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The serial dating game

It may feel like a treadmill, but maybe you'll end up somewhere.

October 19, 2006|Leslie Billera | Special to The Times

I stared in dry disbelief at an e-mail I got the other day. Although my profile isn't currently "live," the administrative cyber-cupids still wanted me to know that yours truly has been viewed 11,552 times.

Scan and delete. Scan and delete. Scan ... linger ... Maybe? Nah. Delete.

How odd to think that thousands of men have repeated this ritual while peering at my photo and glimpsing through my profile ("Down-to-earth and dynamic single woman seeks best friend and future life compatriot!"). Who knew that someday I'd have my very own click-through rate?

When I lived in Manhattan, I dated online through my mother's almost three-year battle with lung cancer. Oddly, it was a plum distraction. I didn't have to bother telling perfect strangers about the scratches, pricks and prods of cancer's daily catfight. If it did slip out, I learned the following: Cancer is to aphrodisiac as hair is to food.

Time passed -- as did my mother. And the dates continued. But the urgency died.

Serial dating became my new norm. With the same frequency I demanded coffee light and sweet, I heard myself saying "I'm going on a date" to anyone who inquired about the evening's plans.

The guy who was a master Lego builder. The guy who drank Grand Marnier through dinner. The guy who told me in the first five minutes of our date that his stay-at-home ex-wife cheated on him with a stay-at-home dad. And, when I moved to L.A., the guy who rented a $700 studio but drove a Mercedes-Benz.

So when Paul came into the picture and we began doing the things I hadn't done in more than five years -- sleepovers, cozy at-home dinners, girl-on-guy outfit consultation, I was in a bit of shock.

We fit nicely together, if not mentally then physically. My head rested on his chest with perfect ergonomic ease. His knee curved gently into the back of mine. He said we were like puzzle pieces, and, for three months, I nested in our comfort zone. But since our conversations remained stilted and our bedroom banter didn't translate beyond the boudoir, a red flag began its slow and steady ascent over our three-month-long relationship.

I was frustrated. Had frequent dating become such an indelible, irreversible part of my life that I couldn't appreciate the nuances of one-on-one? Had I become some dating gerbil, furiously glossing and primping in a spinning, perfumed mist without knowing how to get off the track?

THE endless dating, I reasoned, sandbagged my reality. I'd had my secret little fantasies, unrevealed even to my closest friends.

I'd imagined that the cool dive where I met arbitrary date No. 23 would go down in history as the place we fell in love. That, one day, arbitrary date No. 35 and I would read New Yorker snippets to each other on the beach. Or that arbitrary date No. 49 and I would host a memorable annual New Year's Eve dinner. Of course, the arbitrary dates who called were never the ones I wanted to.

When I explained this theory to a friend, she replied flatly, "Don't over-analyze it," followed by the classic relationship wrap-up: "He's just not the one."

Of course, Paul wasn't the one. Why should he be? What mere mortal could ever match the mythical Oz-like figure that lives at the end of my overwrought, over-thought dating road?

The fading optimist in me whispers, Dust off the treadmill and get back on -- no pain, no gain. After all, I have a date Friday night.

weekend@latimes.com

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