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By Rachel Machacek
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 23, 2006

As a token single among a sea of ring bearers, I endure a lot of squinteyed questioning about why I'm still single, why guys aren't chasing me and what it is exactly that I'm looking for? The first two questions I always ignore because, really, they're asking me that? The last one is a little easier. Solid job and steady pulse assumed, I look for: firm handshake, cool shoes, someone who makes me laugh.

Recently a friend asked an even more pointed question: "What's your marriage strategy?" Uhhhh. After the chirping crickets died from the silence that ensued, I answered smugly: "not to settle." And maybe make it to a second date.

I've been on a slew of bile-inducing meet-and-greets with every shade of guy, including the track star who literally fled the scene faster than I could yell, "I don't think this is going to work out." Mired in a swamp of one-hit wonders, the time had come to rejigger my cupid compass so it pointed toward second datedom.

I needed some assistance. I've long pooh-poohed self-help books, but I left my snotty, preconceived notions at the Barnes & Noble door and marched straight for the dating-book aisle. Skipping over niche titles such as "Get Your Man Through Hypnosis" and "A.D.D. and Romance," I plucked out five books sure to get me further with men than Reese's spastic man-snagging move from "Legally Blonde." Or so I hoped.

My reading assignments: "Catch Him and Keep Him," an e-book a friend recommended for its many "aha!" moments; "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dating," because it's a sentiment every dater can relate to; "Dating Rocks! The 21 Smartest Moves Women Make for Love," for its upbeat promise of lots of no-fail tips; "I Can't Believe I'm Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating," because everything I've ever read anywhere says if you're single, you should be online; and "The Rules," for the retro advice I was just itching to debunk.

Just like every first date I'd ever been on, not a single book was what I expected. All of them covered the dos and don'ts of dating -- plus tips on how to meet people and get to the all-important Next Step. They also offered advice on how to handle the thing I've struggled with most: having high hopes, but keeping expectations in check. But most important -- not to mention surprising -- I tried one, and met a guy with a friendly handshake, awesome red Pumas and the ability to make me giggle like a schoolgirl for two straight hours. Wondering which book did the trick (for me, anyway)?

How the books rate.


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