My friend Sam only dates women named Susan.
"Accidentally," he assures me, "not on purpose."
"All the women I've been attracted to have been named Susan," he explained over lunch. "I call it coincidental."
I call it bizarre. "What is it about Susans?" I asked him.
"I'm not sure," he said. "The Susans I knew were all different except for one interesting characteristic: they all had dark hair."
"You never dated a blonde Susan?"
"Never, although one year," he began reminiscing, "I dated a redheaded Susan, which was surprising considering that neither of her parents were redheads."
"Maybe she was adopted," I said, "or dyed."
A few years later Sam got married. To no one's surprise, his wife's name was Susan. He and I kept in touch over the years. One evening, we met for dinner.
"Susan and I are separated," he blurted out.
I was shocked. For years I had held Sam and Susan's marriage in highest esteem.
"I can't believe it myself," he said. "It's not as though we don't love each other. It's simply that she was looking for something different."
"Lots of couples go through difficult times. Maybe you can work it out."
"Susan is philosophically opposed to marriage."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"She had a dream. It was all about mountain goats and glaciers. She dreamed she was traveling around the world alone. It marked a significant turning point in her life. It made her realize that marriage wasn't for her, but traveling is."
"What did you do?"
"I got up, went into the bathroom and brushed my teeth."
"What about Susan?"
"She called a travel agent," Sam said.
"For a long time after that, I became a hermit," Sam admitted. "Then my shrink told me it was about time I snapped out of it and started dating. It's not easy meeting women. My standards are high."
"What are you looking for?"
"Another Susan," he said.
When we met again, Sam had received 12 postcards from Susan over the past six months. The last one was from Paris.
"She's having a great time and spends most of it with her friend, Pierre," Sam said.
"I thought Susan wanted to travel alone."
"She does travel alone. But when she gets to her destination, she gets lonely."
Then, Sam got serious. "I remembered I had a teacher, Mrs. McClintock back in third grade, with big hair and red lips. She was very nurturing and always smelled like buttered toast. Her name was Susan, too. My shrink says it's significant."
"Not really. I never knew Mrs. McClintock's name was Susan until I was in high school."
"It must have been a delayed reaction," I said.
"I'm destined for heartache," Sam lamented. "I never feel anything for a woman unless she has certain attributes."
"She must be intelligent, have a sparkling personality, be over 5 feet 5 inches, and financially independent. The funny thing is, I recently met a woman just like that."
"So, what was wrong?"
"Her name was Marsha."
"The trouble is," I told Sam, "is that you have a Susan fetish. There are plenty of attractive women out there with all sorts of interesting names. Why limit yourself?"
"Susans make me feel secure," he said.
One afternoon, I met a woman who was divorced a year. She was beautiful, smart and anxious to meet a nice man. I phoned Sam.
"What's her name?" he asked.
"It will never work," he said. "I have an Aunt Elaine, whom I detest. She smells of lavender and pinches my cheeks."
I decided that Sam was impossible -- that he secretly didn't want to meet a woman and was using his "Susan syndrome" as an excuse for remaining alone so he wouldn't be subjected to another failed relationship. When he phoned me a few months later, I was astonished to hear the news.
"You'll never believe it," Sam said. "Susan fell in Switzerland and fractured her clavicle. She decided that traveling wasn't for her. She wants to come home and work on our marriage."
"That's wonderful. Did she fall off a small Alp?"
"No, she tripped on a curb in front of a fondue restaurant. In the meantime, I'm being fixed up on a blind date. I figure, what do I have to lose? I might as well give it a shot until Susan comes home."
"What's your blind date's name?" I asked.
"Oh," I said.
"Her last name is McClintock," he said, "and my shrink says I'm definitely making progress."
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: email@example.com or at www.judithmarks-white.com