THE DATING GAME: Just taking things 3 months at a time

Everything in our world seems to have an expiration date. There's one printed on a milk jug. Another on a carton of eggs. Even beer comes with a date of when it's still good. (Seriously, who came up with that idea? I have yet to hear of a guy who says, `Nope, can't drink this beer. It's no good anymore.')

But when you're single and dating, is there an expiration date on your relationships?

It seems in Miami, dating has several expiration dates -- when either the relationship moves forward or it stagnates and ends.

I prefer to call it the three-month rule. Every three months a relationship gets to that fork in the road; it can continue for another three or it can crumble.

So far in the dating scene, my expiration date is three to six months. I'm better off than several of my friends, whose expiration date is more like three to six weeks. And we all know the less fortunate guys who do well to make it three to six days (you see them preparing for rehab several times a week at your neighborhood bar).

The first three months of a relationship are always full of excitement and hope. Neither person can seem to do any wrong (or anything annoying), and sacrifices are made without realizing they are being done.

You may drive an extra 20 minutes after a busy day just to spend some time with your new ''friend.'' No big deal.

You have fallen ill, so the big plans you have change. No problem, because your ''friend'' decides it's better to come over and take care of you.

Watching a sporting event on television becomes an excuse to spend more time together, and you don't even mind explaining things like first downs.

You're not even bothered by the extra toothbrush on your bathroom sink.

But then comes that first disagreement over something minuscule that develops into something much bigger. It becomes a battle for control to see who flinches first, and at times it's not worth the effort.

A friend of mine had been seeing someone for several weeks, but was thwarted on Valentine's Day when she claimed to have been bitten by a spider and was out of commission for 36 hours. When she reappeared from stealth mode -- you know, when someone just vanishes for a few days -- and tried to explain herself, my buddy wouldn't listen and decided to move on. (Perhaps the tarantula bite was true and if not for the MacGyver-like efforts of her neighbor using a mix of honey and Windex to save her, she wouldn't be around. But my friend had his doubts.)

If you make it past that three-month mark, the next three start to include the occasional meeting of a brother or sister, some cousins, and maybe even a parental figure. Labels like boyfriend and girlfriend creep in, even without discussion.

Then comes six months -- and when there is a new set of challenges, the expiration date gets tested again.