The idea of falling in love still astounds me. The odds of two people falling for each other simultaneously seem astronomically slim, but the commonalities of the human experience suggest it probably should happen all the time. Which it does, I suppose.
But for every perfect match there lies a slew of ruined relationships strewn in the rear-view mirror, where couples split early and easily for reasons that seem petty when spelt out, but which all represent far greater things about ideals, attitudes, goals, temperaments and whether-or-not the bed sheets should be tucked in at the sides. (They shouldn't.)
Inspired by a segment on morning TV that a friend of mine took part in this week, I decided to explore the fundamental red-flags and deal-breakers of dating.
Like the producers of Family Feud, I surveyed an audience (of male friends) for their answers to this question, and found an alarming level of consistency. Cheapness is frowned upon. Being rude to waitstaff, shop-assistants, or anyone in a subservient role is a huge red flag for most. Talking constantly about yourself is also a turn-off. Angry work or office talk also doesn't do it for most. Ceaseless chat about exes isn't the best, either.
"I had a first date, from Tinder I think," a friend told me, "where she suggested we go to (eye-wateringly pricey restaurant) Sake in The Rocks, then ordered $270 worth of food and drinks, and seemed surprised when I suggested we split the bill. We never spoke again."
My own relationship red flags are similarly subtle things — less a checklist of attributes and attitudes, and more a general vibe, which I'm aware doesn't quantify well. I once soured on a girl when she laughed cruelly after watching a guy fall off a bike and clearly hurt himself. I once endured 40 minutes of a girl gossiping and laughing with her two friends while ostensibly on a date with me — then another whole hour listening to how they were both pathetic bitches who were hopeless at their jobs, their lives, their fashion choices, their boyfriend choices, etc, etc. I once stopped seeing a girl after she tried quite heavy-handedly to guilt me into going to church with her, using her supposedly forced attendance at my friend's house party as a quid pro quo. And, unless we are doing a '90s East Coast hip hop role-playing bit, if a woman calls me "daddy" during sex, that's probably where things end for me.
Not wanting only to solicit male opinions for this piece, I went out and did some hefty field research into the opinions of the fairer sex. (Hint: I just asked my girlfriend.) Her relationship red flags were similar to those of my male friends, but also included guys who don't have a job (it represents a lot more than the actual employment situation) and those with a messy bedroom. Almost as if to quickly rebuff my follow-up, she recounted the first time she entered my apartment — my cleaning habits are most kindly described as "sporadic" — and gazed in horror upon the many stacked books and magazines, the unmade bed, the unwashed everything. "Sorry about the way I live," I offered meekly, and it must have been enough to disarm her, because we now live together. I didn't remember this story when she recounted it, but I sure believed it.
She also offered a similar tale to the $270 Sake disaster, in which a guy asked her out, took her to an obscenely expensive restaurant and insisted with hedonistic abandon that she order whatever she liked. She knew he was fairly broke, but clearly out to impress, so she didn't push back, still ordering modestly. This modest ordering was a mild relief when the bill came and he insisted they split it.
Cheapness on an early date represents so much more than the monetary figure. People — at least the kinds of people you'll want to get to know — don't care whether or not you have money, and they don't need to be impressed by your knowledge of where the most expensive restaurants are. They either know where they are, or they don't care. Or both. A date doesn't need to be expensive to be romantic. In fact, according to both sexes, the opposite is often true. Ordering the most expensive wine isn't a sign of your classiness, it just shows your familiarity with the decimal system. Faffing about, trying to pay $43.50 each — "I've only got my card"; "I've only got cash"; "Sorry, we don't split bills" — isn't very sexy.
Other female friends rattled off a similar list to the males: cheapness; being mean to waiters; turning up late with no apology or excuse; clear anger issues; rocking up to a first date hammered or high; boasting; ex-talk. A friend once went on a first date with a gynaecologist who explained to her over dinner how the majority of women poo themselves during birth. Romance officially died that night. All romance. Everywhere.
It's a lot. "Netflix and chill" has become such a ubiquitous phrase not because of the twin rise of streaming and dating services, but because it is a low-pressure, low-cost way to get to know someone, in relative privacy, with the added benefit of being close to a bed.
Plus, any date situated primarily on a comfortable lounge is destined to end with at least a kiss.
It all speaks to a larger truth: if someone reveals how utterly inconsiderate they are on a first date — the moment at which one is expected to be trying their very hardest to hide those less-appealing traits — then it doesn't bode well for the person's behaviour once they become comfortable in a relationship.
Being inconsiderate, selfish, cruel, two-faced — all those ugly traits — spill over into every avenue of life, and nobody wants a partner who puts themselves first and second, their lover third, and the rest of the world last.