We've all had it happen at one time or another. A friend says, with all honesty and earnestness, "I have someone I think you should meet. Really! You'll get along sooooo well!"
Sometimes, as in last summer's sweet romantic comedy, "When Harry Met Sally ...," in which Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby fell for and eventually married one another instead of their original dinner dates Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, blind dates can work out. It just may not be according to the original plan.
For example, when a 25-year-old Washington "information gatherer" was attending Washington & Lee University, he and his pal were set up by a third friend to go out with a couple of girls from another college "down the road."
"He thought he had set up the perfect matches. And when we started out the evening, having cocktails and laughing and having fun, it seemed that way. But then the moods changed and dances transpired and what was planned changed."
And, as in the Rob Reiner film ...
"The participants woke up the next morning in their irrespective beds, as opposed to their respective beds -- the ones they were supposed to be set up in, that is."
Blind dates can be terrifying, which is a shame because, for the most part, they start out being so well-meaning. No one sets people up just to watch them squirm. It's like putting together a romantic jigsaw puzzle. It certainly looked as though the pieces would fit.
"We had nothing in common," says one 32-year-old administration official. He is conservative; she is an arty liberal type. Their friends thought they'd be perfect together. After all, they have the same friends. "Finally, they let us off the hook and it was such a relief."
Not all blind dates are so painful and distressing. In fact, they can be blissful and turn into long-lasting relationships. Such as this blind date to a fraternity mixer two decades ago:
"At our college we had this awful book called 'The Pig Book' that had every picture of freshmen, so when you called someone, you heard this mad rush of the pages to see what the person looked like and where they were from," recalls Kathy Latterner, a 42-year-old elementary-school music teacher in the District.
"And, while we were on the phone, you could hear both of us shuffling through this book like crazy, making sure neither one was the least bit strange-looking."
They must have decided that they both were okay because now, three kids and a dog later ("No station wagon," she says. "We haven't succumbed to that yet") she and her husband, Bill, are about to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.
Other times, however, blind dates can be flat-out disasters. Luckily, this is learned during those crazy college years, when we can blame that wonderful catch-all excuse: immaturity.
"I was on a blind date at Vanderbilt for a sorority formal," remembers Senate staffer Peter Gleason, 23, "and the evening didn't turn out the way a date is supposed to turn out. I was a little nervous, you know, about what she looked like. She was a sorority sister's sister. I had no idea what she looked like, but I heard she was cool.
"Much prior to the date, I was out with some other fraternity brothers, and we thought it was our duty to go out and enjoy ourselves. So when I got home, it was 15 minutes before I was supposed to pick her up. Well, I didn't have a cummerbund. And my shirt was dirty. I ran out and bought a shirt. And borrowed a cummerbund. And, half dressed, I went to the sorority house to get this girl.
"The blind dater's worst nightmare was me coming to the door. My shirt was untucked. The top button wasn't buttoned. I didn't even have time to measure the shirt.
"We met, and I asked if I could use the restroom -- to freshen up and get sick. At this point I was losing the respect of not only my date but also her sister, who used to be my friend.
"They had buses to take us to the dance. So I got on the bus. And before we got moving, I got off and got sick. That's when I went back and told her that I didn't think I was going to be the best date and maybe we should stop. She agreed and went to the formal without a date.
"It was a terrible, terrible experience. The only blind date I've ever had. And the last one."
And what's worse, he says, the girl really was quite attractive.
This is the biggest problem in blind dates. Of course, the first impression in any situation usually is based on physical appearance. But with blind dates, it often becomes the primary criterion. No one wants to hear that their prospective acquaintance has a great personality. Or made honor roll. Or comes from a good family. Or is really funny. The first question is, "What does he/she look like?" And it goes from there.
"A girl I worked with first showed me a picture of one sister," recalls a 28-year-old stockbroker. "She was beautiful, with a perfect figure. The girl said, 'Oh, she lives in California. However, I have this other sister, who lives here. Why don't you take her to the dinner?'"
"She said this sister was really great. And I said, 'I don't know. I really don't know.' And of course, she said, 'Come on ...'
"Well, she lied to me. We met up in this crowded bar, and there was this bovine standing there next to her. It was miserable. Absolutely miserable. I almost bolted."
But he didn't. He toughed it out. And in the end, diplomatically thanked everyone -- and never went on a blind date again.
Many who tell their blind-date stories end with that line. Never again. Not into self-flagellation.
Some aren't that easily convinced. Either that, or they're terribly brave. Take this young woman, a 26-year-old fashion consultant. She went out on a blind date just six months ago that would put most anyone on the wagon.
"It was Christmas Eve day. I'd been out all day and when I come home, there are five frantic messages on my machine. I'm home when I am supposed to be. He's yelling at me -- on my machine -- because he is two hours early.
"He calls again and says, 'I'm across the street and I'm coming up NOW.' He was so hostile to me. And I hadn't even met him. He was my boss's friend's brother.
"So, I open the door. And he goes 'Oh, my god.' Like nobody told him I am attractive. He says, 'I'm so sorry I was so angry with you.'
"He decides we're going out for Chinese food, because it was the only thing open. And I hate Chinese food.
"Halfway through dinner, he's talking like we're getting married. He asks if I play tennis. I say, 'Yeah.' And he says, 'You'd best get better, because father is an avid tennis player.'
"Then it comes time to pay, and he only has credit cards and they don't take credit cards, so besides having this man gawking at me, wanting to marry me, I have to pay for dinner.
"After that, he wanted to go somewhere to have a drink, but nothing was open. So I said, 'I'm tired and want to go home.' It was only 9. I wanted this to end. But he says, 'I've got a great idea. Let's get ice cream and take it to your house.'
"So we go get ice cream. He's picking out the horrible flavors, like cherry nut or something, and finally I said, 'Hold on, Buster. If I'm paying I'm picking out the flavor.' And he got bent out of shape.
"We're sitting on the sofa and he says to me, 'This might seem a bit forward, but why don't you come home with me. You can sleep in another room if you want and we can go ice-skating tomorrow.'
"I just want to get rid him, so I say, 'I'm really tired. Why don't you leave?' He says, 'You can't kick me out without giving me my ice cream.'
"I give him his ice cream, and I move to the chair, and then I tell him it's really time for him to leave. He wants more ice cream.
"I'm Jewish and I'm thinking to myself, 'I should go to midnight mass.'
"I throw him out. He tries to kiss me good night and I push him away.
"Then he calls me every day for a week. He thought it was wonderful!"
This weekend, she has a blind date.
There's even a book on the subject: "Bad Dates" (Citadel Press, $9.95) by Carole Markin is 255 pages of "celebrity" nightmares -- people such as director David Lynch, publisher Helen Gurley Brown, talk-how host David Frost, actress Julia Roberts and former baseball catcher Johnny Bench, telling in first-person their weirdest, goofiest or most horrifying romantic encounters.
"I went out once with a flight attendant whose apartment was possessed by spirits," says Bench. "She told me she knew them. They came and went, left her messages. I didn't know how much to believe. She didn't seem totally nuts but, you know ... "
Alice Cooper tells of how he went to see "The Exorcist" with the head-spinning Linda Blair.
Professional groupie Pamela Des Barres describes in detail how she met her husband, Michael ("on the set of 'Arizona Slim' -- this movie I was starring in that never came out"), his first official meeting with her mother ("bombed out of his mind, wearing a silver lame' jumpsuit") and how he found her sexually desirable even in a "red cotton nightie with the flu."
It's shallow, simple reading -- the kind of book you pick up or put down without thinking. And, if those are the worst scenes the celebrities could come up with, they aren't nearly as celebrated as they appear to be.