Ladies and Gentlemen, Step Right Up …

If you thought the circus was just for children, you haven't been dating much lately. The dating world might be renamed the "Greatest Show on Earth."

Nowadays, dating sometimes almost feels like a three-ring circus: part-spectacle, part-freak show. Of course, dating has long been part-show business. Every date is like a little show. You put on your nice clothes, a happy face, and attempt to entertain or woo your potential partner with stories, fine dining, flowers, candy or booze.

It seems like some of those lovable characters and circus performers are now appearing in the dating world. I'm not simply talking about sideshow performers like sword-swallowers, midgets and bearded ladies. I'm talking about how the circus-like atmosphere now permeates the personalities we encounter in the dating world. So, step right up …

The Jugglers — Remember just how mesmerizing it was to watch as they kept a half-dozen flaming knives in the air at the same time? In the dating world, jugglers are the folks simultaneously dating multiple people. Friday: "Date A." Saturday: "Date B." Sunday: "Date C." These are the people who tend to return calls and e-mail a day or two late, and don't book plans until the last minute. I'd take my chances simultaneously juggling an egg, a bowling ball and a machete rather than date another juggler.

The Flying-Trapeze Artist — These are the people you meet who have extreme ups and downs in their lives. You have a great conversation on the phone or a great first date — and then nothing. Either the chemistry was only a one-way thing or somewhere along the date, you did something to set the other off and one of you is sent crashing to the floor without a safety net.

The Acrobat— These are the accommodating people you meet out there. They will drive a long distance or even fly across the country to meet you. The acrobat is a model of flexibility.

The acrobat's willing to do anything. Any restaurant is good. Any movie is good. "Your choice" is the acrobat's calling card. The ability to accommodate or simply be a nice person usually ends up with the other party either unappreciative or somehow resentful — and eager to tell the acrobat to utilize his gift for flexibility in other ways.

The Tightrope-Walker — The person you date where you always run the risk of saying or doing the wrong thing. With a tightrope-walker, you're always a bad joke away from rejection.

The Ringmaster — Everybody loves the ringmaster! This is the person always in control — calm, cool and collected. The ringmaster has everything all set for the date. All you have to do is show up. When it's a guy, he's a take-charge kind of guy — good in an emergency, always prompt and authoritative. When the ringmaster is a woman, she has a thick organizer or a Palm Pilot crammed with lots of data available at her fingertips, or her cell phone is always ringing away.

The Magician — These are the people you go out with once or twice, and then they disappear. You thought you had a nice time at the restaurant or local Starbucks, but when you try calling or e-mailing again, they're nowhere to be found. The calls and e-mail are sucked into some vortex of unreturned messages. The disappearing act is probably better than being sawed in half, but not as cute as pulling a rabbit out of your hat.

The Escape Artist — aka, the Harry Houdini. These are the people who make dates, but something else comes up at the last minute: work, an academic deadline, a previously unforeseen event or family emergency. The Houdinis seem to have lots of friends, especially ones from out of town, who tend to pop in the day before your date. The escape artist always has a viable excuse for canceling plans. (These are the same people who claim to be able to escape from inside a locked box underwater while handcuffed.) Eventually, you can only hope that the escape artist gets caught in his or her web of lies.

The Fortune-Teller — The one who's quick to tell you what you are doing wrong with your life.

The Barker — Step right up, ladies and gentlemen — and let him tell you all about himself. The barker is all talk, telling you about his great accomplishments, assets, abilities. But talk can be cheap.

The Strong Man — Usually clad in the old Tarzan leopard skin unitard, or that thing that wrestlers wear. The strong man is, well, strong. He's good to have around if you need a piano lifted, a tire changed or a California gubernatorial candidate.

The Human Cannonball — At the circus, the human cannonball is shot out of a cannon and flies through the air to the other side of the arena. The dating equivalent are those people who set out their vision for your long-term life together on the first date — country-club wedding, house in the suburbs, 2.3 children, a dog and an SUV — all on the first date. The human cannonball can also be a person you have only a passing contact with, but somehow believes that such contact meant so much more. They find a long-term commitment in a five-minute telephone conversation. They are eager to jump into precipitous meetings, sometimes after only an e-mail or two, or a short conversation. They can also have a short fuse.

The Lion-Tamer — In dating, the lion-tamer is the person who decides that it is his/her job to change the person he/she just met. Maybe it's about the wardrobe, job, hair style, personality. The lion-tamer decides that he or she must remodel or recast the potential partner. (Not everyone is eager to jump through hoops on a date.) If Siegfried and Roy taught us anything about trying to tame a wild beast, it's this: It is dangerous territory, as even the tamest of tamed beasts could eventually chew your throat.

Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit:


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