My high school PE teacher said there would be days like this. Usually around Sadie Hawkins Day in May, when girls were allowed to chase boys, he'd hold forth in a locker room with one of his man-to-man talks.

"Let's face it, fellows," he would say. "Birds do it. Bees do it. Now you can, too. But there is something you ought to know."

Coach, as we called him, explained that Mother Nature gave most creatures programs and score cards for the ritualistic play-by-play, but left man in heat with an atomic clock. Spring into sex, fall in love. Reset clock.

He would diagram the action like a football play. That the object was to score, we already knew. But Coach emphasized that you had to protect the passer or be penalized by VD. Girls, he pointed out, were assessed pregnancies.

By the end of the season we had learned everything we wanted to know, except how the opposition worked. As for that, Coach simply shook his head. Et tu, fellows: Beware the rites of spring.

That warning bears remembering for men as the most glorious of seasons descends on this city. Temperatures are rising and women are sweeping their hair into pony tails and buns, exposing necks and ears. Fashions feature a return to short skirts and a style of pants that's tight around the ankle--just to pick a spot.

However, men are caught on the horns of a dilemma. With equality of the sexes presumed, and every day a Sadie Hawkins Day, how much time and money should a man spend on romance, especially if a nice girl wants the other part of the equation as much as he? There are many beautiful, high-salaried women who want to have their cake and eat it too. They wouldn't dream of picking up a dinner tab.

You can argue that men are to blame for the perpetuation of this empty courtship ritual. Although sex without risk of pregnancy is now taken for granted, they still yearn for the stalking ritual, a throwback to primitive hunting urges. But as Martha Reeves and the Marvelettes lamented years ago: "What's this ol' world coming to? Things just ain't the same, anytime the hunter gets captured by the game."

For their part, women say they never intended to be liberated from romance. They say they dress provocatively because they like attention, but when some poor guy starts drooling they call him a pig.

As a laboratory for social change, Washington has emerged as a leader in life style experimentation that we can hope will provide some understanding of the new facts of life.

This city has a higher proportion of residents who are not married than any in the country except San Francisco, according to the Greater Washington Research Center. Also, the District ranks first in "nonfamily households," those in which one, two or three unrelated persons are living under the same roof.

It sounds like the best thing this side of Gomorrah. But a lot of people aren't having any fun.

"There are too many women in D.C." You hear this mostly from women. This is an obvious exaggeration, designed to throw men off guard. If there are so many women in Washington, why is it that some dude is always after another man's woman?

I did hear one man complain that there were too many women in Washington, but he was trying to date three at a time. This only lasted a short while because by the time they had finished working him over he had to leave town--broke, broken-hearted and broken down.

Recently, I tried to untangle the state of confusion for a friend who was suffering from spring fever during a noontime walk. But every time we crossed a street, he'd spot another "perfect one" and fall in love again.

Suddenly, he had a religious experience, as in "My God, did you see that." When I involuntarily responded "Lord, yes," I knew I had caught it too. We had reverted to the kind of adolescent urges that Coach had tried to help us understand and suppress.

The instant passion lasted only a moment, however. Then as the arresting figure passed from view, I was reminded of Coach's message to the boys and knew that it was really intended for the men we would become.

No matter how hard you try, he'd say, you can't have it all. Better to find one and work on doing it right.