How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Fill in the Blanks

Every year about this time, men and women across the nation begin to get nervous. Valentine's Day is supposed to be a romantic holiday, and so it is. But it is also a holiday of anxiety, because behind every romance -- behind the flowers and candy and pledges of love -- is a relationship. And as everyone knows, romance is fine, but relationships take work. Which is to say, communication. The problem is, lots of people don't know how to communicate. They have the feelings, but lack the words. Well, we're not all gifted with Cyrano de Bergerac's legendary lyricism, to be sure. But these days, if you have web access, you -- like Roxanne's tongue-tied lover -- can get a little help from Cyrano himself. Or at least, from his proxy: "For you, I will use an eloquent stream of words to show your special someone that you care and that you are, without a doubt, the one for him or for her...." Thus speaks the Cyrano Server, a mad-lib style form-letter generator on the web that guarantees romantic results, and offers no less than seven different styles of love letters: Indecisive, Surreal, Desperate, Steamy, Intellectual, Poetic and Regretful.All you have to do is fill in a few personal details, such as your name, adjectives to describe your beloved and your relationship, a random noun and adverb, plus a listing of your beloved's favorite food, most attractive physical feature and most appealing article of clothing. Select a few appropriate graphics, press "Submit," and Cyrano will create a special web page for your honey's eyes only. The results are quite impressive and guaranteed to leave your sweetie reeling -- though whether from emotional transport or laughter, I dare not say.Toss in some other web treats, ranging from Valentine screensavers to electronic flowers to virtual Valentines -- there's even a site with recordings of various international smooches (I especially liked the Italian, "Ti amo, caro mio. Smooch!") -- and you'll have your Valentine swooning in no time.Of course, that's fine for Valentine's Day. But what about the rest of the year? Sometimes it's not an eloquent love letter that's in need-many relationships require a way to deal with the angst that bubbles up in any ongoing, day-to-day coupling.Mark Margaretten certainly had this in mind when he devised Mark's Apology Note Generator for guys who find themselves in the relationship doghouse. "Love, marriage, and relationships can be difficult. Sometimes, all it takes is an apology. I've resorted to using this simple form for all my butt-kissing needs."The form he refers to is a hilarious fill-in-the-blanks affair, which men customize by selecting from various multiple choice menus. Thus he can address the letter to anyone from his "Lovely Wife" to his "Vegaterrorist Significant Other," followed by apologies ranging from "I'm not sorry at all" to "I'm the lowest form of life." Inform Mark that he forgot "to empty the trash," "to put the toilet seat down," "to tell about the trip to the money machine" and so on. And after several rationalizations and voicings of inner fears, voila!, he is sent back a ready-made, highly specific apology, destined to soothe or inflame whomever he's made angry. The multiple choice selections are imaginative and deliciously outrageous. Not to overbalance things too much, nor to err on the side of anything even remotely construable as "politically correct," Mark has created a page for women, which he calls Mark's Bitch Letter Generator. Bitch generator? Why not a women's apology note generator? "Women don't apologize," explains Mark, with an almost palpable virtual shrug. He hopes that his form will help women to provide men "with a consistent barrage of criticism...men can deal with anything consistent." The Bitch Letter, which opens with terms-of-endearment options ranging from "Dear Pig," "Dear Worthless Penis" and "Dear Slob that lives with me" to "Dear Sweetie," is direct in its embrace of unadulterated bitchiness. Something about these 'net form letters intrigues me, beyond their immediate comic appeal. I wonder, can love really be reduced to a series of fill-in-the-blank selections? Of course not, though Joe's AMAZING Relationship Problem Solver might have you believe differently (answer a series of Yes/No questions and he promises -- with the standard disclaimers, of course -- to give you infallibly sound romantic advice). Every human relationship is unique, and yet there is something universal about romantic and domestic entanglements that lends themselves to humorous stereotyping. Somewhere in the midst of Cyrano's prefab love letters, in the jumble of Mark's petty and imaginative lists of excuses, apologies and denigrations, in Joe's frequently inevitable advice to "Dump 'em before it's too late," some core quality of modern relationships emerges. Life is petty. Venting is fun. We may be more predictable than we like to admit. And negative stereotypes, for all their superficial offensiveness, are also good for a laugh, so long as you don't take yourself too seriously. It would seem a good thing to keep in mind, with Valentine's day on the horizon.SIDEBAR: Form Love Web SitesThe Cyrano Serverhttp://www.nando.net/toys/cyrano.htmlMark's Apology Note Generatorhttp://net.indra.com/~karma/formletter.html Joe's AMAZING Relationship Problem Solver http://studsys.mscs.mu.edu/~carpent1/probsolv/rltprob0.html Romantic Web SitesValentines Screensaver (for PC Windows) http://www.netaxs.com/~paulsun/scrnsavr.html Smooch!http://www.purple.co.uk/purplet/love/smooch/smooch.html the Virtual Kissing Boothhttp://www.whitehawk.com/vkb/CNN - Welcome to the Love Zonehttp://www.cnn.com/EVENTS/valentine/index.html The Electric Postcardhttp://persona.www.media.mit.edu/Postcards/

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