Health & Wellness

The ‘he said, she said’ guide to dating rituals

After years on the dating scene, you're bound to have your fair share of “war stories.” Journalist Lori Gottlieb and “The Daily Show” writer Kevin Bleyer, authors of “I Love You, Nice to Meet You: A Guy and a Girl Give the Lowdown on Coupling Up,” offer both the male and female perspectives on dating rituals. Here's an excerpt:

Part OneThe Ball Is in Your CourtingThat Whole “One True Love” ThingIs your soul mate your sole mate?He Said ...My soul mate broke my f-ing heart.I met her, my supposed “one true love” — a few years ago. She was beautiful, and funny, and I just knew it: we were meant to be. Her name was Katrina. Actually, her name wasn’t Katrina, but I’ll call her that, because by the time our relationship was over, she had devastated me with such hurricane-force brutality my heart involuntarily evacuated my body. I was romantically MIA for years. Two years, to be exact.Frankly, sometimes I’m still nowhere to be found.But I’m getting ahead of myself. At the beginning, when the first winds of romance were just starting to blow, I was in love with her, and my soul was in love with her soul, and her soul and my soul and she and I double-dated while sailing off the coast of San Diego.We were, I thought, perfect for each other, and quickly we went from being too nervous to hold each other’s hand to being willing to pop the most disgusting pimple on each other’s forehead. Our love went from clammy to grotesque, as true love so often does.One beautiful Saturday morning, after setting our course offshore, we hung a hammock from the mast, and as we lay nestled within it, gently buffeted by the rolling Pacific, I had never felt closer to a woman in my life. Our bodies just ... fit. The way the bodies of soul mates should. Sure, it may have had more to do with the fact that her long legs made up the difference in our heights (once I even wore her leather pants for a Halloween party), but at the time I preferred to chalk it up to something greater than anatomy. Katrina and I simply ... clicked. Within months, we had already discussed marriage and children and who to invite to the wedding and where to live in retirement.Then, feeling flirty one morning, I snuck into her shower naked and began soaping her back. But instead of luxuriating in my touch, she screamed and punched my head into the shower caddy.Uh-oh, I thought. My soul mate wouldn’t do that. My soul mate wouldn’t respond to my caress with a roundhouse to my temple. Would she?Oh, she apologized for hurting me. And I apologized for surprising her. So after the stitches came out, I didn’t lose the faith. I still clung to the belief that Katrina was my soul mate. After all, there was the hammock, the leather pants, the apology.Then my soul mate embarrassed me in front of my boss. I had brought my soul mate to an office Christmas party and my soul mate told the guy who signs my paychecks that she didn’t think he, as the host of a television show, treated his female guests with respect. Uh-oh, I thought again. Soul mates don’t get you fired, do they? I hadn’t had a soul mate before, so I wasn’t entirely sure, but I suspected that my soul mate wouldn’t make me feel like an idiot and endanger my livelihood.Plus, my soul mate started making demands of me. “Call me at least once a day.” “Stop by the cleaners on your way over.” “Wipe your feet.” Soul mates aren’t pushy, are they?Then my soul mate broke up with me. Soul mates don’t break up with you, do they?Three weeks later, after we got back together (we were soul mates, after all), my soul mate asked me if it would be all right if she stayed registered with the dating service she had joined during our time apart. She had spent a lot of money on it, she pointed out, and it would be “a waste” to just stop showing up. “Plus,” my soul mate added, “it’s kind of interesting, you know, sociologically speaking.” My soul mate wouldn’t go out with other people, would she?I said no. Screw sociology.As the days wore on, sometimes my soul mate seemed like my soul mate, other times she seemed to not even like me that much. I feared that the part of my soul mate who was my soul mate was just one of her many personalities, a few of which flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Oh, I wanted it to work, but before I could convene a meeting of her personalities and find a way we could all get along, they apparently assembled without me, took a vote, and the majority ruled that the best plan of action was to break up with me. Again.“You aren’t the man I need you to be,” they said in unison.A year later, after my soul mate had become engaged and gotten married to someone else, moved to Dublin, gotten pregnant, and delivered twins, I started to lose hope. That’s not what soul mates do, I thought. They don’t run off, meet a new guy, and start a family within a year of breaking your heart, do they?“You really dodged a bullet with that one,” my friends told me a couple weeks later. I considered whether they had a point. Soul mates aren’t bullets to be dodged are they? At the very least, if Katrina was my one true soul mate, then my soul was a masochist.

