My Soul Mate? Check.
It's flexibility and spontaneity - not going down a dating checklist - that makes for the very best second dates.
(Illustration / Christopher Silas Neal) Illustration / Christopher Silas Neal
'The date was going so well," said my friend Tom, 34, "right up until I told her I have a roommate." At the end of the night, Tom's date told him she would like to be his friend but said that she didn't want to go out again. "I asked why," he told me, "and she said she assumed anyone with a roommate wasn't in a position to have a family any time soon."
He felt he had just been reduced to a walking checkbook. I could relate. Once, on a first date, a man asked me whether I was planning to stay home full time with my children. This was early in the evening; the waiter hadn't even brought our entrees. But he didn't want to get in too deep - not even into his curried chicken - without finding out whether I shared his feelings about family life, work, and gender roles.
Call it the checklist approach to dating: the notion that if one identifies key characteristics and evaluates dates accordingly, one is more likely to find a perfect match, guaranteeing romantic and marital contentment. No doubt, singles have always had some version of checklists, but the culture of Internet dating has codified them, and it's even spilled over to dates generated offline. Internet users can search for potential partners by educational attainment, age, height, weight, and income level. They can rule out the plump, the smokers, the separated-but-not-divorced, then narrow the field further to exclude (or include) those who like country music, those who have ferrets, and, yes, those who have roommates.
It's easy to condemn daters whose checklists strike us as shallow, and other people's criteria always do seem so much shallower than our own. Most of us want what we want. The real danger comes when we start assuming that one trait automatically signals another. After all, it wasn't Tom's roommate himself (a sculptor and very sweet man) that bothered his date. It was what she inferred about Tom based on his living situation: that he doesn't earn enough to live alone, much less support a family. That he is immature. That he isn't successful or focused at work. These qualities might be true of Tom, just as they might be true of a guy with a solo pad. But she didn't actually try to find out the truth about Tom before writing him off.
Still, many of us look to measurable goods like professions, ages, or geographic background as keys to personality. I have one friend who won't date teachers and another who won't date musicians. It's not that they're allergic to blackboards or guitar strings. It's that, based on experience, they associate the jobs with, respectively, dullness and flakiness. But in seeking to avoid the dull and the flaky, they may be looking right over some exciting educators and rock-solid drummers.
The allure of checklists is that they seem to offer a shortcut, a quick way to find out whether someone is or isn't right. But not only do we risk misjudging, we risk casting a pall over an otherwise pleasant evening when we wave our lists too early. My friend Abigail, for example, once had a lovely time with a date until he said he was allergic to cats, and if things worked out between them, he'd need her to relocate her kitty. Was she OK with that? "I might consider asking my parents to take Pinky if I fell in love with someone allergic," Abigail said to me. "But not after a first date!" It made her date seem controlling and inflex ible, and Abigail opted out of a second meeting.
If I were ever to design a dating site or TV show, it would have no boxes, no categories, and no interrogations. Instead, I would take two people who find each other reasonably cute and give them some unpleasant task to complete, like, say, emptying the dumpsters behind Fenway Park. If they laughed at all during the process, I would tell them to go on a date. So here's my new plan: From now on, if a first date seems to have some chemistry, I'm going to fake food poisoning. If we both like each other by the time we leave the emergency room, well, sign me up for a second date. And if he pops me in a cab and high-tails it out of there? Good thing I didn't get in too deep.
Alison Lobron lives and writes in Concord. E-mail comments to email@example.com.