August 23, 2001
Down for the Count
I want to tell you about the "No Mas Date," but first I have to tell you about legendary Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran.
Perhaps you've heard of Duran, widely considered one of the 10 best boxers of the 20th century. His nickname was "Manos de Piedra," Spanish for "Hands of Stone." Those brick fists took him from the streets of Panama to the world lightweight championship. He won his first 28 professional fights, 23 by knockout.
What does this have to do with dating? I'm getting to that.
On June 20, 1980, Duran became welterweight champion by beating the supremely gifted Sugar Ray Leonard. In November of that same year, it was time for a rematch. Frustrated by Leonard's taunts and speed and unable to land many punches, Duran shocked the boxing world by suddenly dropping his hands in the eighth round, apparently unhurt, and saying the two words for which he would become famous, "No mas." No more.
When I told my dad that I had quit dating because of one not-terrible-but-spirit-squelching evening with a not-terrible but colossally boring man, he invoked the famous "No mas" line from Duran's fight.
Yes, that was it. It wasn't a knockout or a career-ending injury. I just needed to go back to my corner, let the cutman sew my eye, have someone spray water in my mouth and plod back to my locker room for a rubdown.
Maybe I needed some time off to reassess my strategy, jog for miles behind Burgess Meredith's car, become lean, mean and motivated.
OK, here's what happened before my eighth-round forfeit: I met a guy at the wrap party for a sitcom. He was highly recommended by friends. He asked me out. I said yes, based on the widely promulgated theory that you should accept every date because you never know and blah, blah, blah.
I went. We had a drink. He told a lengthy story about his therapist dying. I answered the usual questions about my career and family in sound bites so familiar, I felt like Carol Channing doing "Hello Dolly!" for the millionth time at some dinner theater in Detroit.
At one point, I couldn't help but notice that this guy was staring at my chest, that is, when he wasn't glancing down at my legs. He didn't even have the decency to do it on the sly. It was so disturbing that I had to put a stop to it.
"Dude, would you like me to stand up and turn around slowly so you can get a good look and get it over with?" I asked. Yes, out loud.
He apologized, admitting he had a leering problem. A few minutes later, he exacted revenge by telling me how much I play with my hair. Ding, ding, ding. Round two.
I didn't want a second drink or another moment of my life spent with "King Leer." He walked me to my car. I shook his hand and before his sweaty palm was out of my grip, I had already made the decision. No mas.
As I said, nothing awful happened. There was just the tedium, the bored, impatient feeling you get when watching some subpar movie on cable you've seen 10 times before. The whole ritual seemed to be a confounding waste of time.
Many of us have had that "No Mas Date," the one that leads to a lengthy and sudden dating break. A friend of mine married the first girl he dated after his NMD. This makes sense to me. When you leave the ring, you ain't going back in without a big purse, a worthy opponent and a deal with HBO. It takes someone pretty special to lure you out of retirement.
People try to fix me up. They tell me to give so-and-so a chance, I might like him, he might grow on me. They want me to stay in the ring, and I say, "No Mas."
On being a "quitter": Let's go back to the story of Duran and the "sweet science" of boxing, the bloody sport that lends itself so well to life metaphors.
Duran continued to fight, becoming one of only four boxers to hold four different world titles.
Some look back at that historic fight and see a man lacking in valor. Others, however, see a man who understood his own limits and valued himself over his image.
As one sports writer put it, Duran became "one of the most mystifying fighters ever simply by quitting ... we must regard that moment as exquisitely existential."
Prudence, caution and the ability to save oneself can be virtues, in dating as much as anything else.
If I don't see some serious razzle dazzle in a guy, I'll be satisfied to skip rope and shadow box for awhile.
What's Duran's take on "No Mas?"
"I wasn't feeling up to it," said the fighter in an interview. "I was like, you know what, there is always going to be a rematch. I gave him one; he'll give me one. So, the hell with it, let's just go ahead and end it here."