Read an Excerpt
(Introduction to "Part Two: Are You Ready to Date?")
What Is Dating?
Dating means different things to different people.
To Darryl, a 28-year-old project manager from Seattle, it’s a way to “find the right person with whom I’m completely compatible and willing to commit my life.” For Kate, a 26-year-old single from San Francisco, it’s when “two people go out and the man pays.”
It’s a little more complicated for Eric, a 27-year-old teacher from the Midwest. “A date is a nebulous thing,” he said. “A date could be defined by the willingness of both members of the date to label the date a date. It could be a reconnaissance date, which is simply a matter of checking out whether this person is actually going to be a date, in which case the date is merely a preemptory event towards an actual date: it’s a ‘neo-date.’ There’s also the school of thought that says any scheduled appointment in which the situation is casual and not business-related is a date. I tend to go with the more direct belief that a date is a date if and only if it is labeled a date by one or both members of the date. Otherwise, it’s simply dinner or drinks with a friend.”
No wonder we’re all having problems we can’t even come up with a simple definition without tying ourselves into some kind of Gordian word knot.
But as convoluted as that is, it gets even more crazy when you consider the number of people who refuse to label dates dates. They don’t date, they “hang out” or “hook up.” To these people, dating seems to imply the presence of corsages, convertibles, possibly even the scariest C-word of all, commitment, even if you’re simply committing to the fact that you’re on a date. “I do my best to avoid dating,” writes Greg, a thirty-something bookseller from Seattle. “I prefer hanging out and getting to know women that way. I’m probably just engaging in semantics or deluding myself.”
Could be, Greg, but you’re certainly not alone.
Like a career criminal, dating has gone by a number of different aliases over the years spooning, sparking, courting, calling, bundling, fussing, stepping out, pitching woo, getting it on, and/or kicking it. And the code of conduct governing this odd and lovely ritual has been equally malleable. But no matter what you call it and no matter how you define it, most people would probably agree that dating is the process we all have to go through in order to get intimate with someone either in a romantic or a sexual sense.
“Dating? I guess I’d define dating as the four hours of foreplay before I have sex,” says Wendell, a massage therapist from Seattle.
Some people prefer their dates to have the life span of a May fly. Others are in it for the long haul - dating is just the first leg of that long journey to Marriageville (a gated community a few hundreds miles north of Margaritaville). But whether you’re looking for a Friday night hookup or a fabulous new husband, it’s nice to know that the person you’re looking at is prepared. And from all accounts, many of them are not.
Some are shell-shocked from a drive-by divorce. Others are seething with anger over a recent or not so recent relationship misdeed. Still others reek of desperation or White Diamonds or they simply just plain reek. Their manners are awful, their humor’s non-existent; they say they’re looking for long-term companionship but all they really want is a short-term poultice. Simply put, they’re just not ready to be out there.
So what are the things that you need to consider before you enter the exciting realm of dating? Read on.
TK-A SHORT GLOSSARY OF DATING TERMS SPOONING, SPARKING, BUNDLING, etc.
C H A P T E R O N E
Personal Hygiene Counts!
Body odors, bad breath, unkempt hair, and soiled clothes tend to drive people away.
Home Builders of Tomorrow, 1938
It seems obvious, but some people have a tendency to forget the little things in life that can mean so much to those around them, like, um, bathing. Once you’re coupled up and complacent, you might be able to get away with a skipped shower or that thatch of greasy hair, but if you’re planning on entering the high-stress world of competitive dating, you’d better learn fast that people will absolutely not love you for you. Especially if you smell a bit like old socks.
According to the Standard Textbook of Cosmetology (originally published in 1938 and completely revised in 1967), the seven basic requirements for good personal hygiene include cleanliness, posture, exercise, relaxation, adequate sleep, balanced diet and (my personal favorite) wholesome thoughts. While most of us do our best to exercise, eat right, stand up straight and sleep, it would appear that some of us could use a little improvement when it comes to one particular category. Let’s take a look at cleanliness.
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It is doubtful if there is anything more destructive to romance than soiled underwear or body odor.
Successful Marriage, 1947
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Way back in the Middle Ages, people in Europe thought bathing was dangerous, so they avoided water like the plague (an ironic turn of events, if there ever was one). As you can imagine, after a few months (not to mention years), everybody stunk to high heaven, until some comic genius came up with the clever idea of dowsing their stinky carcases in three gallons of perfume. Luckily for us, these members of the really rank-and-file are long gone, but it seems a few of their relatives are still around.
