They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but I’m thinking that when you meet so many strangers in so short a time, familiarity might just breed comfort. You see a guy’s picture 20 times, you begin to feel you know him. Maybe the first time he wrote to you, you weren’t sure about him — maybe he even creeped you out — but a year or two later he practically seems like family (possibly that family member you want to avoid, but family nonetheless).
Maybe that’s why when Eric writes me, his picture appeals to me. He reminds me of someone. Someone … someone like … him!
It takes us a bit before he realizes that we’ve gone out before. It was two years ago — that’s 10 years in dating time — and we actually went out twice. (I guess I wasn’t the one-hit-dating wonder then that I am now.)
Eric wants to know now if I’d like to go out again. Now, two years later. I’m not sure. I can’t recall much about Eric. But maybe that’s because I don’t possess the best memory in the world. OK, my memory is about as good as a stoned amnesiac’s. There are entire years of my life I’ve blocked from my mind, shredded like crucial government documents.
I do remember, though, where we had dinner on the second date. (I’m drawing a complete blank on the first, though. Actually I sincerely doubt we had two dates, but I have to take his word for it — I always have to take other people’s words for the past). I remember that he kissed me. I remember he had a cat. And I know that I was allergic to cats then and still am.
But here’s what I don’t remember: I don’t remember what else was going on in my life at the time; I don’t remember why exactly I didn’t like him, and I don’t remember how exactly it ended.
So here’s the real question. Is timing everything? Is context anything?
Are we malleable, whimsical creatures whose predilections are determined only by the season, our moods, the placement of the moon in the sky?
Or is there a solid core inside, a hard drive of basic preferences and tastes that consistently governs the choices that we make? Are our instincts infallible?
I am someone who goes by instinct. Like most people, I like to think that I have good instincts. On the other hand, my relationship track record might suggest otherwise. My instincts, I suppose, have not always been right.
So in the name of being less picky, I decide to go out with Eric again.
There is a comfort level to our phone conversations that I usually don’t have with strangers. I suppose it’s because he’s not exactly a stranger. He knows things about me that I don’t know how he knows except that I must have told him. He knows that I surf, he knows that I’m allergic to cats (“still?”) and that he really liked me the last time, but I just wasn’t interested.
I’m hoping that when I see Eric, it will all come back to me. That I’d be like one of those characters in a miniseries who is jolted into recovery by the sight of her loved one.
No such luck. When I see Eric, I see why I didn’t recognize his picture in the first place — he doesn’t look like his picture. He does look like someone I might have gone out with already, but then again, maybe not.
I’m checking my instincts, taking my emotional temperature and getting nothing. “No pulse, doctor.” Not a blip on the EKG. Flat-lining.
So I do what I always do in these memory-failure situations. I decide to start from scratch with Eric, find out about him. It goes well, apparently, because he asks me out again. I can’t find a reason to say no — not a good reason, not if I am going by something other than mere instinct.
But what else is there? We live by our gut, our instincts, our heart, whatever you want to call it. Perhaps intuition can be warped, perhaps it needs to be refined, therapized, cauterized, redirected, reshaped — but should we ignore it? To ignore it is to go out on a second — actually fourth — date with a man you don’t like. You don’t know why you don’t like him, you can’t put your finger on it, but you also know you don’t have to put your finger on it.
You can, in the end, just act like a brat and get into some stupid spat with this man you’ll never see again, simply because you’re there in this situation despite your own good judgment.
So I slam down some money, walk out and screech out of the parking lot like a getaway driver, and then I realize that I didn’t remember Eric for a good reason: He wasn’t memorable.
This time I’ll remember him — I hope — or at least I’ll remember this: My intuition may not be good, but for now, it’s the best thing I’ve got.