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Gifts & Gaffes

There's plenty of ways to say I love you, but not all of them score a natural ten. At the heart of it, Valentine's Day is both a test of how well you know your partner — a tough task for new love, but no less challenging as the years progress. So unless you're the sort of person who believes in courting danger, we suggest you go for the tried and true. At worst, you'll be accused of being traditional.

Remember the three C's: champagne, candles, chocolate. We'll let you handle the candle department — just don't leave them burning while you're out wining and dining.

When it comes to champagne, just remember that you can avoid skimping without breaking your bank account. Sure, few things sparkle like a bottle of Dom Perignon, but gold label Veuve Cliquot, or Moet & Chandon Brut are good choices in the under-$30 department. If your local shops don't have what you need, or if you're stuck in the office, check out Virtual Vineyard's selection of bubblies, all orderable by credit card.

A word on chocolates: Make sure they're of good quality. Because pre-packaged chocolates may not be the freshest, and can look as if they've been purchased at the last minute, try finding a few of your partner's favorite things, and having a box custom made at your local chocolatier. A point on presentation: The heart-shaped box helps deliver your message. Save the square boxes for stocking stuffers, thoughtful gifts, and apologies. Should local stores fail, Godiva is reliable for Internet ordering.

Then there's the blooms: Think roses. Think red. Sure there's yellow for friendship, but that color also carries connotations of jealousy and apology. Since the only day that rates more attention on a lady's list is her birthday, Valentine's Day is the wrong day to experiment with ambiguous colors. Also, consider where you send them. Roses at the office keep the compliments coming, but order in advance: Day-late roses count for nothing. Roses at home are a nice touch. If you're the conservative sort — and who can't be, when it comes to love — cover both bases.

If you want to pick up something thoughtful, consider offering up a Valentine's gift which keeps your partner's mind on you throughout the week. Consider giving something they'll use, wear, or otherwise have on their person every day. But be careful of sending mixed signals. For instance, if your partner's perpetually tardy sort — and they know it — avoid offering them a new watch, much as you think that might help. Valentine's Day, after all, is a day to score points, not make a point.

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