According to a recent survey done by the Emily Post Institute, the number two “fashion emergency” encountered at work involves a co-worker with either serious body odor or excessive perfume/after shave. Logic holds that at least some of these smelly sorts are single. And chances are, instead of going home at night and making with the soap and water, they’re out on the town, hoping to make a love connection, maybe even with you.
In other words, sometimes love stinks. Just ask Debbie, who wrote about this nasal nightmare on girlposse.com:
The Saga of Stinky
A guy friend of mine called me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in meeting someone who worked with him ... He gave this guy my phone number and after several phone conversations we made a date. He showed up at the door wearing a shirt that was about two sizes too small (he was a big man) and really dirty blue jeans. The worst thing was that he SMELLED really bad like he hadn’t showered in a month. He left his car at my apartment and I drove It was cold out, but because he smelled so bad I had to roll my window halfway down and blast the heat. When we got to the restaurant, all he talked about was himself, and the smell was getting to me. I must have checked my watch a dozen times before saying “Oh no, I forgot I have to meet a girlfriend” When we came back to my house he tried to kiss me and I pushed him away. He asked why and I said “I’m sorry, you don’t smell very clean” and ran inside. Thank God I never heard from him again.
If you think bad B.O. is strictly a guy thing, guess again. “I dated a woman years and years ago who thought that using baby powder was enough,” says John, a 51-year-old entrepreneur from Olympia, Washington. “She would shower, but we lived in Ft. Lauderdale, where it was really humid. I finally had to pull her aside and tell her the powder just wasn’t doing it. ‘This is Florida,’ I said. ‘Apparently nobody else has told you this before, but you really want to think about using some kind of deodorant or antiperspirant.’”
Granted, some people are far more sensitive to smells than others. A guy with really bad B.O. walked by a friend of mine at a Safeway store and when the wave hit her, she threw up, instantly, right in the middle of the kitty litter aisle. Other people are absolutely impervious to the rankest of odors, especially the ones emanating from them. If you happen to be dating one of these people like our friend Beatrix here then you’ve got a problem.
The Ballad of Butt Man
Not long ago, I got reacquainted with a guy I went to high school with. He was very funny a writer and we emailed back and forth, then I went and visited him (we lived in different cities) and we started dating. I really liked him, but I began to notice that every now and again, there would be a whiff of something that just wasn’t right. I kind of had an inkling of what it was, but wasn’t ready to admit it. I thought perhaps something just blew by in the air. One night we were sitting on his couch and he got up and it just hit me like a ton of bricks this smell. I actually leaned over and smelled the couch where he’d been sitting I had to know! And there it was in its most potent form: dirty butt smell. Unwashed ass stench. It was a huge turnoff, so I got out of there. And wiggled my way out of the relationship, too.
I could be wrong, but it seems in this day and age, there’s really no reason for anyone to go around smelling like a dirty butt or a dirty anything, when a good shower, a bit of deodorant or a few moist toilettes can take care of most problems in minutes. Bad feet, bad breath, bad B.O. or the aforementioned D.B. can be devastating to your professional, not to mention your social, life. In fact, a recent survey of singles up in Canada showed most people feel a smelly date was the biggest turn-off of all time.
So how do you guarantee that you’ll smell good? According to the Standard Textbook of Cosmetology, it’s pretty simple: keep the body fresh and dainty by having a daily shower or bath and by using an underarm deodorant.
Maybe you do shower every day, like clockwork. But then you scurry through an urban obstacle course in the morning, sweat through a bunch of high-stress meetings during the day, then play an hour or so of extreme gym afterwards. By the end of the day, you smell like one of our goaty friends from the 13th century, as that Internet date you’ve been winking at all week is soon to found out.
The bottom line (so to speak): if you’re going on a date after a long day, take the time to make yourself dainty all over again (with soap and water, not a spit bath and a few splashes of Eternity). Otherwise, take it from Debbie or John or Beatrix, you may just end up stinking up the joint not to mention your chances for getting lucky.
Body Cleanliness Checklist:
1. Do you take a bath or shower every day?
2. Do you use a deodorant?
3. Do you keep the armpits free of hair?
4. Are you free from body odor?
5. If perfume is used, is it fresh, faint, and not cheap?
Everyday Living for Girls, 1936
If you have trouble with the odor of perspiration from the feet, make it your business to get rid of it as quickly as possible. You offend greatly if you have this affliction. Extreme cleanliness of the feet, clean stockings daily and twice a day, if necessary with the use of deodorants, will usually remove the difficulty. If not, see a doctor, if you wish to keep your friends.
