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Valentine's Day is a good day to get sparks flying, an expert says

Do you just roll your eyes when Valentine's Day approaches? Do you sigh heavily and trudge to the store for a heart-shaped card to give your beloved in order to keep the peace? • You might want to rethink your attitude. • According to at least one expert (who isn't getting any kickbacks from Whitman's or FTD), this so-called Hallmark holiday is really an opportunity to re-ignite the passion in your relationship and solidify your commitment to the one you love. Author, sexuality researcher and consultant Dr. Carol Cassell wrote a book about her investigations into the topic called Put Passion First: Why Sexual Chemistry Is the Key to Finding and Keeping Lasting Love. • Cassell was with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before taking on a CDC-funded research program at the University of New Mexico on youth behavior. She recently was in the Tampa Bay area to speak at two Planned Parenthood events. • She spoke with Personal Best about how to find love and make it last, and why Valentine's Day is a great time to take action.

A lot of people think Valentine's Day is just a big ploy to get us to spend money. How do you see it?

It's very much an opportunity. Men hate it because they don't know what to get her; they don't know what will make her happy. So my advice is, women, make it easier: Tell him what you want. Say, "Valentine's Day is coming up and I would like to just go out to dinner. You pick the restaurant and get the babysitter." Or if you want a gorgeous red silk slip, tell him where to get it and what size you need. Don't be disappointed, because he isn't a mind reader.

It sounds like you have some personal experience with this.

Seventeen years ago my husband gave me an electric frying pan for Valentine's Day. "You said you needed one," he said. That was the year he learned to ask for suggestions. Just the other day he asked me what I'd like to do (this year) and I told him, "Let's have a picnic in the mountains." He's thrilled. He would not have thought of that in a million years. He's the best guy in the world. We've been married 37 years.

What's the key to such a successful relationship?

There are several. First, you have to wear your party manners every day. You have to treat your partner like you would a very good friend, saying please and thank you. If there's one thing that keeps passion alive, it's how you treat your partner. Stop being critical and have kind interactions. People who are satisfied in a relationship tell me they feel respected by their partner. Treat him or her with kindness.

What else?

Next, women need to see that being sensual is an asset. You don't have to be a vamp, but if you are a passionate, sensual woman it means that you appreciate the feelings of sexual desire and chemistry. It's a natural part of life.

But what if you just don't feel very sexy?

Don't wallow in self-critical thinking. Women are very guilty of this. Men love a woman with self-confidence, a positive attitude, enthusiasm, a zest for life. Women tend to think comfort, security and companionship are enough.

And your No. 1 tip for a happy relationship?

Make a whole-heart commitment to your partner the way he or she is. Love them for who they are now, not who you want them to be. Once you decide that this relationship is worth your whole-heart commitment, everything will be different. It's like a magic pill.

Tell me about your book Put Passion First. It was written for women, but contains information that men also need to know.

I wanted to help women find love in all the right places for all the right reasons. It is written for women because they buy books on relationships and men don't. I've been told by some women that they read out loud sections of the book to the men in their lives; a twist on the usual bedtime stories.

What did you learn about women and men in your research for the book?

Women have a Perfect Partner List: he has to be tall, his occupation, his religion, and on and on. Throw away the list and look for a person.

Men go with the flow and they don't look for everlasting love. They want a partner to do things with.

I say, think in the present and pick someone you are attracted to and who you really like. Women tell me this all the time when they pick a guy they simply like: He probably never would have made the list. It almost always works out this way.

How can you put some life back into a relationship that's good but kind of ho-hum?

It happens all the time when couples become parents. The passionate, lover side of a relationship becomes less of a priority. So, you recapture the spark. Take time to be alone with your partner. And put a bow on your package. That's why they sell lingerie. That's why men give it as gifts. Women put it in the bottom of the drawer and think, "I'll wear it next year on our anniversary or when I lose 10 pounds." Wear it tonight. You have a unique and worthwhile relationship. He loves you. He's there. Put some extra effort into looking sensual. There's not a man alive who doesn't love it when his partner wears lovely lingerie.

Got any similar tips for the guys?

Men can provide simple love gestures that make a woman feel sexy and desired, such as a bouquet of flowers, just because. Here's a little-known fact: A major aphrodisiac for a woman is having her man pitch in on the daily grind of housework.

What if you don't have a partner? What do you think about looking for love on Internet dating sites?

They can sell personality and compatibility, but they can't sell sizzle. That sexual chemistry is either there or it isn't and most people know it the minute they lay eyes on someone on the first coffee date. It's the most important ingredient in lasting love.

Dating Web sites guard their results like crazy. We guess they are about 50 percent successful in finding matches, we just don't know if the couples stay together over time.

If you're looking for a serious relationship, tell everyone you know. And if you do turn to the Internet, use a current picture. And skip the glamor shots.

Irene Maher can be reached at imaher@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3416.

Valentine's Day is a good day to get sparks flying, an expert says 02/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 12, 2010 3:30am]

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