At 20 years old, I formulated a checklist of 40 characteristics that my ideal man would exhibit. On it, I included the desires of a stupidly na├»ve post-adolescent…

[ ] Be willing to believe in magic

…concessions to hormonal pressures/pleasures…

[ ] Be fun in bed

…and traditional requests of someone in search of a companion…

[ ] Share a sense of humor

…with a brain.

[ ] Recognize the importance of activism and awareness

All in all, it didn’t seem like too much to ask. At the top, I scrawled: My Perfect Mate.

Years later, I look back at that list, and, while I’m tempted to laugh at my past self for being such a hopeless romantic, I catch my present self: Wait a minute. I am still a hopeless romantic. I’m still caught in the belief that I can find someone who can fulfill at least 35 of the 40 traits (though honestly, my ideal man would fulfill at least 36 of 40, only because that would give him an official A if this were a class and if I were a stickler with grades—which I should be when it comes to love, don’t you think?).

Indeed, I’ve come to notice that my first dates are often like auditions for the Below the Belt-produced reality show The Impossible Dream: Search for The One, and in my head, I, as Randy, Paula, and Simon in one body, carry a mental copy of My Perfect Mate. Next to every characteristic on my list is an invisible checkbox. As I (politely and calmly) probe into the life of my contestant—err—date, I scroll down my list and score as necessary—perhaps a different type of scoring system from what many first daters have in mind.

Case study: a recent date with 27-year-old Houston—

I met Houston online (a method I’m using that will require a completely different blog article altogether), and he was always friendly and intelligent and, most importantly for me, he strayed from the sexually-driven hook-up culture that thrives on the world wide web. I decided that I should give him a chance—with my checklist.

Taking into account both our internet conversations and our Starbucks/post-Starbucks-dinner meeting, here is how he fared:

*Great online profile. Check: Does not have bad grammar
*A 6’1” mix of Latino and Black parents. Checkmark next to: Be physically attractive
*Previous Italy, France, and Taipei adventures. Great: Love traveling
*Discussing indie flick Once and mainstream hit Hairspray. Check two boxes: Be aware of both popular AND alternative culture and Have diverse music tastes
*He’s an architect getting ready to pursue a Master’s and later, a PhD to examine alternative design in public housing and crisis areas (like Darfur). A quintet of checkmarks, bolded, italicized, and underlined: Have goals and be driven / Be mature and serious / Be relatively educated and intelligent / Have a sense of responsibility / Care about important current events and issues

Although this was only our first date, he was scoring well. Check after check after check, he revealed interests, histories, and opinions that moved him up my mentally-noted ladder of boxes, closer and closer to ideal territory. If it were an interview, I would’ve hired him on the spot; his resume was fantastic. He was everything I wanted to get the job done.

But the reality was that it wasn’t an interview; I wasn’t hiring to get a job done. This was a date. And in my reality show-like screening process, while he fit all the attributes of the perfect contestant, there was one thing missing: the it factor. Several online conversations and a great four-hour date later, I still wasn’t sure if, between us, there was that magic little chemistry: a spark.

One of my confidants retorts that there’s no way to test for a spark without physical contact, and the most contact Houston and I had was a quick hug in a car to end the date. She describes the feeling of spark as the sexual energy that makes additional contact more desirable.

I, on the other hand, was in no rush to bed Houston. I didn’t feel a sexual spark—nor did I think I was ready to feel it. It was a first date! And maybe, in rare opportunities, lusting and listing collide, and maybe that would be the absolute sign for The Perfect Mate. But when I talk of a non-physical spark, I’m defining it as distant excitement; the sensation of stomach-squeezing butterflies; the giddy rush of not knowing what’s next but that something is coming; the inimitable pounding of your heart for another’s.

However you define it, my checklist didn’t have it. Neither did my first date with Houston.

But I am well-aware that I am jumping the gun. It was a first date: a meet and greet, not the First Dance. So I’m adding a #41 to my list— Create a spark—and hoping that the second time around, he’ll keep checking things off. If he doesn’t, I will realize that there’s no way I can adapt my hopelessly romantic notions to my neurotically-organized lifestyle. And even so, I’ll probably keep dreaming anyway.

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