It was my first date with the cute vet I'd met at the park, and instantly it felt like we were reenacting a scene from a Nora Ephron movie. The banter was romantic-comedy perfect: laughing about how my dog tried to hump his, dissing each other's hometown baseball teams, planning an evening at the ice-skating rink. But during the date, when I ordered dinner ("Chicken fajitas, please — hold the peppers, no sour cream, and refried instead of black beans"), I swear he exchanged a look with the waiter. Later, I saw him clench his teeth as I pushed bits of chicken that looked suspiciously undercooked to the "no" section of my plate. Then he sighed loudly when I wouldn't try a bite of his mole enchilada. Needless to say, cute vet never called again.

Men don't like picky eaters. Dining out, like sex, should be a sensual, indulgent experience. Get too fussy at the table (dressing on the side) and they think you're high-maintenance in the bedroom. It's no wonder, then, that when men get a glimpse of my extensive food rule book — nothing spicy, no condiments, no red meat or seafood, no mixing of sauces — they flee.

I've always been this way. When I was a kid, my worried parents asked my pediatrician why the list of foods I wouldn't eat was longer than the list of ones I would. He told them it was just a phase. Only it wasn't.

As an adult, I like to think of my eating peccadilloes as an endearing quirk, like a too-loud laugh. For men, however, they're an unequivocal turnoff. So I came up with a foolproof system to avoid the gastro-judgments: I insist on taking the new guy to my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, whose menu I've already vetted. I've taken my last seven dates there. Compulsive? Maybe. Calculated? Definitely. But it's a relief to order food freely, confidently, even wantonly — to be able to flirt shamelessly over a romantic dinner without scrutinizing every bite. Yeah, I choreograph the dinner, but once that's over, I'm open to suggestions.

Did You Know? 40% of women will order dessert at a restaurant only if someone else does.

FROM HIS SIDE OF THE TABLE

Josh Radnor plays the lovelorn architect Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother. Turns out, his single-guy shtick on the show isn't all that different from his real-life hunt for the perfect woman. Here, Josh decodes the dinner menu, revealing what he really thinks about how women eat on the first date:

Filet mignon: "Either she thinks I'm rich, or she's anemic."

Garlicky food: "I love garlic, and I don't mind kissing someone who's had a ton of it. Raw onions are a different story."

Bacon cheeseburger: "She knows more about sports than I do."

Salad, dressing on the side: "She's either a control freak or a wilted-lettuce hater."

Pad Thai: "She's not that adventurous — it's the sweet-and-sour chicken of Thai food."

Onion rings: "She better gimme one."

Dessert: "When a man says, 'Let's share a few desserts,' he's automatically getting to third base.
Full disclosure: I've pulled this move."

HUNGRY FOR APPROVAL

Eating to Impress Your Boss

Eating for Mom's Approval

Eating to Console a Friend

What Do You Think?