First Impressions

I was smitten the first second I saw him — the astrophysicistwho broke my heart.

It was a chilly night at an outdoor party, and his Nordic face waslooking up at the stars, no doubt contemplating the elusive nature ofgamma ray emissions and incommutable variables. He sat with his armsfolded over his big, fuzzy turquoise fleece jacket while I plotted mymove. I took the seat next to him and racked my brain for somethingto say, finally settling on “Nice fleece. Fleece is warm.”

Oh, great, I thought; I’ve shown all the conversation acuity of aslice of herring. Still, it broke the ice, and we talked for hours.He was brilliant, he was charming, he bore a striking resemblance toa member of the Baldwin family, and not once, not once, did he offerhis shivering new companion the fleece.

Could I have predicted, after just five minutes, that this paragonwould eventually leave me cold? Maybe.

With more sense (and perhaps fewer martinis), I may have been ableto see past the flood of pleasing visual stimuli, past my absurdprojection of our atom-smashing Baldwinesque children. I may havebeen able to hear what his actions were telling me — that this was aman, less malicious than distracted, who would not even think tooffer me shelter.

In the last year and a half, I’ve thought a lot about that firstmeeting, much the way you replay that second before a car wreck,wondering why you didn’t see it coming, why you didn’t swerve or hitthe brakes or pay attention.

One of the few American axioms that my Yiddish-speakinggrandfather chose to learn — and repeat often — was “seasonschange, people don’t.” In other words, the man who at first doesn’tthink to offer you his fleece will not magically morph into thegiving, sensitive man you’d like him to be.

These days, I try to be alert for early harbingers of heartbreak– and remember my grandfather’s words.

A few months ago, I met a man and gave him my phone number. When Ididn’t hear from him for two weeks, I figured that he wasn’tinterested or that he lost the digits in some sort of horrible housefire. When he finally did call, he said that he had been busy; hethen casually inquired about my weekend plans. I thought, “No way,pal,” and swerved right out of the way of that particular wreck. Ifit takes a man two weeks to call for the first date, how “busy” is hegoing to be before the second date? Or on my birthday? Or when I’mstranded somewhere with a flat tire?

You might say to me, listen Lady Heartbreak, Princess of Doom,you’re taking this first impression thing way too far. And I may be.But, for now, I’d rather be a little neurotic than a lot sorry.

And it’s not only flaws that I recognize from a careful study of afirst encounter.

I met Bill in an acting class. We were all supposed to introduceourselves, and when it was his turn, he stood on his chair, rippedoff his shirt and launched into an over-the-top monologue about howhe always wanted to have a raven tattooed on his chest. The incidentsort of loses its spontaneity in the retelling, but I could not stoplaughing. I knew right away that Bill was both creative and fearless.We didn’t quite click romantically, but he is one of my closestfriends and, certainly, my most amusing.

I’m not saying I have a crystal ball, or that I have becomeperfectly adept at surmising the compatibility of potential mates.It’s still difficult to really take in all of the initial datawithout automatically dismissing the bits of information I don’tlike. But I’m trying to be both more alert and more realistic.

The next time that I’m shivering and looking for warmth, I’ll waitfor the season to change — because people usually don’t.