Jul 5, 2001 at 2:06 pm

As I glance at the calendar, I see that the Fourth of July, Independence Day, is upon us. Since I usually have to work or have nothing special planned, it's just another day to me. Now my real independence day was celebrated last week. Because my man finally got a car. That may not be a big deal to many, but it was definitely a day of independence, a day of celebration, a day of freedom. There is no nice way to say this: After five years together, I was tired of hauling his ass around. Erma's chauffeur and taxi service is officially out of business.

Owning a motorized vehicle represents power in a relationship. It starts all the way back in high school with the acquisition of the driver's license. It doesn't take a minute of analysis for me to know that getting a car for my 16th birthday increased my popularity with my girlfriends and with the guys. I know every guy who had a car back then certainly had an edge. Of course, I didn't know many of those guys. Since I had a car, I tended to unconsciously gravitate towards guys who didn't have cars.

And it was a pattern branded on me for life. Actually just until last week, but you get the picture.

I always managed to date guys who didn't have cars. If we lived in a city like New York where public transportation is plentiful and car ownership, with the parking and such, outrageously expensive, I could understand. Maybe there was a part of me that wanted the power, and I did it on purpose. If you have a car, we go when I say go. Where are we going? Wherever I say, because I have the car. Of course, a car also means I can leave when things aren't going so well.

I didn't use my car power to it's fullest. Indeed, I will admit I was a sap who was used. I didn't just take my car-less men on dates: I was the aforementioned chauffeur. From my teen years to my current men, I have been carting them off to job interviews, golf outings with the fellas, to work, drug deals, and God knows where else with a dismissive wave of the hand and a "thanks for the ride, babe, I'll call you when I need you to pick me up."

A car represents maturity and responsibility. It says I am able to take care of myself. If you do not have a car, I suggest you limit your dating because it is not fair to make your date cart you around. And please don't offer gas money. When I take my mom to the airport she gives me gas money. That's OK. When a date gives me gas money, it says to me he can't manage his money well enough to afford a car payment, insurance, repairs and gas but he's offering a token gesture which doesn't even come close to paying for what is being shelled out to have a car.

Your motorized vehicle doesn't have to be anything fancy. It can be a car that was given to you. But you must have a car if you plan to date, lest you end up with a bitter old shrew like me who believed her man's auto purchase was worthy of a bottle of champagne and other celebratory acts I won't repeat here. Dating is a partnership that requires each person take turns providing transportation to the date. I will make an exception: Until you can buy a car, a rented limousine will do every time.