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Racing the clock before all blows up

Special to The Times

DATING in Los Angeles in the Information Age reminds me of that cliched scene in the spy movie when our skilled hero is attempting to disassemble a ticking bomb. In this case, the countdown is not to literal demise but to being dumped or eliminated. Tiny beads of sweat well up on your forehead and your body shakes as you ever so gently attempt to get it just right. You’re acutely aware that one false move could be fatal. Just as you think you’ve got it, you trip the wrong wire, so to speak, and “kaboom,” it’s all over.

Similarly, those on the hunt for love seem to have adopted a zero tolerance policy when it comes to unnatural selection.

Blame it on the Internet with its plethora of instant choices (in and beyond the realm of dating and sex). Or attribute it to our attention spans, diminished by years of excessive television, Net-surfing, an on-demand lifestyle and video games. Or merely credit our hidden sadistic pleasure, the secret thrill we feel when a contestant is eliminated on a reality TV show.

A girlfriend of mine once lamented, “It’s like a constant ‘Seinfeld’ episode.” She was referring to the way something as seemingly benign and arbitrary as spinach between your teeth could ruin a date. Admittedly, I have been on both sides of this barbed-wire fence. I have dumped men for purring during intimate relations, for having effeminate tattoos, for playing impromptu nonstop country guitar despite my obvious boredom, and even for wearing an Izod shirt (non-ironically) with a golf visor. In public.

It’s one strike and they’re out.

Then again, I’m sure the fact that I can’t sleep without my Sharper Image radio emitting cricket sounds, never wash my car and drink Gatorade with my dinner may have contributed to the “ick factor” in some of my own dating forays.

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Assuming that off-putting style choices and irritating affectations are genetic predispositions and thus beyond our control, what can we alter to prevent dating “kaboom”? My theory is that we need to rediscover the lost art of subtlety. We find ourselves in an uncommonly brazen era of telling our life stories online, surrounded by a media culture that obsesses over porn, violence and stardom. Might we consider some good old-fashioned discretion and wooing?

I’m not suggesting that dropping scented handkerchiefs to get our would-be lover’s attention or penning anonymous love letters might lead us down the primrose path. It’s just that in a zero tolerance dating society, overzealous candor can lead to rushes in judgment, which lead to ... gong.

One case in point is a musician I once dated who suggested that we cut all the preliminaries and just call each other whenever we felt like it -- no holds barred. After just three dates, at the rate of three calls per day, and his no-holds-barred admission that he wanted to get married and have kids, immediately, I retreated from his frankness. If I had wanted to be privy to that much of what was going on in his head, I would have been a brain surgeon, honestly.

I’m in no way suggesting concealing our pimply truths and forcing people who hardly know us to accept us completely. Certainly, no human being sweats perfume, spouts clever romantic comedy rhetoric 24/7 or looks like they’ve been groomed by a professional hair and makeup artist when they wake up in the morning. Our ugly underbellies are there, whether we like them or not. And I would hope that no one would rush to judgment at first peek at a fleshy faux pas.

But, at the same time, I wonder if it’s necessary for us to immediately flash ourselves, so to speak. The result is that we get hurt when our would-be boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t ready to take the budding relationship to the bare-all level.

Imagine, for example, a mystery novelist divulging the name of the murderer and the plot 20 pages into the book. If only we could refine our techniques when it comes to subtlety and pacing, and learn to relish the slow build-up. Then perhaps, to return to reality TV and its jargon, we would be elated, not aghast, when it came time for the big “reveal.”

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Shana Ting Lipton may be reached at weekend@latimes.com.


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