Pam Houston has a list of men you should put in your rearview mirror, ASAP.
You meet in a city where neither of you lives, at a convention or a wedding. The calls and e-mails are making the phone lines sweat; two months later he's begging you to visit. You tell the woman next to you on the plane that after years of searching you think you've met The One, and the two of you giggle with anticipation all the way to baggage claim. Thirty minutes later, when the carousel stops going around, she looks at you with deep pity and asks if she can give you a ride somewhere. That's the moment to go straight back to the ticket counter.
At first, he'll get a little short with a waiter who flirts with you. Then he'll be exasperated by how long you and the postmaster discuss the rising price of stamps. When he points out that you and your brother hug too long to be appropriate, or that your gynecologist is a lesbian and obviously has the hots for you, it's time to give him his walking papers. However flattering his jealousies may seem in the first five minutes of your relationship, they'll get old and confining more quickly than you can imagine, and when you do finally break up with him, he will hang the scarves you left behind on your trees like nooses and follow you and the next man you date all over town.
This is the man who sits you down, grabs your arm, pulls your hair, or pokes your chest. While most of us know better than to let ourselves get socked in the mouth the way Ralph Kramden was always threatening to do to Alice (but even then never following through), there's a whole universe of more "minor" infractions in the violence department that should disqualify your new beau instantaneously (but all too often does not).
For the first time since you've been dating, he's too sick to make a date. You try to ignore the fact that it happens to be your birthday, and you assemble the ingredients for your famous chicken soup. You drop it off inside his door. Two days later, he's still sick, but you've been invited over. You ask if you can heat up some soup for him, and he says, in a small, congested voice, "That would be wonderful." You pour the soup from the Tupperware into the pot, and you see that there are mushrooms in it. Your famous chicken soup doesn't contain mushrooms. Conclude that this man has another source of soup and will continue to cheat on you for as long as you give him the chance.
The "Liberated" Man
I used to have a friend who said, "I seem to have a very liberating effect on whatever man I'm dating. We go on three dates, and the next thing I know he's moved in with me, he's quit his job, and his car is up on blocks in my yard." Certain men are more prone to this type of liberation than others, I have found: Carpenters, river guides, and flamenco guitarists all fall into the category of men who are perfectly willing to hand themselves over to the care of a good woman, as well as visual artists, stage performers, and racers (ski, bike, boat) of all kinds.
I seem to have dated an inordinate number of men who have just been left by a woman for a woman. In general, these men are angry beyond all reason, no matter to what lengths they may go to disguise it, and if you date one, be ready to give up all your girlfriends, or you will be accused of being a lesbian, too.
He doesn't like your dog? Do we even need to talk about this one? Put it at the top of the category that includes he won't make eye contact with your kid, he doesn't want to meet your sister, and he whines the first time you make plans with your girlfriend. A man threatened by the love you have for the dog you sleep with is going to be threatened by more things than you can name. Dating him is inviting the type of conflict into your life that will make you tired before you even get up in the morning.
Pay close attention to how he handles your accomplishments. If you get a promotion with a raise and he breaks it down to show you how it really only amounts to six dollars a day after taxes, that's the first strike. When he uses any expression like "your little project," count that as two. Just because men are having a hard time adjusting to the idea that women are capable breadwinners doesn't mean you have to martyr yourself into helping them make the transition. There are men out there who are more than happy to bask in the glow their women cast and to consider your talents a positive reflection on them.
The Virtual Lover
What a relief it is when a man doesn't try to force you into bed on the first date. How charmed you are when, on the third date, he says he wants to wait until "you both can't stand it anymore." How sympathetic you become when, on the sixth date, he tells you how badly he was hurt by your predecessor. How confused you are six months later when you've realized his pager goes off every time you get naked, but he's still sending you roses and talking teddy bears. A surprising number of great romancers out there never get around to having sex. To the date-weary woman, this can seem like not the worst combination, but beware. Eventually he will blame his problems on the smell of your breath or the size of your thighs.
The Guy Who Had the Happiest Childhood This Side of the Beav
His mother was perfect; his father never smoked or drank or cheated. He hates the way his friends blame their parents for everything, when he and his seven brothers and sisters had love pouring down on them from the moment they woke in the morning until they went to bed. However refreshing this might sound the first time you hear it, listen carefully for a voice that is trying to convince itself, listen for the creak and crack of a personal mythology in the throes of shattering. When it comes crashing to the ground, it's going to make a very big noise, and most likely your relationship will come crashing down with it.