It’s tempting to conclude that I was mistaken, and that Katrina wasn’t my soul mate after all. That when it comes to soul mates, either love is blind, or my soul needed Lasik. Yet, there’s no denying that I was deeply in love with her, so looking back, I’ve come to the (albeit convenient) conclusion that Katrina was, in fact, my soul mate, but that there would be others as well.1 Perhaps Katrina was simply my ideal soul mate when my soul mate needed to fall in love and have his heart broken — so that when the next soul mate comes along, my soul will know to prize her that much more. It may be delusional thinking, but it’s necessary for our sanity and therefore, just a little genius. After all, we hamstring ourselves when we believe we’ll only be happy with our perfect match, and conclude there’s no point in bothering with anyone who doesn’t measure up.2 At the beginning of any soul mate search, it’s important to realize that those perfect-match soul mates are like truffles: rare, hard to come by, and perhaps overrated. That the more we keep our mind open, be open to new soul mates, and bounce around the Whitman’s Sampler of love, the more likely we’ll find something that satisfies. Try as we might to guarantee we won’t be disappointed by what we find, there’s no way of knowing if it’s what we were hoping for until we take a bite.After all, I doubt when Alfred Stieglitz fell in love Georgia O’Keefe, he thought, “Gee, I’m really into southwestern artists with Irish names who paint vaginal flowers.”I doubt Mary Matalin thought, “I’m really into snake-headed Cajuns who disagree with me.”I doubt Soon-Yi thought, “I’m really into nebbishy curmudgeons twice my age who once dated my mom.”And yet, they’ve found their soul mate, their “one true love.” Or at least something that gets them one step closer to their one true love.Something like Katrina.She Said ...I know women who believe in a soul mate but not in God.Never mind that saying “I want to find my soul mate” is a bit like saying, “I want to find my fairy godmother.” If you’re older than ten, you know there’s no fairy godmother, no Santa Claus, and no such thing as age-defying cosmetics. But from our very first princess-finds-her-prince story, women — Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Buddhists alike — are brainwashed to believe that soul mates exist. God, we’re not so sure about. After all, if there were a God, wouldn’t He have sent us our soul mate by now?“There’s no evidence that God exists,” these women say.Well, where’s the evidence that soul mates exist? We see people get married, divorced, and married again (and again), each time to the “love of their life.” We see people who stay married to their so-called soul mates, but tell you with no prompting how much they despise every fiber of his or her being. We’ve spent most of our adult lives sleeping next to men we say are our soul mates but who can’t even begin to fathom our souls.And still, we’re looking in bars, on the Internet, at parties — we’re even scoping guys out at the office’s sexual harassment seminar — in hopes of finding our “one true love.” Meanwhile, we come up with all sorts of theories to explain why He (our soul mate, not God) hasn’t appeared yet.An interior designer friend was sure that she hadn’t met her soul mate because everyone in her field was female or gay.“My soul mate won’t know Herman Miller from Herman Munster,” she said, explaining that she “just knew” her soul mate — whom she had yet to meet — was a “guy’s guy.” At a particularly low point, she even considered changing careers (“I could do sports marketing”) right before meeting her current boyfriend, an architect, at a conference of, well, designers. Hallelujah, sister! I believe!Another friend was convinced that geography separated her and her soul mate. “Maybe I haven’t found him because I’m in the wrong city,” she said. She even turned down Yale Medical School for a less prestigious one because, she told me, “I don’t think my soul mate is in a tiny town in Connecticut.” Well, it turns out he’s not in New York either. And now she’s got her MD from a third-rate medical school instead of Yale. (Oddly, she started going back to temple.)The other day, I was flipping through my college alumni magazine and every person who announced their marriage wrote, “I finally found my soul mate!” After I finished gagging, I read their stories. Someone who met her husband online gushed, “It’s magical that we finally found each other!” Well, if it were so “magical,” why did they need to spend $24.99 a month on Match.com in order to hook up?Sadly, my soul mate wasn’t on Match.com. Oh, several guys claimed to be my soul mate. But apparently my soul mates aren’t very photogenic and can’t spell. In the real world, when I’m attracted to someone, there’s an intensity between us that can mean only one of two things: either we’ll become soul mates (except there’s no such thing — see above), or we’ll rip each other’s souls out (there is such a thing — see chapters 27-32).Other than that, it’s confusing. Once I thought a guy was my soul mate because we both ate the same brand of chocolate chip cookies — for breakfast. Instead, it just meant that we had terrible nutritional habits. Sometimes what you think is a spark really is a spark, but sometimes it’s just static electricity from your seamless bra rubbing up against your rayon tank top. Most times, it’s your unconscious zeroing in on the part of his unconscious that resembles the unconscious of the person who hurt you the most in your formative years. But instead of calling him “devil,” your unconscious calls him “soul mate.”

