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Dating Is For Dummies

A wedding cake.
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Elizabeth Tannen is one of the 4 million writers living in Brooklyn. In case you haven't noticed, she's available. Courtesy of Elizabeth Tannen hide caption

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Courtesy of Elizabeth Tannen

Disclaimer: Names have been changed to minimize humiliation.

It's time to go back to arranged marriages. We've tried the whole dating thing, and let's face it: It's not working so well. People are getting married too young and too old, highly desirable women (ahem) are winding up single for longer than they find comfortable, children near and far are being traumatized by divorce. I wasn't there or anything, but things must have been better before.

I won't lie: Personal circumstance bears heavily on my conclusion. If my own marriage were to be arranged, the most likely match would be a boy called Robert. He's the son of longtime family friends I've always admired: like my family but more Jewish, more intellectual and wealthier.

Distance has made our meetings occasional. At a wedding when both of us were 8, one of us challenged the other to a Shirley Temple drinking contest. Approximately 12 Shirley Temples were consumed. I vomited.

Robert has always been exceptionally smart, serious and studious. As a 10-year-old he played chess and collected miniature soldiers and memorized military history. He was quiet and a little bit chubby.

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In high school — boarding school, of course — he took up water polo, at which point I was sure the cries of "Doesn't Robert look great?" could be heard up and down the Northeastern corridor. I wasn't impressed.

Until recently, the last time I saw Robert was at a funeral. His aunt, my mother's closest friend, had died from cancer. At the time her daughter was 8 years old. Last month was her bat mitzvah.

Before the trip, my mother told me that Helen — Robert's mother — had placed us all at the same table. "She still hopes you and Robert are going to get married, you know," she said.

Lately, as in for the past three years that I've been single, I've developed some destructive dating habits. They're not unusual: I'm vulnerable to those quiet artistic hipster types who proclaim their affections with haste and abundance and then, after painting me or singing about me for a maximum of five minutes, disappear without explanation. Most recently I triumphantly pursued someone who struck me as altogether serious, strait-laced and mature: only to discover that he is in fact a pot-smoking drummer only interested in sleeping with me. It's remarkable how difficult life makes it to change patterns.

From this vantage, Robert — specifically, marriage to Robert — took on a sudden and compelling appeal. Looking at him from across the bar where out-of-towners gathered on Friday night, I saw someone — a rather handsome, slender someone — who might adore me, sustainably. Who might make a good, comfortable living and come home and supervise our children's homework while I make dinner. Who might, actually, be a very good husband.

At the party on Saturday my efforts to talk to him were met with echoes of "How was talking to Robert?" from across the synagogue hall. I'm not used to seducing people in the presence of so many parents: I copped out.

The next morning I bid goodbye to Helen. "You have my blessing, you know," she said. No explanation was necessary. I giggled uncomfortably. She went on: "I'm totally serious. You just have to smack him upside the head."

"Can't you do that?" I pleaded, not quite believing the words coming out of my mouth as they did.

"No, sorry," she said. "I can't."

At which point I concluded: Things would be a whole lot easier if she could.

Elizabeth Tannen is one of the 4 million writers living in Brooklyn. In case you haven't noticed, she's available.