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Sex in the City: Joel Stein’s Tips for Buying Valentine’s Flowers

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Sex in the City: Joel Stein’s Tips for Buying Valentine’s Flowers

February 10, 2014

As a public service message to our male readers as we approach Valentine’s Day, we asked Gardenista friend and masculinity adviser Joel Stein, a longtime Time magazine columnist and the author of Man Made: In Which a Dad Learns to Be a Man for His Son, for tips about how to buy flowers. (And if I were him, I would totally tweet this to my 940,000 Twitter followers.) Here’s his advice:

I have spent most of my life being flower-phobic because I thought that buying flowers was kind of the equivalent of using a pickup line. It seemed very cheesy. I’m from New Jersey, and it seemed very un-masculine.

Then at some point, right after I met my wife, Cassandra, when I was 28, I realized that all the things that seem cheesy in the third person are very romantic and sweet when they’re happening to you. So I bought flowers in Chelsea, and I was walking back to my apartment–and all of a sudden I looked across the street, and I saw a bunch of teenage girls pointing at me and laughing. It was a bunch of tough looking girls. And it was my greatest fear: “They think I’m just some dorky dweeby guy carrying flowers.”

Gardenista: Joel, not to interrupt, but can we get to the advice part?

Above: A Hand-Selected Designer Floral Bouquet in two sizes is from $48 to $100 (plus shipping), from Food52 Provisions. Order by Wednesday.

Joel: The problem is flowers all look the same to guys. I know they come in different colors, of course. But you can’t buy by color. There’s also semiotics, and that’s a blur. Flowers are symbols. You don’t want to make a mistake by buying the wrong ones. Different flowers mean different things; there are class issues, like with handbags. I know that a woman carrying a Coach handbag means something, but I don’t know what. With flowers, there are some that are cheesy, and some that are good, and some that broadcast a certain kind of Upper-West-Side-y-ness, and you as a guy have no hope of parsing that on your own.

Gardenista: So, ask for help?

Joel: Yeah, throw yourself on the mercy of the florist guy. I ask for help. We have some kind of subtextual conversation where he tells me what’s in season, and I nod like I’m the one making the decision.

Gardenista: How much should you spend on Valentine’s flowers?

Joel: Price is not the best signifier. It can throw you off because roses are expensive, but they’re too lazy, too lame, not cool enough. Too cliché.

Above: A 24-stem Large Bouquet is $100 from Food52 Provisions.

Gardenista: Should you find out the favorite flowers of the person you’re buying for, and just get those?

Joel: That works. Cassandra at some point told me she really likes peonies… no, not peonies. Something with a scent.

Gardenista: Lilacs?

Joel: No…or maybe. Well, anyway, I bought them for ten years and then she changed her mind. If that happens, one thing you can do is see what all your friends are buying and then buy the same flowers. Stick inside your demographic. Then you won’t make a huge mistake or buy something insulting.

Above: A 12-stem Small Bouquet ($48) is from Food52 Provisions.

Gardenista: Flowers sound really stressful for a guy.

Joel: You have no idea.

Gardenista: Maybe chocolates are a better Valentine’s gift?

Joel: No! No! Chocolate’s a minefield. There are body issues there. If you’re going to buy dessert for a woman, you’re better off getting a one-night-consumable item than a box that lasts a month. You don’t want to hear about it for 30 days: “Do I look fat? Do I look fat? Is this chocolate making me fat?” I think a box of chocolates is more of a burden than a gift.

But I should make it clear that Cassandra has chocolate bars hidden all around the house. I think she’s OK with the baseline temptation of a chocolate bar, but the extra excitement of a box of chocolates would not be so good.

Gardenista: Are you going to buy flowers for Valentine’s Day this year?

Joel: I don’t think so. I think flowers are best used either as a random surprise or as an apology. Of course apology flowers are tricky–that’s a whole different conversation–but they sometimes work. Valentine’s flowers feel treacly and obvious. But on the other hand, they do go over well….I’ve got a coupon for ProFlowers. Maybe I should jump on this right now.

N.B.: Feeling the pressure? Here are The Best $50 Roses You Can Order Online.

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