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This American strife

My boyfriend of 10 months asked me for my idea of a romantic evening, and I said it's really romantic to make dinner together. He asked for specifics, and I ended up pretty much describing what my last boyfriend and I used to do: have wine and cheese, burn this particular incense I love, listen to This American Life, then make dinner together. This is now what my boyfriend does to "surprise" me. He has downloaded tons of This American Life episodes and even burns the same incense my ex and I used to! I'm certain I sound like a total creep, but it really isn't romantic to have your significant other surprise you by doing exactly what he was told. — The Ingrate

With a guy who follows directions as closely as your boyfriend, you must be a little disappointed that, when he asked what you find romantic, you didn't toss off, "Oh, a man who builds a 500-foot obelisk to my beauty." ("Honey, your obelisk is ready!") You're irritated that he didn't work harder; he just went, "Great, now I have my list." But, he wasn't the only uncreative one. You didn't bother unlocking the old imagination cabinet. You rattled off details, down to the brand of incense, as if they were random enjoyments that came to mind, not the foreplay report from your last relationship. What did you expect, the guy to ask, "Hey, baby, tell me what you find romantic," and then say, "Cool! I'll do something else!"?

Maybe he reconstituted what you told him because he isn't very creative or maybe because he's a guy. Men are often a little unsure of themselves in the romance-crafting department. It just isn't the lifelong pursuit for them that it is for many women, like the woman on an author panel I moderated who opened her book with "I was born to be a bride." Books about men's lives tend to start more like "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold," or "I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased."

Let's be honest: How many combos are there for romantic dinners? Should he have changed wine and cheese to wine and little canned wieners? Instead of incense, should he have seen if Raid had come out with a bug spray called "That Special Evening"? Be grateful for what you have — a boyfriend who wants to please you. To help him succeed, tell him that what you really find romantic are surprises, and then suggest doing as my friend and her girlfriend do: Take turns planning and surprising each other on date night. The non-planning partner need only show up at the appointed time and follow any prearranged directions, like "wear a parachute" or "bring a sharpened machete."

Should you find yourself a little more surprised than you were hoping for ("Wow ... a puppet theater to act out our relationship issues!"), see that you don't squelch his newfound romantic creativity. Heavily praise what you'd like more of, and be prepared to put on your game face for anything short of a picnic dinner of chocolate-covered crickets and toasts to your love with rainwater from the Japanese reactor.

Love is bland

How do I find a nice guy? I'm 26, educated and attractive, and I can spell. I'm a figure skater, so most of the guys I interact with are under 18 or gay. I'm really not into the bar scene, either. — Circling the Rink

You say you're looking for a "nice guy," then you narrow that down: He can't be gay, 16, or wearing more Lycra, sequins and tassels than you. When I e-mailed you for more, you said, "I don't know exactly ... nice, intelligent, educated ... not a jerk/boor." Shockingly, you aren't looking for a guy who's evil, uneducated, unethical and crass.

Refining what you want beyond generic good qualities takes getting a good sense of who you are and what you value. But, if you're like a lot of women, you'll also need to date the wrong guys to pare down who's right for you.

This requires leaving the ice rink. Go places. Throw parties. Smile, flirt, be friendly. Maybe even in bars. No, you don't have to join "the bar scene." Just stop by for happy hour and flirt with some guy who's having a beer with his business partner. He may not be "nice, intelligent, educated," but when he stands up, odds are 26,879,000,000-to-1 that you'll find he's wearing businessman pants, not electric-blue shimmery tights with fishnet side panels.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or adviceamy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners into Impolite Society.


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