When I was about 4 years old, my parents invited Father Hermley, the priest who'd married them, over to our house so he could meet their rapidly expanding family. (I was and remain the eldest of five.) Father Hermley seemed very interested in getting to know me and pulled me up onto his lap. Even decades later, I recall not enjoying this one bit. Though I can't recall his exact words, I remember the father asking me a great many questions about myself, my feelings, and my thoughts on God. Did I mention I was 4 at the time? I squirmed uncomfortably and answered like any aspiring wiseass would—basically, I made fun. Of a priest. The same priest who'd joined my mom and dad in holy matrimony. Being a tad humor-impaired, Father Hermley wasn't a bit amused by my toddler high jinks and gravely diagnosed me as "a very negative person." As I was only 4, I had no idea what this meant, but I could tell by the grimace on my mortified mom's face that whatever it was, it wasn't good. And so, for the rest of her life, whenever we got into an argument—and there were puh-lenty of those—her closing zinger would be a hissed "Father Hermley was right!" As it turns out, he was. Despite reading countless how-to books, I've always found learning by negative example to be a far more effective (not to mention entertaining) method. I'm not the only one. For example, you can tell a child not to touch the stove, but let little Johnny go ahead and fondle that burner, and you'll never have to waste another breath on the topic. Of course there may be an emergency room visit in your future, but this book is about dating. If you are experiencing medical emergencies during your dates, you probably need more than a book. Using the same logic, you can advise that a person refrain from dating a 35-year-old alcoholic who lives on his grandmother's cat hair–coated sofa, but wouldn't Grandma walking in on the two of you experimenting with female ejaculation be a far more effective deterrent? See where I'm going here? During my seven-plus-year tenure as a sex and love advice columnist—the majority of which I spent single—I've either experienced firsthand or read about dates so heinous, it's truly a wonder my vagina didn't seal itself shut. There were dark days when dating seemed like a minefield—round every corner lurked some emotional terrorist, waiting to break my heart and stiff me with the check. After a lot of missteps and mistakes, I eventually learned to navigate what I hesitantly call the dating game with varying degrees of success. And sure, while other so-called sexperts might have things like degrees to prove they're qualified for the job, I have something more valuable—something hard-won and not necessarily pleasant. What I'm talking about is experience. Do you think Dr. Phil ever watched as a crush hit on his friend? Pffft...I think not. But look at Dear Abby and Ann Landers—two advice-doling sisters with zero in the way of professional qualifications, who went years without speaking to each other. Much like myself, those two embraced their dysfunction and used it to help others. It wasn't like I set out to date weirdos and lowlifes exclusively, but for a while it sure seemed that way. Friends and family lost countless hours of sleep fretting over me and wondering when and where the freak magnet had been implanted. I could be dropped into a room packed with nothing but perfectly sane men with jobs, and I would gravitate toward the one guy everyone else was trying to avoid: the unemployed know-it-all with the chronic case of psoriasis and a highly unsavory yen for his little sister (in his defense, she was a half-sister). So yes, maybe instead of field research, I should've parlayed my criminology B.A. into a Ph.D. at some prestigious university, but who are you going to feel more comfortable taking advice from—some married lady with an office and a framed piece of paper, or a dame who's been floundering about in the dating pool for years? See, I thought so! The Do-Not-Call List, or, Who Not to Date To help weed out the guaranteed dating disasters, I've concocted a list of potential dates guaranteed to be more trouble than they're worth: • Your friend's ex. Remember on 90210 when Brenda found out Dylan was putting it to her best bud, Kelly? Ugly, right? Unless you have received written permission from your pal, your friend's ex is off-limits. Even if your friend is OK with it, it's guaranteed that the specter of your friend will loom large on this outing, and everyone knows that three's a crowd. (Unless you're polyamorous, but I'm keeping things simple here.) It's bad enough hearing about exes you don't know—do you really want to discover that your yoga partner can only reach orgasm by being manipulated "down there" with a bottle cap? •Your friend's current. This is so shitty I'm not even going to explain why. •Anyone you met in rehab...While it's nice to have things in common, a shared fondness for pharmaceuticals does not a love connection make. •...or prison. Yes, you both paid your debt to society, but you're out now. Time to quit cavorting with