Love and the litmus test, Take 2: Lois Romano and daughters on dating's no-nos

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By Lois Romano
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My 20-year-old daughter informed me that she recently dumped a guy because when she asked him the meaning of a word, he said, "Are you serious?"

"That was it. It's like a huge test for me. . . . It told me he felt intellectually superior to me," explained Jenna, a pre-med sophomore at George Washington University. "He's the kind of guy who would try to make me seem stupid in front of our kids."

Whoa . . . give the guy a break, I thought.

I twitched my mouth disapprovingly. She rolled her eyes.

You . . . don't . . . get . . . it, she conveyed.

In fact, I should have gotten it instantly. Back in the "olden days" -- as my daughters refer to my freewheeling single years -- I shamelessly probed my disastrous relationships (as well as my friends') on these very pages. (Sorry, guys.)

One of the final humiliations for my unsuspecting subjects came with "Love and the Litmus Test," an article that appeared here 28 years ago and essentially justified the kind of subjective, quick and seemingly irrational judgment that Jenna had made. I described it as the moment in virtually every relationship when the euphoria of chemistry and promise gives way to the reality of everyday life -- and a decision has to be made. An "insignificant gesture, an offhand comment" or a plaid sports coat can alter destiny.

Can I survive one more evening with a guy who spends 10 minutes reviewing the check at dinner with his own calculator? Am I mature enough to sit on the beach with someone wearing a teeny-weeny red stretch bathing suit? Would it be unreasonable to ask someone on the third date to get his back hair waxed if he expects there to be a fourth date?

Reader reaction was swift and voluminous -- and this in an era before e-mail and Web comments. There were dozens of calls and letters from folks wanting to share their personal litmus tests, all feeling validated by their own verdicts. So overwhelming was the response that the story became the basis of a 1984 book, "When to Dump Your Date." Everyone, it seemed, had a secret test.

With daughters Jenna Holmes, 20, and Kristen Holmes, 24, who are very much in their dating prime, the time seemed right to revisit the premise. So herewith we offer views from a couple of Millennials, juxtaposed with the opinions of the previous generation. Of course, these are not necessarily the dating mores of the entire Net Generation . . . we'll leave compiling those to the official surveyors of public opinion.

Our broad generational differences were immediately apparent. A number of their litmus tests revolve around the nuances of Facebook etiquette and social networking -- nonexistent three decades ago. There even seem to be cultural differences between the two of them: Kristen remembers a time when not everything could be found on the Internet, Jenna does not.

On some fronts, their litmus tests are far more progressive than mine. Coming out of the '60s, my peers considered themselves feminist prototypes who were hellbent on having careers and families. Yet not a single woman in my original research mentioned cooking as a litmus test for a potential mate. In fact, a guy who wanted to cook you a three-course dinner at your place back then was considered a little too domesticated.


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