‘You Never Know’? Single N.Y.’ers Say, ‘We Do!’

Since many of you have been out of the dating loop for some time, I thought it might be fun to do a little role-playing. First I’d like you to imagine, for the sake of this exercise, that you are a single woman in your 30′s who, although you have a demanding and rewarding career that you have worked hard to achieve, are often told, “You really need to make meeting someone your full-time job.”

Now picture your phone ringing.

“Hello,” you say innocently.

On the other end, you hear: “Hello, I’m your cousin’s husband’s mother’s doctor,” or “I do accounting for the man who used to sell handbags in your father’s showroom, but he doesn’t know me very well.”

Wanting to be a good sport, you talk to the person for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Listening as they say such things as, “All I know about you is that you’ve got all your limbs and you’re not deformed,” or “You wear a heart monitor to work out? Let me ask you a question: Do you ever wear your heart monitor when you’re having sex?”

You agree to meet this person at a bar or restaurant. Don’t forget, you will be entirely alone for the next 45 minutes to three-plus hours. No spouse, no kids, no friends. You are on your own, like sitting next to a complete stranger on a long plane ride, except at the end of the flight, instead of escaping to someplace sunny and exotic, you’re just going home. You smile politely as they say, “You didn’t know pornos were available on DVD? Where have you been? I have hundreds,” or “My last girlfriend and I broke up less than a month ago. She said if she finds me with anyone, she’ll kill me. And you.”

You eat your salad quickly.

Now imagine having people tell you the next day, “You should go out with him again. How can you tell anything after one date? You never know. “

Because I get told ” You never know ” so often, I’ve decided to tell these well-meaning people–the same ones who claim to know countless couples who hated each other on the first date before falling madly in love, although they can never name even one–just exactly how you do know .

First, let’s start with the logic frequently used in fixing up single people: the “he’s single, you’re single, you never know ” approach. This is when being single feels an awful lot like being in a bad science-fiction film, the kind where people in hooded polyester body suits mill about in a dreary moon colony, stripped of any specificity and identity and mated with each other as “Woman X5419, meet Man G6453. Proceed.” Going back to the role-playing for a moment, imagine if someone said, vis-à-vis a possible friendship, “You’re married, they’re married, you’ll have lots in common!” Sounds a little random, doesn’t it? Which may explain why we proceed cautiously.

The next step is the phone call. For some, the answer is to keep it brief. “My No. 1 rule is, never talk on the phone with someone you haven’t dated before or seen,” said a lawyer friend. “I’ve got a friend who talks so much before a date, by the time he goes out with her, she’s his best friend. Then when they meet and he’s not into her, he has to break up with his new best friend.”

An investment banker who spends his free time writing rhyming verse had a different approach. “I usually talk to them so much on the phone, it’s really like a first date. So the first date is really the second date, and you know after the second date.” I asked a woman who said she feels like she has “nosebleed seats to her own life” if she’d ever known simply from the phone that someone wasn’t for her. “Once,” she said. “When this guy started describing his colon exam in detail.”

I wanted to know if people thought it was fair to reject someone because of bad phone conversations. “If you really don’t like someone on the phone, don’t go out with them,” said a woman who’s been on over 50 blind dates. “People shouldn’t go on dates against their will. This isn’t the Taliban of dating.”

As for the actual dates, I am often asked how I can tell anything when a first date is just a “first impression.” “‘First impression’ implies a couple of minutes,” a male music teacher said. “After a whole evening, you know what’s up. You have her undivided attention for three hours. You can know from one date.” The woman with nosebleed seats said that on first dates, “I feel like a circus seal performing. But when you’re not attracted to them, that’s when you really have to perform.” “The physical is undeniable,” said the lawyer. “I feel shallow saying that, but if the physical is zero there’s no chance.”

Physical attraction might seem obvious, but you can’t imagine how often I get asked how I can be so sure I’m not attracted to someone after just one date. This is usually followed by the words “You’re too picky”–although the same people who tell me I’m too picky are the ones who say I’m not picky enough.

“I don’t get the ‘You’re just too picky’ line of thought,” said a feisty brunette. “I think it’s actually a hostile statement. They really mean ‘Just find someone already like I have and shut up, so I don’t have to deal with this anymore.’”

One of my best friends told me recently that “my father said it’s not the men you don’t pick I’m worried about, it’s the ones you do pick.” As she spoke, she proceeded to eat a loaf of bread with butter. “People relay their fears onto you. It’s like they’re saying, ‘When you were 25 we wouldn’t have said you were too picky, but now we’re getting scared and you should be, too–so start settling.’”

The rhyming banker said, “What does ‘too picky’ mean? You’re too picky in who you want to spend the rest of your life with?” He said that he often felt like his married friends were trying to educate him in the realities of love. “They try to tell us we’re unrealistic and too romantic,” he said. “But we understand we won’t get everything. We know what we can live with.”

I’ve always suspected that when people say “You never know,” they’re really saying, “You never know, you , because if you had better judgment, you’d be married like me.” For all the people who have to respond to the “how do you know?” question as often as I do, I think it’s important to point out that people who allow themselves to be fixed up actually want to meet someone, and are therefore the ones most likely to give the process the fairest shot every step of the way. One could also reasonably make the point that if you go out with someone twice, why not go out 50 times? Take a road trip to the Berkshires, even. You might deeply hate the person by then, but at least you’ll get to see Tanglewood. Also, if you’re asking how we know if we like another person, why not go for broke and ask how we know if we like anything. “How do you know that you like Irving Penn’s photographs? Gramercy Tavern? That you’re not on fire right now? How do you know anything at all, really?”

Have I made my point?