Flowers for the fellows

Valentines: It used to be a tribute men sent women, but now gals send guys bouquets, too.

February 14, 1999|By NANCY TAYLOR ROBSON | NANCY TAYLOR ROBSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For a long time, real men not only didn't eat quiche, they also didn't get flowers. But things change. Today, some florists estimate that 25 percent of their delivery calls are for men.

"There's been a real upsurge in the last couple of years," says Lynn Green at National Flora, a nationwide floral delivery service. "Last Valentine's Day, particularly, there were quite a few women ordering for men."

Cris Wilkins, owner of Flowers by Michael in Baltimore, agrees.

"I've seen a definite change, especially in the last five to six years," says Wilkins, who has been in business for two decades. "Flowers used to be considered a feminine gift. Men would feel terribly embarrassed. But this whole push on men being more sensitive has had an effect."

Maybe men are more sensitive, or more confident in their masculinity. Maybe it's generational -- few older men admit to ever having received flowers (and a couple snarled that they wouldn't want them, either). Or maybe, the more that men get flowers, the more acceptable it becomes.

Shipwright Richard Emory remembers the first time he was given flowers. It was seven years ago. He had sent a bouquet to a (then) girlfriend who reciprocated by picking a bunch of flowers, putting them in a canning jar and leaving them on his doorstep.

"At first, I thought: 'Hey, guys don't get flowers,' " says Emory, 29, who lives in Chestertown. "It's that macho thing. But I liked it. I was flattered."

Now Emory and his fiancee exchange flowers regularly.

One reason for men's changing attitude is society's gradual redefinition of what constitutes exclusively male or female behavior. Men are no longer the only ones who slay the dragons, and women aren't the only ones who appreciate a loving gesture.

"Gender roles have been changing," observes Laura Moore, a sociology instructor at the University of Maryland, College Park. "The attitude about men and women and their roles has been merging over time. Some men appreciate women taking on a more assertive role."

Yet even if they appreciate a woman's assertiveness, some men may be embarrassed by a public display. An understanding of the individual man -- or a little guesswork -- goes a long way toward making the gift successful. Some men love flowers at work, while others prefer a more private sign of affection.

"I dig it [at work] because I tell everybody it came from a chick," says Gregg Henderson, 36, who works for Country Floral Supply, a wholesaler in Baltimore. He says it gives a boost to "that whole male ego thing."

Steve Millburg received his first flowers at his office, which was overwhelmingly male.

"I got teased about it some," says Millburg, 45, a magazine editor who lives in Alabama. But in the ribbing, there was also a little envy. "I don't know of any man who's ever gotten flowers who hasn't had this goofy little grin on his face, no matter how much teasing he got," he says.

Jack Handy has received flowers at work from his wife for the past two years. "It was fun," says Handy, 34, a businessman who lives in Baltimore. "Where I work, the atmosphere is friendly, so I wasn't upset by it at all. I'm not sure everyone would feel the same way."

Moore, who studies gender and equality roles, says: "It can either be a bragging tool or it can be a sissifying type of present. You really have to think about the man receiving it."

Wilkins says: "Lots of people send Valentine flowers to the office. This year, we'll make a lot of our Valentine's Day deliveries on Friday so the recipient will get them at work."

The visible sign of affection is important to both sexes. But there is still a difference in how men and women receive a public gesture.

"Men really want wives and girlfriends to get flowers at work," Wilkins says, "but I'd say 50 percent of guys would rather get them at home."

Handle with care

If you're sending a man flowers ...

1. Consider the context

"If it was a very testosterone-y area, a construction site [for example] and he's going to have to hear it from the guys, you have to consider: Is that going to be good or bad?" says Laura Moore, a sociology instructor at the University of Maryland, College Park.

2. Consider the man

"Some would really rather have something more 'guyish,' like electronic equipment," she says. In response to the need for "guyish" things, many florists also offer plants, balloons and gift baskets.

3. Consider the flowers

Though most people have long forgotten what individual flowers are supposed to represent, there is still a vague sense that red roses signify passionate love.

"A common question we get is what the flowers mean," says Karen Hayes of Florist Network. "I always say that doesn't really matter. What matters is what it says on the card."

If the man in your life has a favorite flower, send that.

Husbands and boyfriends often receive red roses for Valentine's Day. For a less romantic, more light-hearted gesture, some women send one balloon and one rose.

There is a whole language of flowers, which goes back to medieval times and was brought to a hyperbolic boil in the Victorian era. Internet Florist (www.iflorist.com or 800-600-9882) has a list of flower meanings beginning with acacia (concealed love) and ending with white zinnia (goodness).

Two books -- "The Meaning of Flowers," by Gretchen Soble, and "Tussie Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers" by Gerladine Adarnich Laufer -- offer specifics too.

Pub Date: 02/14/99

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