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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

In the outlet mall of love, a thousand unhappy endings

By Libby Copeland
Washington Post

Falling in love has never had a reputation for making much sense. Dante glimpsed Beatrice a few times and wouldn't shut up about her for decades.

Why should not falling in love be any more rational?

It comes down to the deterrent power of a Phil Collins CD in a woman's car. Or a guy who habitually sticks his tongue out while eating, like a lapping dog. His girlfriend returns him to his cage, permanently.

Centuries from now, scientists may point to this as the moment in time when the pickiness gene became dominant. In the end, it will come down to one really old, lonely guy and his list.

"She must have blue eyes. She should like animals, but not in a weird way. No thin lips. No lawyers," he'll be writing, just before he keels over and the human race comes to an end.

As the measure of a relationship, the taquito is greasy and capricious. But there it was late one night, poised to destroy a budding romance.

They'd been out with friends at a few bars. She was hungry. She wanted 7-Eleven.

"She said, 'They've got the best taquitos in the world,' " says Joe Peters. "I said, 'Are you serious?' "

Peters, 28, is more of a distance-cycling, healthy-meals kind of guy. But she insisted.

"She even said, 'Pick out any one, it's on me,' " Peters recalls of the incident, which wasn't even really a date, and acquired great meaning only afterward, after everything else had happened, with the mayonnaise and the brie.

"It's 3 o'clock in the morning. You can tell these taquitos have been the taquitos nobody wanted, and they've been sitting out all day."

He chooses one jalapeno and cream cheese, if memory serves. He takes a few bites and throws the thing away in disgust. She devours hers with evident relish.

This was the beginning (and the beginning of the end) of Peters' brief romance with a woman who "just liked the worst food in the world." Then Peters, a program analyst for the federal government in Washington, took her to dinner, and she started talking about mayonnaise.

"Some people are mayonnaise people, I completely understand it. But I. Hate. Mayonnaise," Peters says. "I just find it to be the most repulsive thing in the world. And she's just going on and on about how great mayonnaise is and how you can eat all these things, and my stomach is just curdling."

There was one more incident. They went to grab a quick bite and she got a sandwich of warm roast beef and brie, which was "oozing." "I mean, when it's hot and running all over, it looked terrible, and in light of the taquito and mayonnaise stories, I was just like, I can't take it anymore," Peters says.

He stopped calling her. He knows this sounds really bad.

"Feel free to put in there what a shallow (bleep) I am," he says.

But is it really so shallow? Or is it merely efficient, given all the available women in the world Peters might have to date to find someone perfect? It's like shoe shopping; you can't buy the first pair you try on.

Besides, when you push Peters, you discover there was something else about the girl, something too "small-town," too "old-fashioned and motherlike" for him. You start to wonder if the food thing is just a convenient explanation for something too subtle for words.

After all, Peters is perfectly willing to accept certain imperfections. "My ex-girlfriend loved Celine Dion," he says.

TAQUITO REVELATION

There is a difference between an obvious deterrent a problem that most people would condemn in a date, like bad breath and what we might call the Taquito Moment.

Many of us would agree on the following reasons for dismissal of a suitor: Excessive lateness. Excessive neck hair. Rudeness toward wait staff. Multiple mentions of an ex. Starting a sentence with, "Now, my third marriage wasn't my fault."

The Taquito Moment is more interesting, revealing as much about the person who despises taquitos as about the one who loves them. Often it reveals, in shorthand, something we can't quite pinpoint about the other person, or ourselves. It's a proxy for taboos, or regrets about past failed relationships. It's a proxy for class concerns or cultural differences, because most people want someone who looks and sounds and smells as they do.

The Taquito Moment represents a moment of clarity, the thing you fasten onto later when explaining why you could never go out with that person again.

There is something peculiarly modern about this phenomenon, something aligned with our dark privilege of too much, this consumeriffic culture in which jeans and houses and breasts and ring tones are customizable.

In a world of infinite possibilities, the notion of falling in love, of finding The One, seems itself like the taquito girl, small-town and old-fashioned.?

"When I was buying a computer, there were so many features that for six months I didn't buy a computer," says Jillian Straus, 33, whose recently released book "Unhooked Generation" chron-icles why people her age have trouble deciding on mates. Those she interviewed "see commitment to one person as a narrowing of lifestyle choices."

And through all of it, the prospect of happiness always just ahead, if only we could find the perfect person."

The Taquito Moment is the test you didn't know you were giving until the other person failed.

"I do have one guy who I actually stopped dating 'cause he didn't know what paella was," says Washington pediatrician Jenn Lee, formerly of New York. It signaled to her "that the guy wasn't cultured. How could you live in New York for 10 years and not experience paella?"