Having been single for four years now, my long road of self-discovery has turned up a few real gems, and a few odd lumps of what I sincerely hope is just a form of sticky, black coal. I've learned a lot about myself, a lot about people, and learned specifically that there's no good way to break up with someone once you've been involved for more than a few months...

Once you polish the newness off a relationship and settle into a routine of This Is What We Do, you either discover that things are grand, or that the relationship has a previously-unseen Expiration Date. The question is once you know that things aren't going to work out, what to do? Do you smile into the oncoming headlights and wait for the Big Argument? Do you speak up and say Thanks, But ....?

I've been let down so easily I didn't notice at first, been shot out of my chair point-blank, and I've been through multiple cycles of Trying To Make It Work. From the receiving end, I didn't like any of it.

On the transmitting side, I've tended toward the "This isn't working and let's stop doing it" conversation. You know, the old Peter Drucker theory of: "If we weren't already doing this, would we start doing it tomorrow?" If the answer is no, then why continue? Is it better to wait for everyone to get angry and upset together? I think not, but I could be wrong here. Been told so, in fact.

My last relationship crashed due to a collection of personal incompatibilities and uncorrectable horrors that you discover over a period of months. No one thing that made me want to run, but a collection of small signals that added up to a large shock via superposition. Could it have worked? Absolutely. At great cost and at the expense of something better? Also true. This is Dating, and it sucketh truly.

When a relationship goes into solution most adults either become distant friends of the "Hi, how are you?" variety, or become part of the historical record never to be heard from again until you run for public office. I've recently learned that there's another kind, though. A theatrical sort that seeks to bolster a damaged self-image by demonizing you and, in one case, endlessly blogging about it all to explain what a bastard you are to all and sundry.

My last ex was, and is, a phenomenal woman with a lot to offer the world and a lot to offer the right man. We had significant cultural differences, and a boxful of other issues that looked a little daunting early on and didn't improve. They seldom do, but hope springs eternal and I'm an ever hopeful sort. She was convinced that I was dating a baker's half-dozen people at once, flying my jet all over the country playing a role somewhere between James Bond and a young Hugh Hefner. I wish I had that kind of energy, drive, game, or whatever version of the Right Stuff that kind of life might require, but I think it would tax the endurance of a 19 year-old Marine and require the libido of a porn star to pull it off. Which is to say it wasn't happening, of course.

Aircraft and engine logs notwithstanding, and reality not supporting her conspiracy theories, she was, and is, a very suspicious sort which didn't mesh well in the life of a happy-go-lucky kind of Bear like me. Continuous surveillance is real buzz-kill, as is blogging about your relationship and your feelings, as opposed to, perhaps, talking to your partner about it. Just call me old-fashioned, but it set off alarms that my best source of info on her mood was her MySpace page.

Dating is the process of running a Sort to see who might be a fit for you, and you for them. It's a lot like looking for a house in many ways. You know what you want, what you can afford, what you're willing to fix, and what you're willing to live with. I don't like spiral staircases, but if the place has a pool maybe I can live with the spiral. I'm not generally into fanatic anything, but temper that with brilliance, wit and some dazzling good looks and I can take a little jihad with dinner once in a while. Love and life are both engineer's approximations to drawings made by gods who forgot long ago that mortals have to go out and build this stuff from parts we can get locally; parts you can actually find.

The Holy Grail of the dating process is someone that you fit and fits with you on all levels. It's a strictly mathematical construct, never to be found in the real world any more than a perfectly smooth infinite plane, an infinitesimal, or an honest politician, but still we look and hope to find the engineer's approximation to the Perfect Fit, that Grail of lovers, machinists and personnel departments.

What have I learned? That there's +/- tolerances on everything and that I've got my problems too. I don't see them, of course, or I'd do something about them. Sometimes the mirror just smiles back. I've also learned that if someone gets burned badly enough and often enough, they may be able to love you, but they won't ever be able to trust you, and that's something they'll have to sort out with their mirror. Good luck, my dear. I hope you find the happiness you seek. I hope we all do.

Copyright 2008 Greg Richter / IFR Music