Dating. The word can inspire thrills in teenage schoolgirls, chills in mid-20s working women and nausea in divorcées. Sara Parriott, a survivor of each incarnation, decided that something must be said about this hallowed and harrowing institution. The result is Futile, The Magazine of Adult Dating (Workman Publishing, $5.95), a send-up of every woman's magazine that has suggested that dating and having a good time could be remotely related. Futile's features include an in-depth look at the problem of "The Dateless Weekend: How did it happen? Could I have done anything to prevent it? Can I get through this without gaining five pounds?"; the Futile diet—"10 pounds off by 7:30 tomorrow"; and a breathless confessional, "I Slept With Armand Assante (I Think)." Three years ago Parriott, now 30 and an L.A. freelance writer, divorced her first husband, an actor she had met while swimming at a YMCA. "He admired my stroke, I admired his deep-breathing technique," she says. Forced back into the dating game, she hit upon the idea for Futile after one too many Thai dinners. Ironically, the author of the complete guide to romantic disappointment is now engaged to a fellow writer. Parriott talked with correspondent Pamela Lansden about the highs and lows of the dating roller coaster.

What is your definition of dating?

Dating is a social engagement between two members of the opposite sex that comprises: 1) awkward greetings; 2) contrived conversations; 3) feeble attempts at levity; 4) a groping for mutual interests; 5) adolescent endeavors at intimacy, and 6) clumsy and inadequate good-byes.

Is there a cut-off point for dating?

Any adult who has dated for five years without forming a committed relationship should be registered with the state.

What was the worst date you ever had?

A particularly offensive Beverly Hills type who was very slick, with lots of gold chains and cashmere, reeking of Paco Rabanne. I can't stand a man who wears more jewelry or smells better than me. He came into my apartment, which is noticeably not Beverly Hills, looked at me and said, "Have you ever eaten in a really nice restaurant?"

When did you decide you were sick of dating?

I was six months into a dating frenzy after my divorce. I had told my life story for the 357th time, and I realized I was bored to death with the whole scene. I no longer craved fancy dinners with GQ men. I just wanted a man in sweat pants to watch Hee Haw reruns with.

Where do we get our misconceptions about the romance of dating?

From women's magazines, perfume ads. In my heart I always knew my thighs were too big to end up as a Charlie girl. Girls with big thighs don't get to get out of limos.

What are some good excuses for not going on a date?

An excuse has got to be believable, but more than that it has to encompass some sort of reason that paves the way for future refusals. That's why illness is no good. Most people recover these days. A good excuse is an old boyfriend coming back into the picture, home from spring training or out on parole, for example. Any of those will do.

What would you consider reasonable cause for bringing a date to an early conclusion?

If you've been insulted, or if he talks about all the wonderful women who love him. Then a good excuse isn't even necessary; a bad one will do. Like you have to get home and type up the minutes of the last herpes meeting.

How can you tell if your date is brain dead?

If his favorite reading material is a Froot Loops box, that's Clue No. 1. If you tell him you enjoy nouvelle cuisine, and he leers and calls you a wild woman, or if the person he most respects and admires is Casper the Friendly Ghost. I've learned from experience to check out those long, intent gazes to make sure they stem from sensitivity rather than imbecility.

Who are the nation's No. 1 adult daters?

Elizabeth Taylor, for one. Even though she has been married a lot, she has still managed to have more dates than the rest of the country. Warren Beatty leads in the Grown Men Still Dating category. Of course, Jackie Onassis is the most successful of all daters. Talk about upward mobility!

What is the alternative to dating?

Marriage. At least you don't have to be bored by the same old getting-to-know-you talk. I think stuff like "Dear, isn't it time we rotated the tires?" is a lot more interesting than "What's your sign?"

Is there anything good about dating?

It gets you out of the house. And it beats macramé.