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In today's publishing world, the genres of "dating advice" and "self-help" tend to be mutually exclusive. The standard dating advice book suggests that the average adult is confident enough to allow a number of days to pass after a date before telephoning the other party, while failing to mention that the mere idea of making that call fills many of us with the kind of dread reserved for having to tell someone they have terminal cancer. Concurrently, the self-help book tends to focus on the big picture, offering advice only on how to contend with your various neuroses and mental hang-ups in the workplace or at home, while leaving out the really important things, like how to have a cup of coffee with someone without risking an emotional meltdown.

Everyday life is hard enough without having to go through the struggle to establish meaningful contact with others. Hopefully this will help you in that struggle, thus leading the way to the true love and happiness you so richly deserve. And if that doesn't work, you can at least leave it out at the office so one of your co-workers will see it, admire your attempt at self-improvement, and want to have sex with you. Hey, there has to be some reward just for making the effort, right?

Part I: Defining "Neurotic"
Most dictionaries define "neurotic" as "a person affected with a neurosis". As this is no help at all, we must go further and define "neurosis" as "A functional nervous affliction or disease, that is, a disease of the nerves without any appreciable change of nerve structure." This seems to be a catch-all explanation, really, covering everything from mild anxiety to schizophrenia. Schizophrenics, of course, have their own relationship problems, so for now we'll focus on those who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, the kinder, more politically correct term for "neurotic".

Some symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include but are not necessarily limited to the following: a non-specific but nagging feeling that something is wrong, a very specific but nagging feeling that something is wrong, sleeping too much, not sleeping enough, eating too much, not eating enough, worrying if you're sleeping or eating too much or not enough, failing to maintain eye contact with anyone for longer than 3.78 seconds, believing that your co-workers always go out for Happy Hour together while making it a point to never invite you, producing enough moisture from your palms while holding hands with someone that you could bathe a small child in it, maintaining the post-September 11th fear that the cashier of indeterminate Middle Eastern origin at your local 7-11 is secretly lacing the taquitos with cyanide, spending so much time wondering who 'Unknown Name Unknown Number' is on your caller ID that you never get around to answering the phone, getting up more than once during the night to "double-check" that your alarm clock is properly set, convincing yourself even for just a minute that a particularly nasty headache might actually be a brain tumor, developing a sharp pain behind your right eye at just the thought of having to make small talk with your neighbor while collecting the mail, actually taking measures to avoid that neighbor, being overcome with guilt after refusing to purchase Girl Scout cookies, Catholic Church raffle tickets, or anything given to you by someone carrying an I AM DEAF card, insisting that your burgers and steaks be cooked to a charcoal briquette to avoid e. coli poisoning, obsessing over bad breath, dandruff, foot odor, unexpected bouts of flatulence, excessive body hair, and what to do if you're in a social situation where you're expected to dance, believing that you've done or said something to make people think you're gay (even if you're not), convincing yourself that you will die in a spectacularly embarrassing manner, such as choking on a handful of Doritos or while trying out your first sex toy. You may also feel occasionally depressed.

A good rule of thumb to go by: if you think that you're neurotic, then you are.

Part II: Neurotics and Love--Why Bother?
The truth is that, while they may fear human contact, neurotics also desperately crave it. They need someone to soothe their troubled brows, offer comfort and support in their times of panic, tell them that the rash on their leg is probably an allergy to powdered laundry detergent and not Lyme's Disease.

The neurotic person wants love and a fulfilling relationship just as much as anyone else does, they just don't want to risk the effort, the anxiety, the vulnerability, the inevitable loss of dignity required to find it. Neurotics are mortally terrified of looking stupid, and you will never look more stupid than when you're trying to get someone to love you. Thus they will hang back, wait for it to come to them, and then lament their lonely existence when it doesn't. Life is like an eternal middle school dance for neurotics, with the boys on one side of the gym and the girls on the other, and nobody wants to ask anyone for a spin.

The neurotic's credo: I want you to notice me, but not so much that you can see how screwed up I am.

Part III: Dating Compatibility and the Neurotic Person
Until science perfects a method of creating human clones that don't require the normal twenty to thirty years to develop into fully functioning adults, the neurotic will never find his or her "perfect" match. The best they can hope for is someone who will at least tolerate their less than stable moments, if not balance them out. For instance, a neurotic with a hypochondriacal streak would be best suited for, say, a nursing student. On the other hand, he would not be suitable for someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, as "date night" would consist of four hours of strenuous handwashing followed by practicing how to flush a toilet with your foot.

Compatibility is suggestive--to some it may come down to something as simple as a shared love for cheddar cheese and the music of Bruce Springsteen to determine a successful match. Others may require a five page essay on everything from the Holocaust to the ethical debate raised by stem cell research before they'll give you their telephone number. Compatibility on even the smallest scale is essential, however, because just one mutual interest can lead to conversation, curtailing the need to talk about oneself. Not that there's anything wrong with talking about oneself, but neurotics do it incessantly, often saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

YOUR DATE: "My family is holding our annual reunion at Disney World next spring."
YOU: "I threw up on the Matterhorn once."

