We all have a tacit tick list at the beginning of a relationship. Behaviour is closely monitored in a bid to establish personality traits. Statements are deconstructed to search out latent prejudices.
Doesn't talk about ex-girlfriend. Tick. Talks enthusiastically about his family. Tick. No apparent neuroses. Tick. Tick. Tick.
And then there are the black marks, the irredeemable acts which quell all passion. Some are obvious: body odour is a universal turn-off. Non-smokers find smokers' breath unbearable. Men find facial hair on women stomach-churning. Women feel much the same about a hirsute back.
Sometimes, though, its the trivial that can prompt a change of heart. The bad shoes, the baseball cap -- it's an endless list that grows with experience.
A date, many moons ago, was going swimmingly until we went to a late-night club. Just as I was letting my mind wander to what our children might look like, he did the unthinkable. He put in a pair of ear plugs, complaining that the music was too loud. Worse, when the music finished, he plucked them out before asking: "Would you like to see the imprint of my auditory canal?" The only thing I wanted to see was the back of a taxi, and fast.
Another fellow passed all the preliminary tests. I sent him a book; he responded with a thank-you email. Perfectly fine, until I read it. Staring at me in black and white was: "I can't wait to curl up with a good book."
Curl up?! I wasn't aware that men curled up. In fact, I thought the only people who curled up were toddlers and women in hot chocolate commercials. It was the end. Attempts to reignite my interest were impeded by images of him in the foetal position, cup of Horlicks in one hand, copy of Jane Eyre in the other. For some reason, he was also wearing Y-fronts and ankle socks -- my imagination ran riot.
Then there was the biggest ego in Ireland who spent the best part of the first date talking about the meteoric success of his business. When I managed to steer conversation to an unrelated subject, he chimed in with, "you know, looking back, I don't know how I did it." Had I picked up my bag and left the restaurant, I'm sure he wouldn't have noticed for at least 40 minutes.
The worst, though, are men who consider it endearing to use ickle-wickle-baby voices or adopt a doleful puppy-dog face when they don't get their way. My dear friend, God bless her, was a victim of this recently. The bottom lip was curled down and the eyes widened before the immortal words, "puppy wants to play". She wanted to slap him.
Sometimes it's the pebble in the shoe that can trip us up, particularly if they are by Dubarry, Timberland or Scholl . . .