With respect to, but no respect for, your Dating Handbook.

Omigod. You present these as the 30 best lines currently in use on America's highways. If they were, gentlemen, we must needs fear for the fate of the Republic. I could confidently predict that within seven years we would see a precipitous decline in the level of national intelligence, as measured on every possible scale. Women who responded to such lines, mating with men who said them, must produce a generation of humorless, small-bore dullards, fit only for law school and, perhaps, high public office.

However. The fact is, as you well know, that these are 30 stalking-horses. A man who understands the route to a woman's heart (I speak from the male perspective; reverse the genders if you choose) does not provide rivals with a map of that route. He offers instead directions to the nearest dead end or the nearest cliff, hoping thereby to delay or permanently remove his rivals. And a woman (again, reverse the genders if you choose) will not be impressed at the arrival on her doorstep of a man who has simply followed a route she laid out for him; she will drop false clues to divert the unworthy--and, no doubt, to amuse herself as well.

This is not to brand you as charlatans. I am confident you wanted only to entertain a trusting public, people who, absent Car Talk and the U.S. Congress, have nothing to laugh at. You do not wish to lead astray those young minds and bodies still trying to fit designer jeans, pheromones, the birds and the bees, chocolate, contraceptives, large red convertibles and popular music into a single unified theory of love.

It will be enough if you attach a Matchmaker-General's warning to the handbook, noting that attention to the contents may lead to a dead end, or to a cliff, or to an endless maze. To the sweet disappointed laughter of one's beloved or the bitter, mocking laughter of one's rival. Or, in rare, unpredictable cases, to the altar.

Phil Sheehan


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