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In the Red

[whitespace] The true color of love

By Heidi Pollock

That the fourteenth day of February, the Catholic saint Valentine, and the shape of the heart were mixed up into one single chocolate-coated holiday by a greeting card company is so unspeakably deranged that naturally the only color strong enough to be the theme of such feverish insanity is the color red.

Crimson, burgundy, rose, russian, red dye #2, cranberry, apple, communist, chinese, vermilion, tomato, sunset, fire-engine, blood, mahogany, #FF0000. There are as many explanations for red's Valentine's Day association as there are shades of the color itself. Red stands for passion and for love. It courses through our veins and therefore stands for life. Personally, I'm inclined to attribute the conjunction of red and Valentine's Day with the phenomenon of dating--with torture, torment and blood-letting.

But even that only scratches the surface. Ultimately the reason red serves so well on Valentine's Day, the unholy holiday of ritualized romance, is because red is distracting. And what we need most of all while on a date is a good, strong distraction. Observation is the kiss of death on a Valentine's Day date. Whether you're out with a new lover or a longtime companion, the inherent nature of the dating event causes and highlights all manner of awkward behaviors: needless fidgeting with dining cutlery, the incapacity to order a decent cabernet, selfish dessert-hoarding practices. It is these kinds of behaviors, opposed to deep personal convictions, which have the power to seal your evening with a ruby-red kiss or not.

Of course, while red may take the pressure off the performance, it puts a greater burden on the outfit. Which frankly is fine because we are already inclined to judge people by their appearances. After all, what else is there to go by during the early stages of a relationship? In fact, immediate superficial conclusions probably serve to foster the eventual development of a full-blown relationship. In any case, why ruin a good three-month run of unbridled hormonal agreement over a sniggling political debate? In the long run it might make sense to judge individuals by their moral character, intellectual interests, or abiding passions, but in the short run it's much more convenient, and obviously more fun, to make decisions based on fabric preferences or footwear. A riveting red turtleneck, a bold red tie, a blood-red scarf, a wine-wet mouth--these are the bricks which lay the foundation for romantic bliss.

In the end I think that only red can truly distract us from the pain of dating. From the horror of a bad date to the exquisite, torturous anticipation that characterizes a good date, red will ease the pain. Red allows us to ignore the tension and the doubt which permeate all anxious and uncertain outings. But best of all, red renders us appropriately dressed for when everything begins to go horribly awry. For when we begin babbling like a Pentecostal initiate, indiscriminately revealing our most random childhood fears. For when we can't stop channeling our most immediate and trivial stream-of-consciousness selves. Red may give you the extra edge on a good date, but it is a veritable necessity during a date run amok. Politicians wear red ties for a reason. Red cloaks us in power. Red lends us an aura of control even when we've completely lost our grip and have let our true inner dolt come exploding forth from out of the high-pressure situation that so colors Valentine's Day. If you're going to crash and burn you might as well be dressed for it. At the very least, wearing red will help them find your body.

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From the February 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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