Sophie C. Hadida, Manners for Millions, 1950
Love your body and everyone else will too. A loved body is well-tended, clean, and healthy. Regular medical checkups and twice a year visits to the dentist vitamins and a balanced diet. Enough sleep the ability to relax all these are your allies. Use them.
The Cosmo Girl’s Guide to the New Etiquette, 1971
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No one but a sloven would neglect the daily arrangement of the hair.
Sophie C. Hadida, Manners for Millions, 1950
Hollywood has not been our friend here.
When gorgeous guys like Antonio Banderas show up for the Academy Awards, black curls dripping with grease, or the otherwise hygienic Juliette Lewis appears in some futuristic thriller with dirty black spaghetti affixed to her head, then normal people start to think they can get away without washing their hair, too. But trust me, folks, you can’t. Why? Because as painful as it is to admit, none of us are Antonio Banderas. Also, we are not living in a post-apocalyptic world. And even it if were a post-apocalyptic world, my guess is people would still try to keep their hair clean (provided they still had any), for the simple reason that people like clean hair. It’s pretty, it smells good, and it doesn’t make you gag when it gets caught in your mouth while you’re making out.
Also, clean hair doesn’t give you cooties.
“Unless the scalp and hair are cleansed regularly, the accumulation of oils and perspiration which mix with natural scales and dirt offers a breeding place for disease-producing bacteria,” the Standard Textbook of Cosmetology warns us. “Permitting this condition to exist can lead to scalp disorders.”
Not to mention lonely Saturday nights.
So, wash your hair, folks. Maybe not every day. Maybe not every other day. But at least more than this guy Molly from Minneapolis went out with.
The Story of Slick
When I was in high school, I dated a guy who lived about an hour away from me. He was a real hippie type. I saw him maybe once a month. One day he came over to my house and had a revelation. “What a coincidence,” he said. “I washed my hair today, and the last time I washed my hair was the last time I saw you!” It had been at least five weeks since I’d seen him. A rather fortunate coincidence.
How often should you shampoo?
“As often as necessary, depending on how quickly the scalp and hair become soiled,” our Cosmetology friends tell us. In other words, wash your hair when it’s dirty (that goes for you, too, Juliette!). And for those of you with dreads, wash it when your scalp is dirty. “A good rule of thumb,” says the author of Nice Dreads, “is to shampoo your hair when it feels dirty but before it becomes just plain nasty.”
What if you don’t have hair? Then wash whatever happens to be sitting on top of your head. And yes, I’m talking about that greasy old Cubs cap, dude.
Clean hair is sexy. Lots of hair is sexy, too. Skimpy little hair styles and hair under your arms, on your legs and around your nipples, isn’t.
Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl, 1962
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Your teeth can make or destroy your beauty.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 1960
Brush them, floss them, whiten them, straighten them. The important thing, at least according to our friend Andrew from Chicago, is that you actually have them.
The Tale of the Toothless Wonder
I made arrangements to meet [a woman] at a bookstore/coffee shop early on a weekend afternoon. I arrived at the appointed time and saw, from behind, a petite blonde. She turned, our eyes met, she smiled and ... she had no front teeth! No kidding, no front teeth! My advice to young ladies entering the dating pool: even before you buy a new computer, invest in TEETH!
Of course, teeth are just half of the all-important oral equation.
According to a survey conducted by Match.com, the one thing that matters most to singles going out on a hot date is fresh breath. Kate, a 26-year-old single from San Francisco would agree. “Bad breath is an absolute deal-breaker for me,” she said. “I was dating this sweetheart of a guy, but his breath was so awful, I had to get him to break up with me.”
So how do you achieve fresh breath? By practicing good oral hygiene. According to the American Dental Association, that means 1) brush your teeth twice a day, 2) floss daily, 3) eat a balanced diet and cut back on the snickersnacks (please note: snickersnacks is not an official ADA phrase) and 4) go in for check-ups on a regular basis.
What if your teeth are stunning but your breath still smells like old potatoes? In the short term, you might want to invest in a bunch of those little pocket pack thingees. In the long term, figure out what’s causing the problem. The ADA suggests you follow the oral hygiene steps listed above, and also to try brushing your tongue. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, then go to your dentist or perhaps your doctor for additional help.
