One evening, stewing over some betrayal or other, I called Melissa. As I vented, she listened patiently. "That's terrible," she said. "I understand completely. I really feel for you." I could picture her nodding.

They sounded like the sorts of rote sympathies I might dole out to an elderly neighbor if she started describing her sciatic pains while I was carrying in the groceries. I conceived a test worthy of Solomon himself, and after barely a moment's hesitation, sprang it.

"You know, Melissa," I said. "You're the best thing in my life right now."

The air on the other end thickened with silence. After a moment, Melissa thanked me and said she was sorry for hanging up, but she had to get up early the next morning.

The following evening, as I knew she would, Melissa e-mailed me.

"It occurs to me," she wrote, "that I'm not ready for the great, epic plunge of love. You seem to be, and that's great—excelsior! As for me, I think what I've been after all along is a stable, supportive romantic friendship, like Xena and Gabby. Or Francis and Clare. Write me if you're interested. And don't worry about paying me back for the parking ticket."

That was Melissa: scrupulous in honesty and generosity, a nice Catholic girl to the end.

But why make this a sad story? A few months later, after my frenzy of self-reproach spooled down to a workaday pique, I found I'd acquired a taste for the type. There's a great deal to be said for nice Catholic girls: the up-front quality, all those depths made visible, like the ocean in a color-coded map. Even the prudery has its advantages. Getting kicked to the curb by a girl you've never slept with means never having to wonder whether you're a bad lover. That cuts the ego's recovery time exactly in half.

After Melissa, I dated another nice Catholic girl. That match, too, dashed on the shoals. But never mind. I am not afraid, Lord. Make me a fisher of women.

One thing, though: a lot of these JPII generation girls are starting to look suspiciously like Sexy Puritans. The other day, I saw one wearing a mantilla and the tightest pair of shorts in Tempe, which is saying something.

I'd better write my bishop.