Saturday, February 7, 2009

Valentines go digital: Rebooting your relationship

It's coming, a quiet rumbling that soon will become a clamor. Can you feel it? Valentine's Day.

For some, Feb. 14 is a welcome day to celebrate the joys of love and relationships. For others, it's a contrived example of commercialism at its most crass -- but that's hardly a romantic notion.

This day, like other significant holidays of the winter months, can sometimes make -- or break -- your relationship. Did your love send you something? Was it bigger than a bee sting, sweeter than spun sugar and shinier than Disney Hall in the afternoon? (Yes, Valentines can be scrutinized using similar criteria for assessing engagement rings.)

With everything related to romance taking on a techie spin -- dating, mating, cheating, deleting -- it makes sense to try to find the wired (and occasionally weird) angle to the ethereal.

Here are a few ways to add a little high-tech sweetener to reboot your romantic life. You can even do some without breaking the bank.

More after the jump.

Since I'm a bit of a geek -- my notion of tear-inspiring romance is getting a Wii Fit from my sweetheart -- I sought some guidance from an expert,

"So many say technology is taking time away from their relationships," she says. "You just have to figure out how you can make it work for you." And since so many people are meeting through technology, she says it's only fitting that it have a place in the relationship.

"Textual healing": In this category, Denay suggests a little bit of high-tech flirting and maybe a slightly suggestive voicemail -- nothing too over the top. Text sweet nothings to your honey or leave a sweet yet sexy voice message. Make them blush in that boring meeting with a personal message, she says.

-- Modern-day mix tapes: Those of us old enough to remember the '80s also remember the big deal mix tapes once were. (For those too young, we used to listen to music on these things called cassette tapes.) To capture the feel and personal touch of having a soundtrack compiled by someone who knows you intimately, Denay suggests creating a playlist for your honey's MP3 player. "Name it with of something having to do with your relationship," she says.

-- Book of textual poetry: Some have declared the romance and art of writing notes and letters in relationships dead. Not so, Denay says The modern version of that might be text and e-mail messages. You may have a very romantic diary of your road to romance wrapped up in the many electronic exchanges. Print them out and make a little book, she suggests.

-- Getting carded: From our childhood, getting Valentine's Day cards was among the sweetest treats. E-cards are nice and all, but it's not quite the same. Denay points to as a blending of both worlds. You can upload your own photos and have cards with special effects made. It's really is pretty easy. The website walks you through step by step. Some cards are flirty. Others can be a little more risque, such as the Peep Show template at the right -- depending on the pictures you upload and how you crop them. If you go tame, these can be family-friendly as well.The cards run about $3.50.

-- Treasure map: Create a Google map that highlights locations that have meaning in your relationship.

"All of this costs you less than $10," she says, and you don't need to be a tech geek to do them.

Well, I am a bit of a tech geek. Some of you are familiar with my love affair with iPhone apps. So any techno-romance story wouldn't be complete without a look at how they fit in.

Forget proposing by Jumbotron at a Lakers game. These days, you can do it on the small screen. Whether saying "I do!" or "I dig you," some are doing it with slick videos made of photo slideshows. One guy proposed by iPod using Animoto, which is available as an iPhone app and online service.

There also are apps, which share the same name, to help you pop that question: iPropose and iPropose. The latter has heterosexual and same-sex proposal options. My answer, even to the right inquisitor, would probably be: I do ... not believe you asked me to marry you by handing me your iPhone with this screen on it!

The apps I checked out range from the foodie to the fun to the flirty to the frisky. You've heard the saying that the way to a loved one's heart is through the stomach. In addition to the sweet treats here, the 99-cent Valentines Recipes iPhone app offers a variety of dessert recipes that will help you feed the romance.

In the fun category, you can use iLoveMatch to see whether your names suggest a good fit. (There are a few versions of match "calculators." All of the ones I saw cost 99 cents.) Type in names to find out whether it's a love connection; it's the high-tech version of name doodling.

Another fun option is Love Poem Generator. You can mix and match preselected sentiments into a poem you e-mail to a friend or love. Caveat: The generator seems to think perspiration is precious, using sweat instead of sweet. Check out my creation there to the right. The saving grace is that the poem is sent as an e-mail, giving you the opportunity to correct that error in the subject field and the body of the message.

If you love the songs dripping with angst and longing and amorous admiration but putting together a modern mix tape just takes too much time, there's Valentine Radio. The 99-cent app will locate love songs all over the world and play them for as long as you have it open. Just remember to provide your own crackers for all that cheese. Oy! (I'm so not a hopeless romantic.)

