Maturity can’t be measured by age, but it may be determined by which sections of the newspaper you read.

Every morning before heading out to high school, I would read Dear Abby, the comics and my horoscope with breakfast.

In college, it was the lifestyle section and a quick skim of the front page.

Two years ago – when the Diamondbacks were in the World Series – I even grabbed the Sports pages first, although they now always remain untouched.

But lately something’s changed. I recently found myself unfolding the House & Home section. I even read a story on mortgage insurance – with interest – and the HOA column.

When I first realized what I was doing, I was somewhat taken aback. I’d always been a renter and real estate was a foreign language. But now I’m in the process of buying my first house and I’m slowly beginning to understand the language of escrow and equity, although I’m far from fluent.

A few weeks ago, I was out to dinner with some friends and the conversation turned to down payments, titles, home inspections and other real-estate-type talk. Topics that I could have cared less about a few months ago. But there we were, sounding like we were in a scene from the TV show “Thirtysomething.” Oh wait, I am 30-something. How’d that happen?

But it’s even gotten weirder in other ways. I was watching a movie the other night and during an action-packed shootout underway in a woman’s home, I was distracted by the shades of paint throughout the house. I liked the yellow kitchen, not sure about the coral living room.

I guess it makes sense that you’re more observant about things that are directly relevant to your life. It’s like all of a sudden noticing how many red trucks there are driving around the streets of Phoenix – after ending a relationship with someone who drives a red truck.

On the first day of my search for a new home, I found a condo I really liked. I made an offer that week, received a counteroffer, and then the contract was signed. I thought it was mine.

But, when it got to the appraisal stage, there was a problem and the place was no longer an option. I was crushed – it seemed so promising and I had already entertained decorating ideas and pictured a little dog running around its rooms.

Imagine what the world would be like if dating was as regulated as the real estate industry.

First there’s the listings – with Internet dating and classified ads, that already exists. You scan through the listings and decide which location, age and special features you prefer.

Once you find someone you’re interested in, you set up a date, using a certified dating agent. This agent accompanies you on the first visit, and will later offer his or her educated impressions and advice.

If both parties are happy with the first meeting and wish to continue the process, they must sign a contract confirming their intentions.

Next is the appraisal. A professional appraiser looks into the value of both parties, evaluating such elements as financial worth, health, employment backgrounds and what kind of “upkeep” has been done, such as education or therapy.

The inspection follows – handled by family and friends who make their observances, conduct interviews and then sign a form describing their impressions.

If both parties are satisfied with the appraisal and the inspection, they may begin dating. However, only after signing a contract which lists which compromises will be made, how long they want the dating period to last before a mandatory engagement, how long the engagement should last, and what conditions will automatically terminate the agreement.

Sadly, this analogy can easily get out of hand. Already, when interest rates are low, people often start searching for something – or someone – new. However, with network TV shows like “Married by America” – where viewers choose a contestant’s spouse – maybe people would go for it. (Although people probably wouldn’t agree to live in whatever house America chose for them.)

All I know is, next time I find a place I really like, I’ll wait to choose shades of paint until the final papers are signed.
Public Service Announcement: JDaters visiting Phoenix for multiple JDates in the same weekend are advised to be upfront about it, as Phoenix is a small community and all your dates will probably know each other anyway.

This article first appeared in the March 14, 2003 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.