criminals. •The guy/gal in the next cubicle—though down the hall and around the corner is just fine. We all know we're not supposed to date people we work with, but pretty much everyone I know has ignored this at one point or another. Just do your co-workers a favor and keep it clean from 9 to 5; nobody needs to know that Stan from accounting favors boxers over briefs. • Your IT guy/girl. Besides your boss or a subordinate, the one person you should absolutely avoid getting naked with is your office's information technology professional. These peeps have the power to see and read anything and everything on your computer. But then, maybe you're comfortable with that. Ahem. • The Crush From Days Past. When unrequited crushes come back into the picture long after you've gotten over them, it's tempting to go see what might've been. Don't. These scenarios never end well. Trust me. • The Dreaded Ex. While it's a given that nine times out of 10 you will break down and have sex with an ex, don't blow it up into anything more than an isolated incident. Nobody likes a repeat. Especially the friends who listened to you bitch and moan the first time around. How Not to Write a Personal Ad While having a flattering photo is—by far—the most important element of your computer-generated plea for love, you will occasionally stumble across the rare dater who actually reads your entire ad. The types who wade through all those troublesome words are also generally the types who won't be swayed by your pretty face and 12-pack abs if you come off like a buffoon otherwise. So be careful. Here are a few ground rules for what not to share: •Do NOT mention your meds intake. While many of us take SSRIs or other varieties of happy pills, that's info that's better shared on a need-to-know basis. •Do NOT post a photo of you and someone else. Unless it's you and someone famous, like Star Jones. If the other person is of the gender you're seeking, your audience is going to assume they're your ex—or worse, the person you're attempting to cheat on. Especially egregious are the folks who post photos taken with small children. Oh, and the same goes for pets—a transparent bid to appear sensitive, which makes all but the most dim-witted suspicious. •Save the whoppers for Burger King. Everyone lies a little bit, but do you really think he isn't going to notice that you weigh 70 pounds more than you said you did? Ditto you guys who claim to be 6 feet tall when you're barely 5-foot-6. •Do NOT gas on about how embarrassed you are to be trawling the personals. Who do you think you're talking to? •Do NOT use words whose definition you are less than 100 percent sure of. Example: Desiring a "monogamous" relationship is very different from looking for a "monotonous" relationship. Though oftentimes one becomes the other. •Do NOT list the myriad things you are NOT looking for. Even a skinny girl is going to get annoyed by a "no fatties" caveat. Despite the premise of this book, in this case, it's better to be positive. •Do NOT list all the things you're NOT. "Not like other guys"? "Not high maintenance"? "Not into games"? What kind of game-playing, high-maintenance sociopath is going to admit it? None of the creeps I dated ever copped to it in advance. •Do NOT mention your "bitch" or "psycho" ex. If you can't forget about them long enough to compose a personal ad, you have no business dating. How Not to Date a Musician in an Indie Band Advice from: Dave Burton, tour manager of dozens of different bands you've definitely heard of. Say a lady were interested in dating (cough) someone in an indie band—what would be the exact WRONG thing to say? "Hey, I really like your band" or "Do you like Starlite Desperation?" Is it better to come off as a fan or feign ignorance of who they are? Feign ignorance. The only bigger megalomaniacs than musicians are professional athletes and cock-grabbing drunken Republican politicians. What are some of the more horrifying methods you've seen employed by groupies trying to get with band members? Pretend passing out in the VIP area hoping for some mouth-to-mouth, using last week's backstage pass to sneak in, following band members up elevators in hotels, hiding in bushes and bum-rushing the tour bus door, pretending to be a journalist, offering to blow the tour manager, boasting of their intentions on the band's MySpace page.... Does it ever help to blow the roadie? It certainly helps the roadie. Everyone knows that roadies get more ass than musicians. What do you think is going on behind the bass cabinet during the Creedence medley in the encore? What about showing your tits? This only seems to happen with po-faced lesbians when there are chicks in the band. Or in Sweden. What is the best way to get kicked off the tour bus? Come on my bus uninvited and you are off quicker than a prom dress. Is it better to know all the words or know none at all? Better to mumble through your own interpretation—it's usually more poignant. Does signing to a major label change the dating/mating habits of band members? If so, how? Absolutely. Yesterday's fuck is tomorrow's