NEW YORK (Reuters) - Forget cards, flowers and chocolates, most singles want a special experience rather than a gift for Valentine's Day and although the economy is stagnating, most romantics will spend as much, or more, on the day this year than last.
Nearly half of single and divorced people questioned in a new poll said they view the day as an opportunity to show someone how much they care but a similar number without a significant other don't feel any pressure to celebrate Cupid's big day.
"People are really interested in experience gifts, rather than object gifts," said Gian Gonzaga, a social psychologist with the dating website eHarmony, which conducted the online survey.
"The more you have experiences with someone, the more you are able to build memories and share histories that help to make the relationship more intimate."
Unlike material gifts, he added, an experience, whether it is an outing, a vacation or a special meal, is something unique to the couple, especially if it reflects both people's interests.
But not everyone questioned in the poll of 730 singles is making a fuss about Valentine's Day. About a third of men and women think the holiday is just too commercial.
Data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) supports their concerns.
U.S. consumers are expected to spend about $126 each this year for Valentine's Day, an increase of 8.5 percent from 2011. Total spending for the day, which is one of the biggest gift-giving holidays of the year, is expected to reach $17.6 billion.
Traditional gifts will make up most of the outlay. About 20 percent of people will buy jewelry for their Valentine with the price tag for bling expected to exceed $4.1 billion. Gift cards are also primed to be a popular token of affection with 17.3 percent of people choosing them.
Candy and flowers are still popular with nearly a third of people expected to opt for them and a similar number will dig deep into their pockets for an evening out.
"I don't think those gifts will ever go out of style," said Gonzaga. "The traditional gifts are great but don't sacrifice the experience with someone for more traditional gifts."
Spouses, partners and sweethearts will not be the only ones receiving presents. Pet owners will dispense about $4.52 for their furry friends for Valentine's Day, according to the NRF.
Although Valentine's Day is eagerly anticipated by many, some singles dread the day while others remain optimistic. Seventy percent of singles said they would even go out on a first or blind date on Valentine's Day.
"There still is this love-hate relationship with Valentine's Day," said Gonzaga. "People get it, that there is a little too much emphasis on the day itself. It is too commercial for them or they are not that worried about it."
Reporting by Patricia Reaney.; editing by Jill Serjeant