near the edge

Some women I live with recently erected their artistic rendition of the perfect man. You can predict what they drew big, muscle-bound, quiet, two-dimensional.

What's puzzling is that his head and, uh, other parts are made from blue balloons the former stuffed with air while the latter is grotesquely shrunken. It's a sad commentary on the college scamming scene when we find ourselves making paper dolls that seem garishly close to weekend reality.

Sure, we all have an ideal. Mine goes something like "Wanted: near-sighted Professor Jones by day, whip-cracking Indiana by night, with a penchant for jazz, the Twins and witty banter." I could go on forever but my inflated expectations have somewhat diminished during my college career.

So, you ask, what do women want anyway?

Now most of us, and many of the men I talk to, whimsically refer to someone without a criminal record who breathes.

It's like the woman in "Singles" who just wants a man who blesses her sneeze. Despite all my feminist tendencies, the only thing I want in a man is the one thing I can't do for myself make microwave popcorn.

I've tried, I really have. On one especially desperate day last year, I went through an entire Price Club box of popcorn to prove I didn't need men. Bag after bag burned and ill-popped until I had a nice little row of them sitting outside my front door. Choking back the smoke from the ashen haze, I realized the perfect man did exist. Oh rapture, oh joy, oh crap. Orville Redenbacher is taken. Wouldn't you know it, once I trim down my expectations to fit the man he's too pooped to pop.

Later, on my way to the toxic trash bin, I got my second wind and resolved to prove the perfect man does exist. Kind of a Mutual of Omaha-Wild Kingdom production.

Recently, I distributed three identical bags of microwave popcorn to three male subjects and assembled a panel of women to rate their technique. These were the results:

One contestant piped up to tell us he was a popcorn virgin.

He carefully read the package directions and hesitantly took the bag out early.

"I didn't want to jump in with two feet," he explained. "I wanted to make sure the experience was something I'm OK with."

One of the younger, less-jaded, panelists picked him as the perfect popcorn man.

"I remember my first time. I'd pick him because he wouldn't do anything crazy or out of the ordinary," she said. "He's not afraid of not knowing what to do."

Panelists thought the second contestant used a few more "huevos" in his approach by foregoing the directions and just popping on instinct. Contestant two was in demand by three of the panelists.

"He wasn't afraid to leave it in long enough to fully expand and it was plump and juicy and tasted good," one woman gushed. She equated his approach to her ideal of a considerate, thoughtful and loyal man.

A fellow panelist agreed.

"I like him because he came boldy out and made it clear to me I was the first one. With the others I felt like one among many," she said.

Both women said they've become less picky about whom they date but still retain certain standards.

Contestant three glanced at the directions then watched until the popping sounds subsided. The secret is in the post-popping shaking, which he said makes it crispier.

"Soggy popcorn is anticlimactic," he said. "I've done it a million times but I always read the directions."

His shaking only impressed one of the panelists who he later admitted was the main target of his meticulous and somewhat nervous approach.

The last panelist was a true connoisseur of popcorn and men.

"To me they all taste the same," she said.

All the panelists said it was difficult to find someone who lives up to their expectations though they romantically cling to the idea that "He" must be out there somewhere.

The point is: it's all too easy to declare youself celibate when Mr. or Ms. Wonderful turns out to be a first-class loser. But don't trim your expectations. Take heart nine out of 10 women surveyed believe the perfect man exists even if he lives in Lesotho. The tenth believes he was killed by a Mack truck.

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