Over the years, my mother has dispensed strong opinions on any number of issues, from the "smirking" Captain and Tenille to the importance of a drink at 5. But there's one piece of advice that trumps them all.
Long before a date was even a gleam in the eye of whatever pubescent nerd I loved at the time, my mom gave me a piece of dating advice that's had application far beyond the world of romance. "If he ever treats a server badly, that's all you need to know," she said. "That's true for women too."
And it's absolutely true. Someone who maltreats someone to whom he's in a position of even temporary authority is an insecure bully and an asshole with no respect for other human beings and a very mistaken idea of what impresses you.
This is fresh in my mind because the other night I saw a guy maltreating a waiter at a nice restaurant. I'd already pegged the couple as first-daters based on the semi-awkward greeting and get-to-know-you questions. But then things got ugly. He didn't realize it, of course: he's probably used to sending things back, not thanking servers, and replying, when asked if he needs anything, "yeah, some intelligent service would be great." But his date grew increasingly uncomfortable — smiling apologetically at the humiliated waiter, thanking him profusely, growing progressively colder to her date.
Anyone who's waited tables has dealt with this guy, or someone like him: "he has to go home and be himself, we get to close," as a particularly Zen coworker of mine used to remind me. And I think that's true: I don't believe it's a trait that exists in a vacuum, or can be cured short of some movie-style Christmas Carol-esque wakeup call. Rather, as my mom said, it's what was not then but is now (not to her) known as a dealbreaker: something non-negotiable. And any child I have will hear the same thing.