Friday, August 05, 2005

Slowly, Slowly

Slow Food is a movement to "protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life." Thank god for Slow Food. The U.S. has almost completely lost the ability to relax and eat with, instead, everyone chomping our nutritionless non-foods as we hustle to our next appointment.

Our “Next!” approach to life characterizes the way many of us date as well. Hooking Up, ABC’s Thursday night reality show (and Match.com commercial) about ten women’s online dating experiences, illustrates our impatience with romance. Amy, a 28-year-old real estate broker, decides if she’s going to marry a potential suitor by their second date. Reisha, a 30-year-old technology consultant, wants the next man she kisses to be the man she marries (causing her to withhold kissing from well-intentioned, patient Acie until he stops seeing her). It’s ridiculous. And I used to do the exact same thing.

Many of my friends do it, too: we want the next person to be “the one,” and we dismiss people the moment we feel something’s missing. One of the main reasons I used to dismiss a date was that I didn’t feel physically attracted to the guy. If, within minutes or hours of meeting him, I couldn’t imagine myself one day ripping his clothes off and spending all day in bed with him, there would be no second date. Now I realize how unreasonable that is. I, like many women, have a slower “burn.” A guy might not be physically attractive to me before I get to know him, but as he turns out to be everything I’m looking for -- charming, funny, generous, dependable, romantic -- he can become extremely attractive to me. And guess what? It takes several dates for all those qualities to be revealed. You have to get to know someone over time to find out if they really have what you’re looking for. Each time I “flushed” after getting only the barest glimpse of a personality, I undermined my search for romance.

Some would argue that they have “non-negotiables” that can show up in one date’s time and after they see that “non-negotiable” there’s no reason for a second date. I say bull&$^*. If you met someone who was absolutely everything you ever wanted and s/he looked like Salma Hayek/George Clooney, but they happened to have that one thing, that “non-negotiable” (say smoking or living in San Diego), wouldn’t you at least give it shot? Wouldn’t you at least spend a few dates with someone like this if you were totally attracted to them and they were totally attracted to you and this whole thing was full of romantic potential except for that one “non-negotiable” (say kids or a crazy ex)? I believe most people would, and if they say no they’re either lying or not really interested in a relationship. Many (although not all) “non-negotiables” are just a defense mechanism against intimacy. Watch someone who says they just can’t date someone who likes country music when they meet the girl/guy who is absolutely everything they ever wanted and has a large collection of Garth Brooks CD’s. If they're serious about it, they'll "make an exception."

One of the biggest offenses against slow living (that is, life as it was meant to be) is speed dating. Yes, I’ve done it. Yes, I thought it was a good idea: meet about 25 men in one evening, spending exactly three (or as many as eight) minutes “getting to know” them, and at the end write down which ones I’d like to go out with. Later, matches were put in contact with each other and the rest was up to us. Fail-proof, right?

The more I reflect on how much I need to get to know a man before I really want his hands on me, the more speed dating looks like a huge waste of time. And the more I realize how much time I need to get to know someone before I develop true feelings of affection and appreciation, the more online dating looks like a huge waste of money. Online dating focused me on the things that really weren’t that important. Online, the guy I’m dating now never would have received a response from me. He doesn’t write well, doesn’t take good digital self-photos, doesn’t have a professional headshot and a list of our interests would have shown few in common. So the @!%& what? None of that matters in real life, but Match.com, Lavalife.com and all the rest, would have us believe it does. Such websites keep us way too focused on “flaws” like spelling and if he listens to NPR. Ridiculous.

Hollywood has already tainted American culture with the belief that true, lasting love develops in a few days or weeks. How long does it take the relationships in It Happened One Night or Love Story or While You Were Sleeping to turn into marriage? Not long. But in real life it can take a long time for romance to develop between two people who get to know each other gradually, say by sharing a common activity or going to the same church. How about giving someone a real chance to slowly reveal all their inner qualities? How about finding out how they feel about family, for instance, by watching them interact with theirs rather than grilling them on the first date? How about taking our foot off the gas pedal and letting feelings develop that are based on someone’s character rather than sexual chemistry? Because what does chemistry indicate? It indicates chemistry! Which is just one dimension of a very complicated dynamic between two people.

I’m in favor of slow food and slow dating. The term “crawling in love” (Charlotte Kasl’s term) is more relevant to my life than “falling in love.” I know most people would respond to this piece by saying they don’t have time to take it slow, they need to keep their lives on schedule, they’re not getting any younger, etc. As a never-married almost-40-year-old I know all about "not getting any younger". But I’ve found that insisting the next guy be “the one” makes me much harsher in my evaluations and less tolerant of, well, human characteristics. I have a friend who consciously walks into rooms wondering if his “wife” is there. I think this kind of approach narrows our field of possibility and allows for less romance instead of more. My new approach is to date for months before making up my mind. And after a few months I’m not reviewing “husband potential.” After a few months all I’m deciding is whether or not to enjoy his company for another few months.

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