It’s not the concept of Valentine’s Day I hate; it’s the forced romantic stuff I hate.

You know why? Because romance isn’t forced. Romance isn’t something that can be put on a calendar. Romance isn’t something that can be codified by Hallmark, Godiva and gas station roses.

Nope. Romance is firmly in the "you just never know" category. The when, where, why, and how of it all? You just never know

Like this ...

There’s this guy -- let’s call him "Meff Fedelstein" -- who back on Jan. 4, 1999, started a job at a local newspaper in Trenton. He was new to the area, didn’t really know anyone, wasn’t sure if it was a good fit or not.

He was, in fact, thinking about moving back up to Morristown, where he used to live, or maybe back to New York, where he spent a few months trying to make it as a freelance writer. (He mostly just made it as a hard-drinking pothead barely scraping by.)

So he was ready to check out.

Until March 1, which was the day a young woman started working at the same newspaper. He still remembers what she wore that day -- a black skirt and pink sweater. He remembers how beautiful he thought she was. He remembers how she was filled with smiles and confidence, friendly with everybody. (Little did he know she knew a bunch of the people by way of familial relations, but whatever.


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A few weeks passed, and he worked up the courage to say hello, to stop by her desk, to engage in a little chit-chat.

But it wasn’t until six weeks later -- a Tuesday, in fact -- when he was leaving work for the day that opportunity struck in the form of a jammed photocopier.

See, Meff had spent a few years post-college aimlessly wandering about the job market, working mostly as an office temp. Not particularly mechanically inclined, he nevertheless developed a knack for finding the crumpled-up paper in the nether regions of broken-down copy machines.

So as he was leaving the office, he passed this lovely young lady who was standing at the copier, flummoxed.

"Let me have a look," our handsome -- did I mention he was handsome? --hero said.

He fixed the paper jam, they got to talking, and then he took the leap. He asked her out on a date, of sorts. A ride down to Manasquan. He and about 437 of his closest friends had rented a beach house for the coming summer, and he wanted to check it out. Dinner was planned. They were to leave post-work, that coming Thursday.

For the next 48 hours, Meff avoided this young woman. Wherever she was at work, he wasn’t. He didn’t want to give her a chance to break the date.

Thursday came, they took a drive, got to talking, shared a moment and Š that moment continues to this day.

It’s been almost 15 years, and he still can’t believe how lucky he is. He really can’t. A lot of other people can’t fathom it, either. Meff and his wife often get the "she’s with him? Really?" looks from passing strangers..

But she is with him. And he loves every single minute of it.

Good story, eh?

Now let me tell you how I met my wife Š

Kidding.

But see what I mean? If you think about the random string of events that got my wife and I in the same building --all the way up to the piece of crap photocopier -- it boggles the mind. It couldn’t have been planned. As such, it was, by definition, romantic.

So on this Valentine’s Day, this made-up, forced bit of nonsense, remember this: You just never know when the real romance will strike. Can’t plan it. It just Š happens.

Like it did to Erin Karre-Doan, who was in a car accident and fell in love with the tow truck driver. And to Ken Wolski, who met his wife in the dairy aisle of the supermarket. Or Darlene Hatchell Womack, who met her husband in an elevator. And to 132 other Greater Trenton (at one time or another) residents, who were kind enough to share their stories with me on Facebook.

Jeff Edelstein is a columnist for The Trentonian in Trenton, N.J. He can be reached at jedelstein@trentonian.com, facebook.com/jeffreyedelstein and @jeffedelstein.