I've been spending so much time and energy dating that it sometimes feels like an addiction. Or at least another career. If only it paid. And didn't involve so much time at Starbucks. And didn't require at the end of each meeting having to come up with a polite way to say, "It's perfectly okay with me if we never see each other again for the rest of our lives; in fact, I'd prefer it."
Which usually emerges from my careful-to-be-tactful mouth in this fashion: "Very nice meeting you."
In the first three years following my divorce, I went on 150 coffee dates. And by "coffee dates" I'm using the standard Merriam-Webster dictionary definition: "first-time meetings, usually ending in disappointment." And I'm an optimist, mind you.
Now, I realize that 150 coffee dates sounds like a lot, but spread out over three years, it's just one a week. Of course, depending on the person, 15 minutes with the wrong woman for the first time can seem like a whole week. But I learned something very important from those 150 coffee dates: If I'd saved all the money I spent on them, I could have afforded a Hyundai. (Granted, four of the dates resulted in relationships, but the other 146 of them only resulted in a thorough knowledge of the differences between lattes, frappucinos and caramel macchiatos.)
Sometimes I think this dating odyssey is God's way of getting back at me for never having taken chemistry in school. He's making it virtually impossible for me to find chemistry with my beshert. Is mutual worship and adoration too much to ask for? Of course not. You can ask for it all you want. Getting it is another story.
It's the same old story: Either they're not attracted to me or I'm not attracted to them. Sometimes they show up without a sense of humor, without a sense of playfulness, without even the realization that someone else is sitting across the table from them. One woman talked to me about herself for a full hour without asking me one question about myself. Astounding. But if I want self-absorbed, I'll date actresses exclusively.
I admit that I do like the variety. I've gone out with a judge, a cantor, a masseuse, a teacher, a network executive, a nurse, a college student, a speech therapist, a doctor, an actress, a psychologist, a lawyer, even a forest ranger. I've had a first date in an art museum that featured life-sized, naked, anatomically correct male and female mannequins.
At a recent brunch, a woman immediately removed a digital scale from her pocketbook and proceeded to weigh each item of food that was served. Another date took me to the Holocaust-themed film "The Pianist"; but my efforts to salvage the mood ("We Jews really have to stick together -- wanna come home with me?") came to no avail. At one Starbucks, I waited an extra half hour for my date to arrive, missing the fact that she was already seated a few tables away -- she looked so different from the photo that went with her profile that I could not believe she was the same person. Still to this day I am convinced she was my date's mother.
And even though I've done my share of rejecting, I've also experienced my share of being rejected. At first, I took it personally. Now I consider it part of the process. Often, women can't bring themselves to say, "Sorry, not interested" to my face, so they'll lie.
Once, I asked a date, "Can we go out again?"
She cheerfully responded, "Call me!" I never heard back from her. Now when I hear a cheerful "Call me!" I realize it's the kiss of death, not unlike that given by Michael Corleone in "The Godfather."
My favorite kiss-off, though, happened recently. When I brought up the subject of a third date, I actually heard these words come from her lips: "I'm going to be really busy in January." Wouldn't a quick slap across my face have made the point more directly?
So why do I put myself through all this pain, aggravation, expense and time over and over and over and over again? Am I masochistic? Or am I a serial dater so addicted to the process that I consciously or subconsciously never intend to settle down with one of them?
I don't think so.
I go through it all because I've experienced the thrill of a relationship when it works. In fact, I've been lucky enough to have had more than one relationship in which both people worship and adore one another. I think these kinds of relationships are rare -- at least for me. But when they do happen, it's special, exciting, stimulating, life-enhancing. It's magic. And I know she's out there somewhere, perhaps even looking for me.
All I ask is that at the end of our first date, she doesn't look me in the eyes, smile warmly, and cheerfully say, "Call me!" Â
Mark Miller is a former stand-up comic and current marketing manager at KCET. He's also a comedy writer, who has written and produced TV sitcoms, sold feature film comedies to Warner Bros. and been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and other publications.