restraining order. How Not to Date a DJ Advice from: Kurt B. Reighley, aka DJ El Toro for KEXP, clubs, weddings, corporate events, bar/bat mitzvahs. OK, so you're DJing at a club and a sassy young hottie walks up and asks you to play his favorite song. What are the top five libido-killers he could request? Britney, Madonna, Cher, a song I just played...or the one I'm playing right now. Trust me, that happens all the time. (For the record, Britney, Madonna, and Cher have all made records I like—I just hate people who are predictable.) Could you ever date a Celine Dion fan? Yes, if he was from Quebec, didn't know English, bathed once a month, and simply laughed in my face when I begged him to change the music. Naturally I mean "date," not date. What song, if it came on the radio when you were mid-schtup, would cause you to lose your boner? Once I went home with a guy, and, in the middle of the deed, an Alanis Morissette "rock block" came on the radio. I (a) was surprised to see him display a level of excitement heretofore absent from his conduct, and (b) found it very challenging to remain, um, engaged. What is the worst line anyone's ever used on you at work? Or the worst thing a guy who's hitting on you could possibly say? The fellow who came up while Patti LaBelle was playing, pointed at me, and said, "I've got a YOU attitude." Are there any songs people request only because they think it'll impress you by making them seem cooler than they actually are? Nobody tries to impress the DJ with knowledge. We're "the help." They try to impress us with money and attitude. Good luck. Who's easier—musicians or DJs? Musicians. They're all about ego. DJs are about, ahem, sharing and taste-making. Please name your fashion deal-breaker. Any item of apparel I can see my reflection in. How Not to Date a Porn Star Advice from: Tera Patrick, founder of Teravision and star of countless adult films. You've had several different careers—what would you say is the biggest difference between the guys who hit on you when you were a nurse or fashion model and the men who hit on you today? They're a little more aggressive when you're a porn star. They think they're going to get more out of you. What is Tera Patrick's ultimate turnoff? Bad hygiene and someone who's too forward. What's the worst thing a guy can say to a porn star he wants to date? "When are we going to have a threesome?" When you're a porn star, everyone assumes you're automatically into girls and you always have sex with your girlfriends. Before I was a porn star, I never had guys asking for a threesome. Say you went home with a guy and you found out he had all your DVDs and Tera Patrick's Perfect Pussy. Would that be a yay or a nay? I would definitely get up and leave. How Not to Date a Shrink Advice from: Rob Dobrenski, Ph.D., therapist and founder/writer, ShrinkTalk.net. OK, so you're out having drinks with friends, and it turns out the guy you've got your eye on is a therapist. What's the exact wrong thing to say to him/her? Oh, where to start...."Are you going to analyze me? Ha ha!" "I should have been a shrink, but I'm just too crazy, ha ha!" "Oh, could I tell you some stories about my family, ha ha!" and "Aren't all shrin ks messed up themselves? Ha ha!" All these have all been said time and time again. Unfortunately, they weren't funny the first time. My shrink is really hot—should I go for it? Unless you thoroughly enjoy rejection, under no circumstances should you go for it—99.9 percent of shrinks will decline such advances. In fact, if you have a good working relationship with your shrink, that is likely to be damaged as well, because it's very hard to go back to keeping it professional once you've made an attempt at seduction. If you do decide to take your chances, be prepared for many sessions to discuss your "conscious and subconscious motivations" for doing so. And if you happen to find that 0.1 percent without ethics, ask yourself: What else isn't he ethical about? OK, blah, blah, I knew you'd say that was a bad idea and that no ethical therapist would go there—but how do I get him to bend those pesky rules? (Not that you'd ever do that, but theoretically speaking.) In the therapist's world, one is guilty until proven innocent. That means that if the state's licensing board discovered a dual relationship, it would assume that psychological damage to the patient has occurred and will reprimand the professional accordingly. This usually means taking away that therapist's license, sometimes permanently. Therefore, if you want to get your therapist to date you, convince him that you mean more to him than the five-plus years of graduate school he trudged through, as well as his livelihood. Do you think most therapists prefer their dates in therapy or already sane? This is a trick question, as it implies that someone in therapy is not sane. Some of the most psychologically healthy people I know are currently in therapy, and good therapists know that psychotherapy can be a great outlet for personal growth. I would imagine that most therapists are attracted to people who