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Three Men and Their Baby: A Book on Dating

February 21, 1996|STEPHANIE SHAPIRO | THE BALTIMORE SUN

Three guys in construction, in their early 30s. One's married, the others are "in search of." It's a jungle out there. They seek shelter in a Sunday night support group.

Jon Riggle, Mike Breschi and Joe Preller realize they have 45 years of dating experience among them. They debate. They scour their souls. They rethink those wild and crazy college years. It's time to grow up, they realize. They cultivate honorable, sobering, safe-sex thoughts.

They take notes. Three years later, a self-published book is born: "Dating with Success: Proven Methods and Practical Suggestions."

Not what you'd expect from three guys in construction.

"Imagine," the book begins, "what it would be like to be going out on a date this Friday evening feeling confident, secure, relaxed and enthusiastic. To actually be looking forward to a successful dating experience, no matter who the prospective date might be, because you would have the knowledge, the awareness, the attitude and the ability to make this date and all future dates, positive, fun and rewarding."

Here they are, at the dining room table in Riggle's Art Deco home in North Baltimore where he, Breschi and Preller wrote the book.

They proffer grapes, strawberries, orange slices, pastries, coffee. A vase of flowers on the kitchen counter. A lace tablecloth. So what if it's plastic lace? These guys try hard.

They're handsome, too. And sincere.

And if you stop to think about it, you'd realize they've filled an enormous social vacuum. After all, who ever told anyone how to date?

Like the birds and the bees, dating is one of those infuriating topics that causes parents to fumble and punt, two verbs that should never be affixed to dating.

Courtship was once a tightly controlled, ritualistic affair, but then came the sexual revolution, feminism, a libertine popular culture and thorny issues like date rape. Nobody rewrote the guidelines accordingly. How do you say good night? Who should pay? Where to date? When to get physical?

That leaves the 72 million single people in the United States with sweaty palms.

"When you grow up in a family, very seldom are the rules around dating discussed," says Preller, 35, a general contractor. "Somehow, [you're supposed to] know what to do to have a healthy dating relationship."

Ignorance, the men learned, is misery.

"Most people didn't like dating," Preller says. "It was a drag. Everything was very negative. I wanted to go out and have fun with it (but not be) locked in. I wanted to have fun, date and not hurt anybody else. To do it in a healthy way."

At the dining room table, a solution emerged: To be clear and honest about one's intentions without dissing the date.

It was a revelation. Ordinarily, "I would tell a date I would call her when I really didn't have any intention of calling her," says Preller. "I didn't imagine the negative consequences."

The ad hoc support group improved his resolve to be straightforward. Finally, Preller made it through a date without any promises he knew he wouldn't keep. Jubilant, he couldn't wait to call Riggle with the good news: "I finally didn't do it!"

It was one of those "Yes!" moments that carried the men through countless rewrites and heated debates.

Few people learn "how to communicate what they want and how they feel in a way that respects others," Riggle says. Take Riggle, for instance. The masonry contractor lives with unpleasant memories of dates past, memories that don't exactly make him Mr. Nice Guy. It "took age, maturity, and a willingness to want to do this," Riggle says of his revamped dating philosophy.

While toiling at the dining room table on those Sunday nights, Riggle didn't tell Dena Raitzyk, his steady girlfriend, about the book. He knew that after the news was out, their relationship would never be the same. "Once you put this stuff down here, you gotta live by it," he says.

In truth, Riggle was following his own advice well before the book was published. His first date with Raitzyk did not end in a kiss. And since she really liked him, Raitzyk was concerned enough to call another friend and ask, "Do you think he liked me?"

Riggle, of course, was being polite, and after several more dates, he asked permission to kiss Raitzyk. "I did like it that he didn't push me, that he took his time," she says.

When Raitzyk was in a dating mode before meeting Riggle, she could have used a book like "Dating for Success," she says. It "would have reassured me about trusting myself."

The book is not an anti-machismo treatise. It is designed for men and women, straight and gay, the authors say. "The principles are so general, they could apply to any relationship," says Breschi, who is married with four kids.

A former candidate for the Jesuits, Breschi added a spiritual dimension to "Dating." Careful readers will find a retort to the credo promoted by "Friends," "Seinfeld" and other media fairy tales that "freedom is having everything open to you," he says.

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