back to the Black Table

As modern relationships become more and more transactional, the value equation of a dozen red roses becomes, each Valentine's Day, a barometer of love -- budding, wide open, drooping, or dead. No, the rose-o-meter never lies. Why is that?

Roses, like most flowers, are symbolic archetypes -- their meanings so imbedded in our consciousness that, like Victorian "dream books," there were guides to divine what a lover actually meant by a particular bouquet. Victorian lovers communicated with a "language of flowers." People showed up at parties carrying or wearing certain buds or blooms that meant "Call me" or "Get lost, creep." Sentiments could be exchanged without speaking, even across the street -- just like pagers do today.

Vestiges of these meanings remain today. Red roses mean true love; pink roses mean young love; white roses mean innocent love, or it's modern equivalent ("I can wait till we're married/I'm really gay.").

For men, buying flowers can be an emotional minefield, complicated by the fact that florists need to push their product, and a wavering swain may plunge heedlessly into a purchase that reveals more than was meant to say. Like the Valentine's weekend when a beau surprised me with a "mixed bouquet" of flowers delivered to my home -- because he said he had to visit his sick father in L.A. -- when he actually flew to Rome to propose marriage to someone else entirely. And adding balloons or a gag gift is always a bad idea: someone I know still rues the day he showed up with a single rose and a pair of chocolate handcuffs.

When in doubt, keep it simple. Why the same bouquet is $12 on one block and $120 on the next is a matter of timing as well as quality. The average woman can tell at a glance if the offering stemmed from thoughtful pre-planning or was a desperate, last-minute, obligatory grab from the grocery store.

Still not sure what was sent is what was meant? Here's our guide to what those flowers *really* mean.

The Classics

    The Bouquet...     What it Means...    
    Single Red Rose...    

"I might be in love with you. Can I get a little encouragement?"

The initial love-thrust given by the guy you've been dating for less than a month; the guy in the next cubicle; the FedEx delivery guy. Proper response: "Oh you didn't have to do that!" A peck on the cheek or deep soul kiss is optional -- provided he's not some total freak who won't stop bothering you. The single red rose, plus small item of jewelry, signifies this budding romance will be transaction-based, i.e. "I might be in love with you, can we have sex tonight so I can make sure?"


A Dozen Roses...


"I really love you."

Bouquet of choice for firemen and working-class heroes with hearts of gold, this is the real deal. During Valentine's week, the average price of a dozen long-stemmed roses surges to $120, or five times the price of the same florist's bunch any other week of the year -- which should make you five times as pleased. Proper response: Big hug and a steak dinner.

    ... in bodega or deli wrapping.    

"Yo, babymother!"

Yes, you are an afterthought -- ring or no ring. Given by: the loser who made you pregnant, and now resents you for it. Whether you live in the projects or a higher-rent high rise, the presentation of this gift is usually followed by: "You thought I forgot, huh? Well, catch you later -- I gotta go see some guys." Proper response: Smile and keep your mouth shut -- tomorrow, go open a new, secret checking account.

    ... in white box, with chocolates and a bow.    

"I really love you. Can I get a blowjob tonight?"

Given by: the man who suspects you (or he) may have a zinc deficiency. Proper response: A big sigh. (If you want to do charity work, go read to the blind.)

    ... in a crystal vase, sent to your office.    

"I'm just crazy about you and I don't care who knows it. NOW, can I please get a blowjob?"

Given by: the man who'll get elsewhere what he doesn't get from you, you chilly bitch. Proper response: blow it, or you'll blow it (the romance I mean) or at least hold out for diamond earrings.

    Three or more dozen roses, sent to your home.    

"I'm just crazy, and/or I've been stalking you for a long, long time..."

A signature move of control freaks, this is the floral equivalent of the MyDoom virus - so don't let this in the door! Proper response: Return to sender, and stop procrastinating about that restraining order.



Other Flowers

The Bouquet... What it Means...

"I don't love you but felt I had to get you something."

In the Victorian language of the flowers, red tulips mean only "A Declaration of Love" - not "Love." An obligatory offering with no true heart thus needs no response. Tip to the men: as a passive-aggressive ploy to pacify the goddess it never works, and not just because tulips are sacred to Mars, not Venus - but because tulips are just not roses, you cheap bastard.


"I'm tired of spending my hard-earned money on you."

The bottom of the floral pile, carnations are rarely sold for more than the $4 per dozen wholesale price, and bought only by clueless cads. Proper response: if you're too polite to throw them in his face or dash them to bits on the floor, leave them quietly on the kitchen table instead of putting them in water... so they can die! Die! DIE! like your withering love...


"I'm really cheap and not sure I like you that much in this stage of our relationship."

It's hard to imagine anyone liking a flower that looks like Gene Simmon's tongue, so even when the florist proposes anthuriums ("Hey, they're red, they look like hearts - see?") a steadfast swain won't cave. A man who gives anthuriums is so on the fence about you that he's got splinters up his butt. Proper response: "I guess they ran out of roses?"


"Let's make this Valentine's Day really special -- why don't you invite your sister over?"

A spray of red orchids signifies the exploratory urges of your randy Beastmaster. Proper response: reciprocate with a strap-on, wrapped in a blue Tiffany box.



Danger Signs

The Bouquet... What it Means...
    The "Mixed Flower" Valentine bouquet

"I've decided I'm not in love with you, but we can still have sex, right?"

On, this mixed bouquet tagged for Valentine's Day, #A8-VI, is completely identical to #C13-3037, recommended a few inside screen pages later as a "corporate gift." And you thought you were so special! Given by: the lover who's giving the roses to somebody else, you fool. Proper response: Next time you're out to dinner, order the most expensive meal, excuse yourself to the ladies' room, slip out the kitchen door and never, ever, look back.

    Any mix of red, white, and pink flowers.     "My therapist and I are still sorting out how I feel about you."    
    Any bunch of same-type flowers, not red or pink or white.     "I don't care about your feelings -- it's all about me, and aren't I a hip, free spirit?"    
    Any potted plant

"I feel you don't love me so won't be hurt if you give this to grandma."

This is in the same category as the tiny potted rose combined with the plush teddy bear, the pinky-red azalea, or godforbid, the dreaded kalanchoe. Given by: the man who thinks it's over with you. Is it? Or are you Grandma? If so, you might be glad the old git remembered your address. Proper response: Double dose of Viagra. For both of you.

    Artificial or dried flowers

"I know you don't love me so won't be hurt if you give this to the cleaning woman."

We're not even running a picture for this one. It's OVER, and you know it. Call your lawyer on Monday, or at least find out if you live in a community property state.

    Dead or decapitated flowers    

"I'm ignoring the restraining order."

The dead-flower bouquet was popular in the Seventies as the last hurrah of the boyfriend rejected for some other guy who had better hair. Today's florists report this is now a rare request, as the dissed or dismissed loverboy is more likely to resort to a 12-gauge rather than 12 stems. Proper response: Move to Canada.



Mia Amato was the celebrity spokesmodel for the San Francisco Flower Mart -- and has been buying wholesale ever since.