THE FEELING IS MUTUAL: In the second week of February, the women of Manhattan could be spotted lining up outside the corner flower vendors, choosing tubs of freesia, anemone, white-tipped parrot tulips and cuisse- de-nymphe-emue roses, to emerge red-cheeked with cornucopial bouquets. The sisters were doing it for themselves. Meanwhile, male New Yorkers loped through aromatic boutiques, snapping up silky peignoirs, paisley undershorts, peekaboo vests, shaving implements made from endangered species, and assorted colognes. On the dreamy evening itself, glamorous young women hosted dinners with no men allowed, and bachelors hosted raucous stag parties - romance be damned! New York's shopkeepers and caterers, reluctant to abandon the ideal of romantic consumerism that had cheered them for so many years, finally accepted that Valentine's Day in New York had evolved into a sort of sensual, "adult" (as in "adult entertainment,") birthday, and ceased to be a deux.

Commentators have blamed slacker culture, coed college educations, materialism, television, and of course the Sixties; but everyone knows that the real reason for the rising tide of unconcerned self-absorption is something called the Mutual Fund, whose steady comfort and rising security lately have come to replace New Yorkers' desire for human companionship. Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average went racing past 7,000 - apparently quite a high figure - and New Yorkers quickly saw that their Mutual Funds would continue getting fatter and fatter for the foreseeable future. The female reasoning went: why take time away from your thrilling career and social life to be nice to a man, when you could buy your own flowers and jewellery (to your own superior taste) with the interest from your investments in herbal teas? The male reasoning went: why court one woman (or man) when you can buy two?

As a result of the rise of the Mutual Fund, romance tends to exists only in locations that resonate of Wall Street, fizzling out the farther one gets from them. The prime example of this is that the McDonalds on Wall Street features a baby-grand piano and a dinner-jacketed doorman, whereas no such perks exist in the burger joints farther north.

There is hope that romance may yet return to the city. For one thing, financial institutions have stopped muffling their charms. J.P. Morgan just opened its liposuctioned, bodysculpted midtown headquarters, and now flaunts a canopied, marble columned, chandeliered grand entrance on Fifth Avenue for all eyes to see, as provocative as the Petit Trianon, which will likely put midtowners in the mood. For another thing, there is a chance that Mutual Funds may crash, leading to a return to vogue of more traditional life partners. The tourists who applauded the Dow's jump to 7,000 last week from the gallery of the New York Stock Exchange didn't notice that the traders on the floor below were not sharing in their euphoria, being far too busy throwing order tickets in the air. The Dow is expected to break 8,000 this year, after which it may well drop, per historical precedent, down to a few hundred points or so, leading to poverty, desperation, pregnancy and entrapment, which as everyone knows are far more fertile ingredients for courtship and lasting marriage than financial independence has ever been.