06/15/2010 01:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Never Bake On a First Date

I love baking. I bake because I enjoy it, but I won't lie: I also bake because it really impresses people. Want co-workers to worship you? Bring in cookies. Want your friends to drag themselves across town to hang out at your place? Stock your cupboards with chocolate chips and all-purpose flour. And if you want multiple compliments at a dinner party, volunteer for the dessert course, and use butter.

But baking for a new guy too soon? That's a rookie mistake. (Take it from a former rookie.) To clarify: I'm not into dating rules. Many people assume that we're all seeking the same ideal relationship and behavior from the people we date, as if our romantic happiness should follow a universal script. But I find that mindset pretty offensive -- and useless.

HOWEVER (note all caps), I do stick by one hard-and-fast courtship rule:

Don't. Bake. For. Him. Yet.

Many women fuss over when we're supposed to kiss our dates, get naked, and do everything else with our bodies (and theirs), but I say it's what we do in the privacy of our kitchens that really counts. Sex isn't always meaningless, but the truth is -- sometimes it is. But when you bake something for a guy, just for a guy, it's an unmistakable, tangible, and edible display of devotion (or at least extreme like).

For someone like me -- I lie awake at night wondering which attachment I should buy for my Cuisinart, and wishing my roommates would take better care of my silpats -- the premature bake date is an easy blunder. I've done it all: Offering him morning-after muffins that I just happened to have baked the day before; suggesting he stop by while I'm finishing up a batch of cookies (replace all fantasies of messy kitchen sex with images of an adult male with melted chocolate chips smudged on his face asking for milk); and the classic: You invite a new beau (or ladyfriend) over for dinner and, being the baker you are, "throw together" a little olive oil cake, or a modest chocolate bundt (nothing fancy).

The temptation is nearly irresistible, but -- resist it. The "Oh wow!" that your cake is sure to evoke isn't worth the mental shift that takes place. Suddenly, you'll be making dinner for him on a regular basis, and because you make it all seem so easy, he'll quickly stop thinking to pick up the groceries or bring you a bottle of wine. And let's face it: This domestic act is charming for only so long. After a couple months of slaving away behind the stove, minus romance, minus wine, one of you is bound to decide that this mommy stage play is kind of freaking you out. My coincidentally available home-baked goods are like a gateway drug, and they've turned me from girlfriend to chef to mother dear to ex faster than you can whip up a batch of no-bake cheesecake (which is probably what I should have done in the first place).

They say timing is everything, and baking too soon is a relationship's death knell: It's intimate, but it's also Oedipal -- and far more difficult to interpret than texts, voicemails, and the timing of making out and sex. Partners frequently utter the controversial refrain, "It's just sex," but who ever said, "It's just cake"? For better or worse, your cookies, pies, and tarts can usher in a slew of irreversible relationship dynamics.

And it's not about quality or level of baking difficulty: Even burnt, dry, overly-sweet treats imply love, commitment, and premeditated care. Grandmas the world over have mastered the art of recurrent baking in order to win eternal allegiance from otherwise unruly grandsons and granddaughters. No expensive wine or exclusive rezzies can touch the sacrifice and sweetness signified by leavened, toothsome baked goods straight out of a home oven.

If you don't buy that baking is intimate in a sexual way: a) I doubt you've ever made a chocolate torte for a fellow, or eaten pie á là mode after a few glasses of wine; and b) Consider how many baking-related phrases imply some sexual innuendo. Your pie, your cupcake, your cookies, and even your oven can be referred to in ways that don't have much to do with the art of pastry, am I right? If you still don't believe me, try bringing a homemade cake into work and wait for creepy office guy to find an inappropriate way of complimenting the goods.

Having sex and later breaking up rarely feels good, but whether he brings down the gavel or you do, feeling like a used domestic goddess makes things far worse. Whatever you do in bed, whatever gifts you give, whatever four-letter words you exchange, don't be a fool in love or in the kitchen. Make him wait to eat your cake.

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