The First Time

A friend of mine has a stock response when his fiance quizzes him on the milestones of their relationship. Whether she asks if he remembers the biggies (the first time he thought about walking down the aisle with her) or even those moments that were actually more of a footnote (the first time he closed an e-mail with the word "love"), he always says the same thing: "I think so."

Take heart. Most guys aren't so clueless. It is true that the milestones we get really excited about tend to revolve around sex: the first make-out session, the first shower together, the first all-nude pancake breakfast. These are things we'll relive in each delicious detail throughout the relationship (and often beyond). But guys do think about other memorable moments. Some they even anticipate with the same breathless excitement as that first night in bed. Well, almost.

The First Kiss (Not Just a Kiss)

Cupid doesn't shoot arrows. The fat little rascal traffics in kisses. Cheryl exists in my no-doubt-romanticized memory as a classic black Irish beauty, with raven hair, green eyes, and a complexion poured over peaches. I thought I was in love with her — until we kissed. It was like locking lips with an empty cream pitcher, an airtight O-ring that rated zero on the romance scale.

Not long after, I tried again with Susannah (names have been changed to protect the author). Unlike Cheryl, Susannah had a kiss as beautiful as her face, a long, exquisite give, take, and tease that heightened all senses at once. Not only did that kiss, so full of shared passion and luscious promise, confirm our initial attraction, but it also kept on giving: We fondly recalled and recreated it over our dozen-plus years together.

The First Road Trip

Ancient rules of the road hold that if a couple doesn't travel well together, they'll never get anywhere. No matter how Kodak-worthy the views or how kitschy the attractions, your first weekend getaway together will be your last if your companion barks at waitresses, complains that the road is too curvy, or examines her manicure as you're rambling through the Grand Tetons at sunset. Taken out of her home-sweet-home comfort zone, your sightseeing partner reveals more about herself than you'd ever learn during dinner and a movie.

I knew it was going to work with Susannah when she told me to pull over on a mountain road in North Carolina, grabbed a blanket, and led me to a clearing in the woods. We didn't log many miles that day, but we covered plenty of ground in our burgeoning relationship.

The First "I Love You"

"Any guy who would say 'I love you' just to get laid is the lamest," a bar patron said in a recent informal poll. But it happens. Now, women might occasionally be guilty of "premature enunciation" — uttering the L-word too soon — but few will purposely lead a man on for their own lusty ends. Still, there is nothing worse than popping the phrase only to feel it fizz. It's bad enough if our beloved clams up, worse if she yawns, and worse still if she hears our statement of devotion and wonders aloud how late Bendel's is open. Even a rote "I love you too" can be deflating. Yet this phrase, when spoken from the heart and responded to in kind, is one heady elixir. It marks the milestone where romance — such a lighthearted word — is acknowledged as the real thing.

He First Realizes: She's Really Funny!

Looks are great, but funny lasts forever. I knew I'd found Ms. Right when, upon seeing my red, white, and blue American-flag boxers on our first night together, she responded: "Oh, say, can you see." While laughter and foreplay generally make poor bedfellows, a few good laughs can turn the aftermath into intermission.

When it comes to love and relationships, a sense of humor is serious business. The lack of one usually indicates self-involvement, self-righteousness, or just plain stupidity. And while that humorless supermodel will get all the guys she wants, she'll end up alone if she never gets their jokes.

He Meets Her Friends

Most guys want to like their girlfriend's girlfriends. It's always nice to be surrounded by smart, funny, sexy women — as long as they're not too much smarter, funnier, and sexier than the one we call our own — but her friends are also a reflection of her true self. If they turn out to be larcenous liars who like to kick dogs, then she's probably not what Mother would quaintly refer to as "marriage material."

In the case of my friends Gil and Cathy, her friends barely spoke to him — they feared this new relationship would edge out her old ones. So Cathy made an ultimatum: Accept him or lose me. In the end the couple moved in together, and her girlfriends adored him. Of course, it helped that Gil is a sous chef who loves to invite guests over to sample his signature aphrodisiacal oysters.

She Gets That First Dresser Drawer

My friend Liz once dated a guy who wanted her to have a place at his place. Sort of. "He didn't give me a drawer," she groused. "He gave me a box." When it comes time to make room for the woman in their life, most guys do think outside the box and cede at least one entire dresser drawer or a bit of closet space. It's a great way to demonstrate commitment and faithfulness — the logistics of keeping two drawers reserved for two different women would be too much for even the most slithery two-timer.

When a guy clears out the drawer for you, he's doing more than simply granting you space. By inviting you to establish that first outpost of femininity in his lair, he's telling you that he wants to begin integrating your different worlds — and lives — into one.

The Wedding Vows

On the most important day of our lives, my wife-to-be and I shared many worries: Would the flowers arrive on time? Would the best man remember the rings? Would Uncle Fred take a header into the cake? But I had my own personal dread. I was sure that as soon as it was my turn to speak those crucial two words — three lousy letters! — it would hit: dry mouth. My strangled croaks would expose me as — worse than a runaway bride — a reluctant groom. So when the moment arrived, I was shocked to note that it wasn't fear that overcame me but a sense of wonder. Would I take this woman with the beautiful smile and tear-glistened eyes as my wedded wife? "I do," I said, loud, clear, and doubt-free. And when she repeated the same simple and profound vow, it sounded like music.

The First Born

"Do you want a boy or a girl?" My wife had just learned she was pregnant. I was thrilled and told her either brand worked for me. "I know it's going to be a boy," she said. "Great," I replied, "a boy!" After ultrasound revealed the opposite, she assumed I was disappointed. "I know how much you wanted a son," she said. It wasn't as if I had tricked out the nursery with fleets of toy trucks and WWF posters. Having a daughter was just fine by me. But the notion that I was some kind of throwback to the macho days of The Godfather's Luca Brasi — "May your first child be a masculine child" — hung in until the birthing room.

It's impossible to describe the awed joy a first-time father feels as he sees his baby being born. After my wife brought that fierce little female squalling to life, the doctor handed the baby to me, and I placed her in her mother's arms. We were both crying, and as we looked at each other, we knew we were taking part in a miracle. Later, as I held my perfect new daughter in my arms, it was obvious that the last word to describe my feelings was disappointed.
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