In the flirty category, if you are without a Valentine, you might try iPickupLines for a little assist in things to say. It's listed as a "game for singles." That's good because you very likely will remain single if you try them seriously. It's free. There's also iFlirt, for 99 cents, to offer you courage and advice on how to click with someone else. Although, I'm not too sure about some of the advice: Dress up like a bunny and deliver cookies.The app also allows you to post on someones Facebook wall every 10 minutes for a week. Um, that reads a bit stalkerish to me, but what do I know.

Now on to the frisky. I've heard there are dice you can use to spice up your relationship. Roll a romantic or risque notion. The iDesire app puts that playfulness on your iPhone. Shake it for a random combination of actions and areas, like "pinch" and "navel." At 99 cents, it's less than those dice -- I mean, so I've heard.

For my honey, while it'd be cute if you sent me a personally made virtual candy heart, I'd suggest looking at something such as 1800Flowers, so you can order the beautiful bouquet -- now -- from your phone. (The app is free; I'm guessing the flowers aren't.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Single life shouldn't be cause for shame

Valentine's Day is less than two weeks away, but all the merchandise has been in stores since the beginning of January, when it was time to take down all the faux Christmas trees and turn off "Jingle Bells." Safeway employees have long-since-stocked the candy shelves with pink and red M&M's bags, and customers can't miss the cheesy Disney Valentine's Day cards by the store's front entrance. The much-anticipated romantic comedy, "He's Just Not That Into You," hits theaters this Friday, and all the single women who need to take the film title as advice will go out and see the movie, only to forget the moral message and continue agonizing about being single and chasing after undeserving men.

Some people want to boycott Valentine's Day because it's a reminder of loneliness, but the date isn't that special to begin with, even while in a relationship. It's a filler holiday for people like me who enjoy decorating, watching "The Notebook," and making excuses to consume dangerous amounts of chocolate.

It seems like a lot of people are unhappy about being single, even at a young, college age. I have girlfriends who take their relationship statuses off simply because they cannot handle the fact that they're without a man, and seeing the word "single" is too much to stomach. The only other logical reason to omit a relationship status is to deter creepy guys, and there are way too many of these weirdos lurking around the internet.

There shouldn't be a stigma against singles because it's much more humiliating to be in a dead end, unhealthy relationship with a really bad person, and this kind of couple only stays together out of pure security. They may not be extremely happy, but they don't have to be alone or visibly depressed, so they hold onto dying relationships for a sense of comfort and familiarity. This works until one realizes that life is not about being comfortable and safe all the time, and being uncomfortable (single, presumably) can have more benefits.

What's so terrifying about being alone? Such views of doom discourage independence and self-understanding, and before anyone can love you, you have to love and understand yourself. Being alone doesn't scare me at all, but I find it strange that so much of our young lives revolve around relationships, especially when we have so many other things going on. We're not living in the 1940s, when most people married in their early twenties or late teens, so it's unnecessary to jump back to older times in discreet ways. Whenever I visit my family at home, the first question out of my sister-in-law's mouth is always, "Are you dating anybody?" And then the conversation is over because school, work, and friends just aren't sufficiently riveting topics for some people.

Being single doesn't translate into being weird or unwanted. In many cases, it's just not worth it to start a relationship, because all the current prospects are unpromising; and you can't force anything to work out. Otherwise,it isn't worth much. It's better to be alone for an extended period of time than latch onto the first decent person that comes around, just for the sake of having arm candy and someone to talk about.

Some may disagree, but it seems much harder to be single at an older age, so college students don't really have anything to worry about for another thirty years. There aren't a lot of great social opportunities for older singles, and they are at a disadvantage because most people their age are already married - or, at least, the good ones are.

College students and recent graduates have a better chance of just meeting someone at random while older widows or bachelors have to invest in online dating services, which are usually pretty suspicious and creepy. Someone in this position may have to accept that it's very possible that they'll be romantically deprived forever; and as sad as it sounds, there are worse things that can happen. When I asked a 55-year-old divorced student if she wanted to meet someone after splitting with her ex-husband, she said, "No. I'm absolutely done with that part of my life."

If you happen to be alone on Valentine's Day and after, remember that you have other great things going for you. So feel free to eat one of those extra large cookies from Paradise Bakery Café and be thankful that you don't have to watch your figure for a significant other.