If nothing helps, then keep your mouth shut and instead of foul breath, you’ll exude an aura of mystery.
Bad breath is called “halitosis.” Halitosis cannot be corrected by eating cardamom seeds, peppermint, coffee beans, violet candies. It can be corrected only through thorough cleansing of the nose and the throat, careful brushing of the teeth and the tongue, keeping the teeth in good condition and the bowels active. If odor still persists, consult a doctor.
Sophie C. Hadida, Manners for Millions, 1950
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A sweet body, fragrant from cleanliness and clean underwear, topped with fresh outside garments, makes you, man or woman, attractive to all with whom you come in contact.
Sophie C. Hadida, Manners for Millions, 1950
The Rest of You
There’s something to be said for style. And there’s something else entirely to be said for squalor: it’s pretty gross. If you’re thinking about entering the dating scene, make sure your house is in order in a metaphorical and a literal sense.
Wearing clothes from the bottom of the laundry hamper is not acceptable, no matter how much you’d like to convince yourself that wrinkling and stains are part of the natural beauty of the fabric. Nor is skipping off to meet someone with food encrusted on the front of your skirt, your pants, or your best Ralph Lauren sweatshirt. Just ask Renate, a 33-year-old marketing professional from Santa Fe:
The Case of the Crusty Clothes
I decided to try Match.com because my friends were having such fantastic luck with the online dating scene. I posted my profile, scrolled through the available men and found this one guy. His photo was a little blurry but his profile was great; he was witty and sensitive, he talked about art, Hitchcock movies, books, exotic food and wines. He seems great! I “winked” at him and he wrote me back. After a bit of correspondence, we agreed to meet. On the night of our date, I showed up at the bar about seven minutes late (to be fashionable), looked around and didn’t see anyone. Then I realized he was right in front of me. At the end of the bar was this guy waving at me. I went over and he was dressed in a gray sweatsuit. And there was dried food dribbled all the way down the front of his shirt. Things sort of went downhill after that.
Show respect to yourself and the people you’re around by wearing clean presentable clothes, especially if you’re about to hit the dating scene. And that goes double if you’re going dancing. “I can take the smell of sweat, but the smell of old sweat is just foul,” said Debra, a single from Seattle. “I don’t know what it is about polypropylene, but it really stinks if you don’t wash it. And whenever I go out dancing, there’s always some polypro guy who hasn’t learned yet that you have to wash your clothes.”
The same goes for your car. If you’re going to be sharing your vehicle with anyone particularly a potential lover take a moment to clean up all the beer cans, hamburger wrappers, dirty laundry and parking tickets before you leave home (trust me, your date will notice if you don’t). Ditto for cleaning up the dog hair (and even more importantly, the dog poop). Take it from Ruth, a 33-year-old writer from Omaha:
The Guy in the Gross-Mobile
I was interested in this guy and when he finally called me for a date, I was very excited to go out with him. I spent hours getting ready I probably tried on 19 different outfits and at the appointed hour, he finally pulls up. I ran out to the car, opened the passenger door and just stared. It was full of crap. Coat hangers, old bills, pop cans, sawdust, you name it. It pretty much looked like he lived in his car. He sort of shrugged and made some kind of helpless gesture not even close to an apology. I tried to be gracious and helped him throw all the crap into the back seat, which was also full of all kinds of junk, but his nonchalance and his total inconsiderate attitude just stuck with me. Needless to say, the love affair did not work out.
As for your house, if the dirty dishes have been stacking up since the Reagan administration and your sheets wave goodbye to you when you leave in the morning, you probably don’t want to invite anyone in just yet. Unless, of course, it’s the maid.
It’s pretty basic. If your feet can melt socks and your breath can blister paint, if your kitchen’s full of cockroaches and your living room’s covered with greasy engine parts, if the odor wafting from your car or armpits could make the Statue of Liberty duck and cover, then you are not ready to date.
It’s a jungle out there, folks, a hotbed of cutthroat competition. Like it or not, people are jaded and cynical and looking to reject you as quickly and effortlessly as they possibly can. One false step and you’ll be voted off the dating island it’s as simple as that. So don’t give them any extra ammunition. Clean yourselves up, take out your recycling, do your laundry, and floss every day. It’s a great first step toward getting yourself ready to date. But it’s not the only one you’ll need to take.