First dates

“My view of what one should talk about on a first date is not showing off and not putting forward one’s accomplishments, but almost quite the opposite. One should say, ‘Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.'” ~ Alain de Botton, The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

There are, at least, two attitudes one can bring to a first date: an open-ended curiosity about the other person, and a close-minded decisiveness that the other person is “the one.”

The former is realistic, the later romantic. Alain de Botton, in his book The Course of Love, describes how Western culture has recently come to glorify romance:

“The Romantic faith must always have existed, but only in the past few centuries has it been judged anything more than an illness; only recently has the search for a soul mate been allowed to take on the status of something close to the purpose of life. An idealism previously directed at gods and spirits has been rerouted towards human subjects–an ostensibly generous gesture nevertheless freighted with forbidding and brittle consequences, for it is no simple thing for any human being to honor over a lifetime the perfections he or she might have hinted at to an imaginative observer in the street, the office, or the adjoining airplane seat.” (p. 6).

De Botton uses a fictional couple’s first meeting to portray these opposing attitudes:

“He could restrict himself to thinking that Kirsten is rather a nice person with whom to spend a morning solving some vexing issues of municipal administration. He could curtail his judgment as to what depths of character could plausibly lie behind her reflections on office life and Scottish politics. He could accept that her soul is unlikely to be casually discernible in her pallor and the slope of her neck. He could be satisfied to say that she seems interesting enough and that he will need another twenty-five years to know much more.

Instead of which, Rabih feels certain that he has discovered someone endowed with the most extraordinary combination of inner and outer qualities: intelligence and kindness, humor and beauty, sincerity and courage; someone whom he would miss if she left the room even though she had been entirely unknown to him but two hours before; someone whose fingers–currently drawing faint lines with a toothpick across the tablecloth–he longs to caress and squeeze between his own; someone with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life.” (p. 12).

Indeed, the beginnings of a relationship receive an unfair amount of attention:

“The start receives such disproportionate attention because it isn’t deemed to be just one phase among many; for the Romantic, it contains in a concentrated form everything significant about love as a whole. Which is why, in so many love stories, there is simply nothing else for the narrator to do with a couple after they have triumphed over a range of initial obstacles other than to consign them to an ill-defined contented future–or kill them off. What we typically call love is only the start of love.” (p. 8).

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