First date costly in more ways than one


Q: One of the awkward and resentful issues I associate with dating and the male role is who pays on a first date. The way I handle it is that I go along with the traditional role but, at the same time, look for little, simple signs of reciprocity: leaning over to open the car door, offering to pay the tip or for dessert at the end of an evening.

If this hasn't happened and I still feel I want to see the person again, I bring up the issue with her. I mention that I like to give, not out of a sense of obligation but out of a sense of wanting to do it, because that person is special to me. Sometimes this really backfires -- she'll say she is indeed VERY giving and in time I would discover that, and raising the issue is insulting.

How am I supposed to know she is giving without seeing that quality in action? Am I supposed to be a mind-reader? Am I not allowed to express my feelings, concerns and boundaries as much as she is (for example, our meeting at a neutral place, not her home, until a degree of trust is developed)? I truly mean no disrespect to the woman when I raise the money issue. I almost wish it didn't bother me so much, but it does. When I do sense reciprocity, my heart and wallet both open. Any and all advice will be appreciated.

A: Dating is a ritual that is absurd most of the time but worth its weight in gold in terms of getting to know each other. A date is nothing more than a mutual stab in the dark, a shared hope that this person is compatible. The devil is in the details, in just such a gesture as opening the door for the driver or paying a part of the expenses. It is through such small things that we get to know the other person's true nature. Continue your careful observations, and in time your patterns will uncover someone who can stand up under that scrutiny.

Q: Sometimes I go to singles parties. When I meet someone I don't like, I don't know how to get away. I feel so frustrated because I feel trapped in a conversation I don't know how to leave. This happens almost every time I go to one of those functions. I guess I'm afraid of hurting people's feelings.

A: The cure for a boring encounter is to excuse yourself to go to the powder room -- and then go there! It gives you a reason to leave the bore without hurting his feelings in any way, and it works for you on several levels: You get a chance to refresh your nerves from the mini-disaster you've left, it gives you a moment to rethink whether you want to stay at the party -- and, best of all, you get to make a second entrance into the room without an

escort, more poised and calm because you've been there a while. This can work for men, too.

Q: Almost daily I read with amazement the misinformation regarding AIDS and its transmission that finds its way into the printed media. Journalists have a tremendous responsibility to take better care in the information they pass along. In your response to a letter from a reader who insisted on an HIV test for her lovers before sexual relations, you correctly advised a careful approach to intimacy.

However, you did a real disservice to your readers by neglecting to point out that an HIV test is not a guarantee of your partner's HIV status. The test only indicates a person's status a half year earlier.

Doctors have told me a person can be infected by HIV for up to six months without developing the antibodies necessary to indicate a positive reading.

Now, this is not an attempt to spread paranoia, but many partners make the mistake of getting tested and then having unsafe sex, assuming the test is 100 percent accurate and their partner is monogamous. This is a potentially fatal mistake.

An HIV test is important so that people can be aware of their health status in order to begin early treatment. Please remember to always remind your readers that until a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship has been established, as well as submission to a series of HIV tests over a significant period of time, a person should not risk his or her life through unsafe sex.

A: Ideally, prospective partners should be HIV tested twice, at six-month intervals -- if both of them are monogamous. A one-time testing does not do the trick, because as you note it can take up to six months for the AIDS antibodies to show up in the bloodstream. It is a popular misconception that getting a negative test result for the HIV virus is enough protection in itself.

AIDS-related facts can be obtained by phoning the AIDS hot line at (800) 342-2437, answered on a 24-hour basis.

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