have at least been in therapy at some point in their lives, as they usually have some great insights into themselves. Plus, it's great to come home to someone who knows what your day might have been like! What about meds? How long do you wait before revealing your SSRI Rx? Even in 2007, there still exists a stigma around seeking help for psychiatric problems. Many still erroneously see medication as only for the "crazy" or "weak." Also, many medications are written "off-label," meaning that they are prescribed for something other than their originally intended use. I don't write scripts myself, but I have many patients, for example, who take antipsychotics for sleep or extreme agitation, even if they aren't psychotic. However, many men will balk at hearing "Wow, my Haldol is mixing with this wine nicely!" on a first encounter. In other words, you might want to find out what your date knows about psychiatric medicine before throwing back a Valium in front of him. I imagine when new people—even attractive people you're thinking of dating—find out what you do, they sometimes make inappropriate disclosures. What's the worst you've heard? The topper happened when I was in graduate school, when I was introduced to a woman at a party. Upon hearing what I was studying, she assumed that I could send subliminal messages from my brain to her genitals, which would force her to have sex with me. She stumbled away, drunk and angry, referring to me as a "Rapist Incognito." Who Not to Date: The "Nice" Guy You're probably thinking to yourself, "Judy, why are you advising people to stay away from nice guys? Aren't nice guys, by definition, kind and gentle? Are you saying that women really should only go out with bad guys?" No. That's not what I'm saying. Note the quotation marks surrounding the word "nice." As a dating columnist, I hear from rageaholics constantly, and the worst offenders are those who bill themselves as "nice" yet are consumed with so much rage it practically jumps off the computer screen and pops me one in the face. These guys act as though refraining from being a serial killer should be enough to have the ladies dropping at their feet. Take, for instance, this psycho who wrote in to my column, furious when a fix-up didn't result in a love connection: "I guess I'm supposed to die of a hard-on for the privilege of buying Miss Glamour-Puss lunch. So much for Mr. Nice Guy; maybe I should have drug her off, broke her like a shotgun, and horse-fucked her? Maybe that's what she really wanted." This guy is clearly deranged—coffee gone wrong ends up in thoughts of rape and battery? One of the many things that makes his letter so chilling is that this isn't some bunker-dwelling lunatic—this guy actually has friends! Friends who are willing to fix him up with their friends! Not only that, this dude obviously considers himself a catch. And lest you think this is one isolated creep, I get letters in a similar vein several times a year, all penned by men who consider themselves the epitome of "nice." You have to wonder which dictionary they're consulting. So, to clear up any confusion, I've devised a chart to help you discern an actual nice guy from his faker cousin, the "nice" guy. The "Nice" Guy •Drones on about what a great, giving, enlightened guy he is and how he never catches a break because women just want to go out with jerks. The undercurrent of bitterness is so palpable it may cause your mouth to pucker. •His biggest assets are negatives that he shares with you constantly: He doesn't cheat, doesn't believe in hitting girls (thanks!), he's not an alcoholic or a drug addict, etc. •Fully believes that the above "qualities" have earned him nothing short of supermodels with Mensa-level IQs. Any woman who falls short of his exacting standards is invisible to him. He wouldn't dream of having a female friend. (Though to be fair, nor would any thinking lady bother befriending him.) •When you ask him what he feels like doing, he'll shrug and tell you he's up for anything. But once you come up with a plan, he spends the next three weeks complaining about it. •Spends a lot of time examining his "dark side," mistaking self-obsession for self-awareness. The Actual Nice Guy •Doesn't talk about being kind; he just is. He realizes that not being a jerk isn't enough to warrant him his own personal awards ceremony. •His biggest assets are positives: He listens when you talk, has an interesting life, is genuinely interested in other people, and is unfailingly polite. •He likes a wide variety of women and doesn't have an ironclad "type." He has female friends. •If you ask him what he feels like doing, he has actual ideas. If he's up for following your lead, he does so, if not cheerfully, at least with a sense of humor. •Doesn't take himself too seriously. Especially when he knows he's wrong. •Speaking of wrong, the actual nice guy acknowledges the occasional mistake. •Realizes that everybody gets dumped and it's rarely for being too nice. firstname.lastname@example.org Judy McGuire's How Not to Date is being published Jan. 10 by Sasquatch Books.