On the other hand, lack of compatibility can be a convenient excuse for the neurotic not to date someone. Relatively minor flaws are blown out of proportion and offered as reasons why a potential mate is totally unsuitable, such as liking anchovies on pizza or having a high-pitched voice. This is what's known as 'Seinfeld Syndrome', and is really just a subtle act of subterfuge, so that no one will ever know that you drool in your sleep, or that you cried when Leonardo DiCaprio died at the end of Titanic.

Part IV: Internet Dating--the Wave of the Future?
When Albert Gore invented the internet back in the seventies, he undoubtedly envisioned it as an invaluable conduit for international communications and commerce. With just a touch of a button we could successfully close an important business deal between offices in New York City and Tokyo, locate and send instant correspondence to long-lost relatives, purchase the soiled undergarments of sexy German college girls. What he didn't count on was that his precious invention would most often be used by us to meet and fall madly in love with people we've never seen in person and likely never will.

"Internet dating" is both the best friend and the worst enemy of the neurotic person. Its advantage is that you can have a partially fulfilling relationship with someone, including some degree of sexual contact, without ever leaving your house, or even fully dressing yourself, for that matter. You can be charming, witty, seductive, everything that you're not in "real" life, and if you suddenly feel the need to blurt out your true feelings, the worst that could happen is either the other party is booted off-line at the precise moment of confession, or they suddenly announce that they have an urgent phone call and will be unavailable for the next six months. Either scenario is more palatable than having to deal with that rabbit trapped in a snare, "oh crap, what do I say now?" look in their eyes.

Even those who are, let's say, appearance-challenged, can find romance on the internet, provided you know something about flattering camera angles and good lighting. And even if you don't, out of the millions of people who find themselves tangled in the World Wide Web every day, at least one is bound to find your sorry mug appealing. It also makes it easier to end a relationship--once again, you don't have to see the wounded, quite possibly murderous look in his or her eyes, and avoiding them is just a question of clicking "block" or "invisible" on your preferred instant messenger server. Sure, you may have to contend with a few strongly worded e-mails, but it's better than the possibility of running into them at the mall, or being accosted by one of their friends at a party so they can tell you what an asshole you are.

The disadvantage to internet dating, of course, is that eventually, in most cases, it will occur to one or both parties that it's a little odd to be discussing future children's names with someone whom you very well might not recognize walking down the street. In this case, the relationship will either dwindle down to nothing, or it will be suggested that you meet in person. Then you have the fears of real life dating ("What do I wear?" "What do I say?" "Where do I put my hands?") compounded with the fact that it's someone we think we might have feelings for yet have never seen ("What happens if she doesn't look like her picture?" "What happens if I don't look like my picture?" "Are we supposed to do it?" "What if he smells like soup?"). Sometimes, an internet relationship blossoms into real-life romance, where all the passion, love, and devotion remains strong despite discovering each other's hidden flaws and weaknesses. The other 97% of the time, it doesn't.

Part V: Asking Someone Out on a Date
The first thing we need to clarify is this: the neurotic person will never ask someone out on a date. That is, he or she will never use the phrases "Do you want to go on a date?" or "Would you like to go out with me?" Those words are rarely strung together in that order in the neurotic's vocabulary. The preferred vernacular is "We should hang out sometime" or "Maybe we can meet at preferredrestaurant/club/bookstore/movie theater some night." The situation is left open-ended and thus up to the other party to read, interpret, and decide if it's supposed to be a date or not. This is to the neurotic's advantage, as quite often he isn't sure himself.

Confused? Welcome to the world of being neurotic.

Another tactic often utilized is the "Broad Hint". This takes place during a conversation between the neurotic and a potential date, when he (for purposes of demonstration we'll assume it's a he) will use a convenient topic to cast out a wide net of suggestion, once again leaving it up to the PD (potential date) to willingly catch herself in it. An ideal "Broad Hint" situation would work something like this:

POTENTIAL DATE: "I love Indian food."
NEUROTIC PERSON: "Me too. You know, there's a great Indian restaurant called Taste of Bombay just a few blocks away from the Rialto Cineplex."
PD: "Really? Well, tell you what--how about we go to dinner there this Friday night, then we can catch a movie, and then after that we can go back to my apartment and have sex!"
NP: "Fantastic! Pick you up at eight!"

But more often it turns out like this:

POTENTIAL DATE: "I love Indian food."
NEUROTIC PERSON: "Me too. You know, there's a great Indian restaurant called Taste of Bombay just a few blocks away from the Rialto Cineplex."
PD: "Oh God, my sister's ex-roommate heard someone found a roach in her chicken tandoori there."
NP: (long, painful pause) "Oh. Um. Well, have a nice day."

The "we should hang out sometime" approach is probably the most successful. It takes the pressure off both parties on deciding what to wear (casual), who pays for what (go Dutch), and if the gentleman should bring flowers (not necessary because it's not a date, dammit!).

COMING SOON: Part 2 of The Neurotic's Guide to Love & Dating, or "You Made it Out of Your House, Now What?"

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