Breaking It Off

One word can end it all. So can a little body hair.

Let's say you're on the second date with a person whom you're really, really attracted to, but then he or she does or says this one thing, and you suddenly decide: "It's over. Deal breaker."

For me, if a guy uses the term "bro," the dishes are done. It's finished. I don't care if he's one of those disinherited princes whom all the New York society girls are flipping for; he's through.

"Bro" and its derivative "brah" are interjections that precede statements like "Pass King Bong" or "You missed the titfest at tri-Delt last night." The word falls like dribble from the lips of middling men across the country. Fortunately for discerning women, it's slang that lingers in a man's vocabulary and thus allows us to steer clear of the brain-fried "brah" brood.

Another example of the deal breaker comes from a round-faced, sparkling-eyed cutester whom I will call Career Girl: "If a guy shows up to my house for our second date in a Von Dutch hat, deal breaker." Why? Because the doofy caps cost $42 to $65, and any guy who's willing to throw down that much cash for so little product -- an accessory, no less -- is a total label whore.

And, honestly, where can you go from there with such a man?

Singles have a flimsy tightrope to walk. With consumerism reaching the height of senselessness and pop culture so lacking in intrigue that it's a joke, the undiscerning masses are being sucked into the great zombie vortex. I checked out the stats on an online dating service, Singlestuff.com, which stated that 80 percent of the population are "G's" -- good for marrying -- and the other 20 percent are "S's" -- slime (not good for marrying).

We don't even have to talk about marriage, though, to know what they're getting at. The odds of meeting someone cool are not good. Eighty percent of the population might be good for a lot of things, but star-bursting romance isn't one of them.

On a recent Thursday at 10 p.m., I headed out to Las Olas' chic/fun gay bar, the Cathode Ray (1307 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale). It seemed certain the deal-breaker question would yield replies enlightening for those of us in the predicament of desiring men.

Paul, a short man in his late 30s and not unattractive, was the sole occupant of one of the high-top tables in the dimly lit main lounge. He was leaning against a stool, fidgeting with his beer bottle and timidly glancing around the room. Paul identified himself as bisexual, then replied to the deal-breaker question with the following:

"Drawn-on eyebrows."

"Male or female?" I asked.

"Both."

Wonder where he's been hanging out.

Nearby were Brian and Todd, a clean-cut, professional couple on vacation from Washington, D.C.. Brian, the younger of the pair at 23, looked as cute as Fred Savage at 8 years old. Todd, his 32-year-old partner of three years, was taller, with light hair and pale blue eyes. It was almost a pity to put a potentially distressing question to such an unruffled pair, but that I did.

No sweat. Brian's pretty, dark eyes darted out of his marshmallowy little face, and he said, "If I'm out on a date with a guy and he cleans his plate, like sopping it up with bread, that's it."

The imagery was, indeed, nauseating.

Todd crashed my thoughts with: "One time I was dating this guy, and we were at an auto parts store. He replaced his windshield wipers and put the old ones in the box and went back in to return them. That was pretty much it."

Cheapskating is such a deal breaker.

"Bad tipping is definitely another one," he added.

Oh, the unexpected burst of the swelling bubble of love. Pow!

But face the facts, dudes. Whatever flavor the candy-coated shell that we like to wrap our romantic relationships in, when we dissect them to consider the chocolatey inside, we find that, at bottom, we are the product of our civilization, and amour is little more than a commodity exchange.

Even chivalry, which was at the heart of the last millennium's ideal of romance, breaks down to such an exchange: for the price of loyalty on the battlefield, a knight's feudal lord would give his vassal the green light to lust after this liege's wife and hang out at court. When dozens of knights volunteer for the job, the lord's shit is protected, and he has proof that his wife is hot.

The naked truth of it is: tit for tat.

Your hot bod for a ride in my Maserati. My flawless profile for your two-story house with a hot tub. Your rock-solid stability for my charming manic outbursts.

But what happens when those little perks that make us fall for someone have opposites, more commonly known as "pet peeves"?

That's the crux of the deal-breaking question, which you can't stop asking once you pop it. That's why I continued on to the open-air, beachside Lulu's Bait Shack (BeachPlace, 17 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale), where Tom Petty covers blasted and the plaid-clad roamed.

A group of Kansas boys jumped on the topic. Bob, a lanky, brown-haired boy who seemed to be Middle America's version of a player, replied, "Fuck your buddy. Naw, I mean it. That's happened to me twice." His eyes glowed with the dull anger of a Jerry Springer guest, and I took two steps back.

His "buddy," Ken, a round-faced, buzz-haired chap, followed up with an answer that would make feminists around the world roar, "Body hair: thick eyebrows, underarm, mustaches, and leg hair."

John, the meek, sexually inexperienced 21-year-old in the crew, said, "She must be warm. Oh, and she can't be bigger than me. She has to be able to fit into my pants."

Moving back to a more urban subject, I queried Mike, a six-foot-tall buttoned-down Buffalo native. "If she lives outside the area code," he responded, then thought for a second, "and laughing in church. I took my last girlfriend to midnight Mass, and she laughed the whole time." Her Christmas goose was cooked.

I approached a couple of giant, Texas-bred blonds who attend Texas Christian University. They assured me that the sexual atmosphere was anything but, then said they were not into guys who touched them while flirting. This, I replied, is technically a turnoff, and not a deal breaker, 'cause they probably never liked the lecherous bastards in the first place.

But hey, when you're talking the opposite of attraction, anything goes. And the first thing down the tubes is the rotting remains of that delusional flower called romance.

On that note, two tough but friendly Long Island boys, one of whom kept trying to touch my legs (stubbly beneath my blue jeans), agreed on one thing, "If I'm dating a girl and after a month she says she can see herself spending the rest of her life with me, fuhgeddaboudit." Oh yeah, inability to commit: total deal breaker.

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