Your heart sinks. You have just realized this person is not for you and never will be. What is there left to say? Check, Please

February 12, 1999|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

Some first date. First he makes a joke of buying drinks at the bar for another woman who is drunk and, it appears, homeless. Then, as Bohager's sound system plays Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," he turns to his date and says: "Can I call you my brown eyed girl?"

Better yet, bonehead, call me a cab.

All right, his date, Margaret, a graphic designer from Baltimore, doesn't say that. She doesn't know what to say. At such moments, words may fail. Yet the gut speaks loudly. Two words: Check, please ...

Consider it the opposite of a magic moment. Think of it as a pin in the sort of romantic balloons that will be floating all over the place this Valentine's Day. Chances are the happy couples streaming into cozy restaurants, inns, heart-shaped bathtubs or whatever else this weekend are there because they have not previously shared a "check, please" moment.

It's the deal-breaker. It's the fissure suggesting an unbridgeable gulf. A moment ago this person presented visions of the potential romantic future; suddenly he's something lumbering around in your personal Jurassic Period. What can you say?

Waiter ... uh, check please ...

A stranger to such an experience is a blessed soul. Or perhaps someone who hasn't been out much.

This would not be Margaret, 35, who prefers to go by her first name only. Who could blame her? She's married now but Baltimore's a small town. She might again bump into Mr. Bohager's. Or the fellow with whom she had that first date at Obrycki's Crab House. The crabs were fine and the beer was flowing as was, it seemed, the conversation. Then it came time to talk about where to go after dinner.

"He said, `I just feel so dirty, so grimy, smelly.' He insisted on going home to take a shower before going anywhere else," Margaret says, recalling the date some seven years ago. She knew it was over. She knew her future could not include "someone who can't be dirty, who can't eat a crab and go on with life."

She didn't want to see him again. But wait: He never called. Could it be that the shower story was just his excuse to end the evening? Wait a minute, who's "check, please" moment was this?

It can be complicated. And it can be terribly -- no, make that hopelessly -- simple. Happy visions vanishing like smoke.

Caroline McKeldin, 32, a computer trainer and writer from Baltimore, describes a 10-year crush perishing with breathtaking speed. She first knew the guy distantly in college in 1986. He seemed funny, smart, attractive. Circumstances and timing always kept them apart, however, until they found themselves in a group of friends in Vermont for a ski weekend in 1996.

There were a few awkward points, but the defining moment did not occur until they drove back in her car. Somehow the conversation turned to anorexia. As McKeldin recalls, the fellow seemed agitated, quite earnest when he said: "I just don't get it with anorexics. Why don't they just eat?"

McKeldin, who has published two funny books, has a fine sense of humor. She knew he wasn't joking.

"I thought right there, `OK, you have the sensitivity of a rock,' " says McKeldin. "I was dumbstruck."

So much for the decade-long crush, the fragrance of possibility, the Valentine's Day celebrations yet to come. She had heard the smoke alarm of her soul.

Such judgments might seem rash, unfair. But, really, according to whom? At this stage, to whom are you accountable but yourself? What was it someone said about fairness in love and war? The "check, please" moment echoes the deep mysteries of attraction and compatibility.

Quick turn-offs

Carol Scott, who manages the Together Dating Service's three offices between Baltimore and Washington, talks with her staff and comes up with one "check, please" story after another.

One woman says she got enough information from one seafood dinner with a guy. Get this: She claims she wouldn't see him again because when he ate the shrimp, he failed to remove the shell or tail, just crunched the whole works. Another guy foreclosed the possibility of a second date by showing up for the first in shorts and Mickey Mouse socks, then spent the dinner talking about his collection of Mickey paraphernalia.

Give it more time, says Scott. At least a second date, for heaven's sake.

Gina Caruso, a 37-year-old editor from Baltimore, doesn't think so.

"When I was dating," says Caruso, who is now married, "one of the deciding factors was if someone was kind of stingy."

She recalls being asked out on a date by a colleague when she was teaching in New York. They went to a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn, a BYOB place. He took a bottle of wine. True, he was a tad arrogant, a bit taken with his own Ivy League credentials. That wasn't the bubble-popper, though. The "check, please" moment arrived, in this case, just after the check, as he argued how the bill should be split.

Says Caruso, "It almost felt accusatory: `I paid for the wine, you should pay for more of the meal.' "

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