I used to have fantasies of meeting a male alter ego, but who could also fix the dishwasher. I thought my soul mate would be like me, until I remembered that half the time I hate myself. In fact, the whole point is to find someone better than me, someone who doesn’t succumb to jealousy, selfishness, or five-hour bouts of TiVo watching. So then I’d fall for guys not like me — the opposite of me — only to realize we had nothing in common. No wonder so many of us are single; we’re single-minded. In our minds, we’ve created such a specific portrait of The One that we don’t allow for the guy who falls outside of our mental map. But our “dream guy” isn’t out there precisely because we’ve dreamed him up. (Besides, I can’t help thinking that if soul mates really do exist in the cosmic sense, there’s sure to be divine retribution.)Which is why instead of waiting for The One, I’m just waiting for One. One guy I deeply connect with. In a twisted way, it would be a lot easier to believe that there’s a single soul mate out there and I can’t find him, than to believe that there are dozens of potential soul mates and I can’t even find one of them. I mean, what kind of loser am I, when the odds are that high? And yet ... I’ve let go of the sole soul mate idea.Dozens, on the other hand?Now that’s something I can believe in. Amen.1. There had better be. If you assume there’s only one soul mate out there, the odds a soul mate will be in the same city, let alone the same bar, at the same time you are ... well, it boggles the mind. Consider: A few years ago, in the middle of the ocean between Hawaii and Japan, an American submarine named the Ehime Maru surfaced under a Japanese fishing trawler. Nine Japanese fishermen died. The American captain was forced to apologize, since he apparently should have known it was a distinct possibility he’d come up underneath the Japanese vessel. I spent a full afternoon calculating the odds that a submarine the size of a submarine would happen to be in the same place at the same time as a fishing boat the size of a fishing boat in an ocean the size of an ocean. (I mean, have you seen the ocean? It’s like ... an ocean.) I came up with a number: 1 in 800,000,000. Point is: It wasn’t the captain’s fault. It was fate. It was a miserable, horrible once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. Like soul mates.2. We’re writing a particularly delectable recipe for self-defeat if we only date women who are our “type.” Some men, for example, only date blondes. Others date Latinas. Or blond Latinas. Or married women. Or married blond Latinas. Or long-legged Polynesians. Or short-haired Poles. Or big-breasted redheads. But regrettably, the more specific we get, the harder it is to convince ourselves we’re not at a dog show. (“And up next, a lovely bitch Norwegian. Look at her fine grooming!”)

Excerpted from “I Love You, Nice to Meet You: A Guy and a Girl Give the Lowdown on Coupling Up” by Lori Gottlieb and Kevin Bleyer. Copyright © 2006, Lori Gottlieb and Kevin Bleyer. All rights reserved. Published by St. Martin's Press. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher

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