Oh, sure, it started promisingly enough. Rhonda and I had each seen the other's photo and profile on a singles Web site, granted one another profile approval and were now talking on the phone for the first time.
Things were going pleasantly until Rhonda suggested that I choose a place for us to meet. I suggested a coffeehouse with outdoor tables at The Grove. She reacted unimpressed. I then mentioned a charming little place on Melrose Avenue with a Japanese tea garden in the back. She yawned. Finally, I offered a second Melrose locale -- a quaint French cafe with outdoor porch seating and fabulous homemade desserts. The silence was deafening.
"Problem?" I inquired.
"Those places just aren't very romantic," she informed me.
Not very romantic? I was stunned. Did I miss something here? Is it our anniversary? It's our first meeting, for crying out loud! We don't even know if we have any in-person chemistry. I told Rhonda that, to me, any "romance" occurs as a function of the chemistry between the two people. And that chemistry happens (or doesn't) whether the people are meeting at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Ritz in Paris, or at Taco Bell in Pacoima. She mumbled an unconvinced, "I guess so," told me she was on her cell phone in the car, about to park in her garage and would call me back as soon as she got in the house. I never heard back from her.
I briefly envisioned how I might have salvaged this particular relationship. A romantic gondola ride in the Venice canals, with me feeding her grapes while comparing the texture of her skin to velvet? But if it turned out there was no or very little chemistry, as is often the case, we'd merely be two people in a romantic setting, eager for the date to end. I just didn't get it. What was she thinking?
And then it occurred to me that this whole episode with Rhonda had been a gift to me from Cupid. You see, sometimes Cupid allows weeks, months, even years to go by before your romantic partner reveals his or her dark side. The longer it takes for the reveal, the harder and more painful its effects on you when it all comes crashing down.
Other times, as with Rhonda, Cupid is kinder and allows the red flags to reveal themselves right from the start. So you're privy to your partner's deepest dysfunctions early on, in the harsh morning light of her true self. Her high-maintenance, humorless, judgmental, controlling, quick-tempered, dull, deceitful, insecure aspects rear their ugly heads. And at that point, you can decide if all her other wonderful qualities make up for this -- or if you would be far better off heading for the hills.
What fascinates me about all this is that these red flags are revealed despite their owner's intentions of putting a best foot forward during those first few all-important, making-a-good-impression encounters. Sometimes, thankfully, their true colors can't help but slip through as merciful little advance relationship warnings ("The Crazies are coming! The Crazies are coming!") thereby saving you all that time, money, effort and emotional involvement (and subsequent hurt) for however long you might have become involved with them before the bad stuff surfaced.
Therefore, I thank you, Rhonda. You did me a favor, and I wish you nothing but the best. I sincerely hope you meet that guy who will be able to suggest a first-date locale sufficiently romantic for your deepest needs and desires. All I ask is that once you're seated with him at that charming seaside bistro on the French Riviera, with doves circling gently overhead and a strolling violinist playing "La Vie en Rose," you'll think of me kindly and wish me luck in my attempt to drum up a modicum of romance in some desolate Starbucks in Culver City.
Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV, movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.