3 min

The art of the deal

… and of the deal-breaker

Credit: Capital Xtra files

A little while ago, a friend asked me to write a column about lesbian etiquette.

“There’s this girl that keeps calling me and leaving messages. She’s called three times. It’s really starting to bug me,” she said. “Someone should tell people not to call unless you get a call back.”

I puzzled over this for some time, wondering if lesbian etiquette is an oxymoron, or whether it simply needs to be pluralized.

Because it occurred to me that I’ve been that girl on the phone. I’ve called, and more than three times. There are people out there who have sincerely liked me in a potentially romantic kind of way, and something about me soured that interest. Something I remain blissfully unaware of to this day.

I don’t think I really want anyone to tell me what it was. We all have bad days.

I’ve been on the other side of that bad day too: I’ve had a surreal “lady and the tramp” date with someone who ascribed to a disturbing open mouth policy. There was the sexy one night stand who needed to be returned to a halfway house at the crack of dawn. Back in the bad old days, I had a date that went awry with a guy whose stiff whiskers left welts on my cheek from the slightest contact – even a fresh-shaved hug. I have no clue about etiquette, without a dictionary I couldn’t even spell it. But I know a thing or two about the deal-breaker.

Sadly, this kind of thing appears to be a universal experience.

Everybody I asked had their own example of an inadvertent quirk that became the end of a burgeoning infatuation. One woman’s tale of woe illustrates the most common deal-breaker: too much, too fast.

“There was this girl who was really cute, but on the first date she started crying. We were in a cab, and until the tears started she was coming to my place. As it turned out, I didn’t invite her in.”

Then there was the date that never was, derailed because the prospect in question had a penchant for matching her ball caps to her t-shirts. “I was ok when she wore the outfit to the game, but when she showed up at the bar later in a different matching cap/shirt combination, it was all over for me.”

People offer these stories in an apologetic tone, as if to say, “I know it’s a little shallow, but that’s how it was. I just couldn’t do it.” But is it shallow?

I mean, really, when you think about it, selecting who we mate with preoccupies just about every mammal for the lion’s share of our life cycle. Might there be a scientific explanation for the deal-breaker?

There is an ongoing argument in evolutionist circles about how much relevance natural selection has on today’s human. We have unprecedented control over our reproductive cycles, the power to induce conception through genetic midwifery and longer, healthier life spans. We are not slaves to biology; many of us don’t even spawn.

Nonetheless we are all still a part of the genetic swap meet that is the evolution of the species. Perhaps the deal-breaker serves a function in this barter system that is every bit as important as waist-to-hip ratio or the quality of one’s plumage.

Clearly we are not choosing our mates on the basis of breeding characteristics alone. The deal-breaker is natural selection by negative example. In the case of the human animal, the mates we don’t choose might tell us more about how evolution works on the species than the ones we do.

At least this model doesn’t reduce us all to mindless breeding automata, driven by the whims of our biology. We can choose, and we do.

We don’t have a second date with the guy who played the same N ‘Sync album three times in a row, even though he’s totally buff. We don’t return the call from the woman who spits when she talks, even though she’s wonderfully nurturing. Just because someone has a table at the swap meet doesn’t mean we have to trade.

Here’s a sobering thought if you entertain any lingering guilt about listening to your gut when it comes to matters of the heart. If you couldn’t get over that hottie’s toxically messy apartment, or silly laugh, or mullet-ish do, or cell phone habit or taste in sandwiches, be thankful. Just imagine how much it would bug you now if you were still dating.

Love is a funny thing: it can enrich our lives in ways we can’t foresee, or it can make our lives seem much smaller than they were before love walked in. The art of the deal is in the choosing. Choose carefully.