writes Xiaoxin Lu, a pro-celibacy activist. "They all do this under the guise of something called Love. They do this while making single people feel sad, degrading them."
The holiday isn't popular in some spots overseas, either.
In Iran, police this week ordered shops to remove heart-themed decorations from their windows. And in India, Hindu nationalists burned Valentine's Day cards, part of now-annual protests against what demonstrators consider a corrupt and commercial Western holiday.
Advice for Valentine's Day outsiders is plentiful — don't feel there is anything wrong with not being in a relationship, do something kind for someone in need, treat yourself to something special during the day, hook up with other single friends for some enjoyable activity.
That concept of group fun is what inspires the annual anti-Valentine's party at the Schoolyard Tavern in Chicago, according to director of operations Don Hladko.
"The majority of people who come are singles, looking for something to do other than the whole romantic thing," he said. "People just enjoy mocking the holiday."
In past years, the tavern has made special offers — for example, free drinks for patrons who brought in a photo of an ex-sweetheart. This year, with the holiday on a Friday, Hladko said he's sure of a full house without any come-ons.
In cities including San Francisco and New York, a new alternative to Valentine's Day will be celebrated at parties this Friday — International Quirkyalone Day.
Started by a group of feminists — but open to men as well as women — Quirkyalone Day is geared toward people who "resist the tyranny of coupledom," according to the movement's Web site.
"It's a feel-good alternative to the marketing barrage of Valentine's Day and an antidote to the silicone version of love presented in shows such as 'Joe Millionaire' and 'The Bachelorette,'" the Web site says.
Ronald Nathan, a psychologist from Latham, N.Y., said the phenomenon of holiday depression has been somewhat exaggerated, but he suggested that Valentine's Day could be upsetting to certain singles.
"If it brings back and reverberates with an experience where they had the romance, the dream of a deep relationship, at a time when they don't have it any more, that can cause considerable distress," he said.
Nathan likes the idea of broadening Valentine's Day beyond its one-on-one romantic aspect, so it becomes a celebration of caring that non-lovers could share in.
Elaine Rodino, a psychologist from Santa Monica, Calif., said Valentine's Day can be stressful to people who recently were divorced or widowed, and to some couples just starting to date.
"You go to a restaurant — it has a different menu, the prices are jacked up. That can be a lot of pressure," she said. "I've been talking with some of my patients about doing creative things, something casual like a movie and hamburger."
One hazard for the anti-Valentine's movement — and for the broader singles-rights movement — is that stalwart leaders can suddenly drop from the ranks.
Elson Trinidad ran a feisty Web site called Anti-Valentine's Day Central. Last year, he posted this news:
"I am happy (or sad) to report that after 10 long years of bitterness, cynicism and doubt, I have recently entered a relationship and I am actually very happy at the moment. I apologize if I have disillusioned you."