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December 12, 2006

When dating, one must make a list and check it twice. Like Santa. Or a parole officer.

All good endeavors in life require a list, so dating is no different. And while it's important to note that dating is an often hard, horribly embarrassing and awkward thing it also has its good moments.

The first real date I had after Mr. X was fabulous. I don't mean the Tall Guy, who flirted with me and later intimated I was too fat to be a contender in his ultra-hip LA lifestyle. Or the Jamaican cricket player who still lived at home with the parents and played X-box all day and said, "Wanna kick it sometime?" I mean the first, real bonafide date. It happened in March, right after I got back from vacation. We didn't work out as a couple in the end, but Lord that first few weeks was exhilirating, like skydiving in your cute panties and you feel pretty all the time and want more, more, more.

He picked me up that first night and we went to the restaurant and as we were about to walk through the door, he put his hand on the small of my back and lightly ushered me through first. I felt like I had suddenly gotten an infusion of Diet Coke times ten, warm and electric at the same time. Or when he kissed me, the very first time, and all the sudden I realized how good a man could smell and feel all at once. It was like being alive again, the kind of alive where you're pretty sure you're feeling each nerve ending wake up from hibernation, and my don't you look GOOD today!

So it isn't all bad. You just need a list.

Like, for example, a list of what you will and will not put up with. How you want to be treated. What you need and want from a person. What you are willing to give. (Also, a questionnaire for prospective dates is not a bad idea as I have recently learned. Maybe with character references and legal history.) A date gone wrong can make you want to sit in a corner and eat your own head. A date gone right can make you feel skinnier and giddy and rather full of yourself.

The key is to know you deserve the superdates, the ones that make you feel fabulous. I guess if I'm honest I've just been experimenting, trying to figure it out as I go, not sure exactly how much I can demand from a man or from anyone really. What is it we are worth? What can we reasonably expect from people? What do we deserve?

I suspect a lot of people wonder this. Where do I set the bar, not too high so as to exclude good men, but not too low so as to find me sitting in a corner exasperated and contemplating eating my own head on a Saturday night?

When I was fourteen and awkward and in love with my hair, I got a new curling iron with my allowance. After school one day I made my mom sit on the closed toilet seat (blue carpet fuzzy cover, I remember that one for sure) while I curled her hair just so, trying out my new implement of beauty.

She was patient, even though I am sure I was not the most delicate of hair stylists. Around 5 p.m. she heard the downstairs garage door open, and got antsy real quicklike.

"Hurry, finish up!" she said.

"But I'm not DONE YET," I said. Beauty was an art, you know.

"Your dad is home, I want to see him when he walks in," she said.

It was a mystery to me. Who cared? Dad got home every day. I only got a new curling iron once a milennium.

But I saw her squirming, ready to bolt from my bathroom beauty salon, and I realized then -- at fourteen years old -- she was so slap happy to see my dad she was about to keel over. I didn't know it at the moment, but this would become exactly my yardstick one day for who I would let into my life.

Because I want that! I want to feel squirmy and happy and just pleased to see the look of a person. I don't need another marriage, another promise, another ring. I just need a real warmth, some good laughing, and loving, someone who can adore me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed. And hopefully he likes cats.

It's a good thing to make a list, figure out what you want and know what you are worth. Dating is hard, and sometimes it's boring, or awful, or slow. Sometimes it gives you a story to tell, and not all these stories are of the heartwarming variety. I once had a man literally stand up and FLEE THE SCENE OF THE DATE when he discovered I was an "incompatible sun sign." (Also, on an unrelated note, California is crazy.) It can be hard to meet people. It may feel easier to settle than to keep on keeping on. Whether that is settling for being alone or just settling for less, or more of the same, it's all driven out of fear. And trust me, I KNOW FEAR.

Each of us deserves kindness, honesty, something fun and warm and happy that makes us feel alive down to our very toes. Maybe you put yourself out there and it doesn't work out, like the first man I dated after Mr X. But I will always have that one nice memory of a good evening, one lovely kiss. It's a starting place. I'm trying to figure out what I am good enough for, what I will accept, what I want, what I see for the picture of my new life. Dating is just a tiny piece of it. Frankly I feel kind of victorious for even going out on a date at all! And so I will make a list, because a list feels like progress, and I don't have a handbook anyway.

We all deserve a little slice of happy. Even those of us who sometimes want to give up, or complain a lot, or eat their own head out of exhaustion. And it's not all bad. Sometimes you have a hand on the small of your back or a really good kiss or a warm evening when you think maybe, just maybe, I can really do this. Maybe.

Posted by laurie at December 12, 2006 9:25 AM