Saturday, February 07, 2009

You think you're chocolate when you're chewing gum?


Viewing love as something beyond your control, something inflicted upon you, does seem like a cop-out. Unless you believe in Cupid's arrow, or a Godfather-style "thunderbolt," or that inhaling pheromones has effects comparable to PCP or some other strong drug, love is something you create out of your perceptions of a person. (And those perceptions often trickle in over time---rarely are we presented with a five minute window in which someone evidences all the smart/cute/funny/sensitive/pick-your-cliche traits in quick succession.)

Maybe it's not always volitional, in the sense that one typically doesn't decide to fall in love. But who you love is a reflection of your choices about what to value. Maybe some of these values were ingrained in a youthful and malleable mind, but for those of us with a little introspective ability and the inclination for self-interrogation, we should be able to get to the heart of why we love who we love, and potentially to change it. (Through therapy, perhaps?) Otherwise you may fall into a pattern of doomed relationships in which you embrace certain values in the beloved that prove to be counterproductive to human flourishing, or at least your own happiness.

But assume that your values are sound, and that finding someone who embodied those values would bring you love and joy. How to determine whether a person actually is, for your purposes, virtuous? If the virtue itself, and consequent valuation of the individual, is the source of love (which it must be, unless the aforementioned "love at first sight" paradigm holds), then your chance of finding true love is a function of how good you are at judging people. It is always difficult to discover that one is bad at something. Of course, you may be excellent at assessing people but extremely poor at drawing accurate conclusions about their future behavior. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, but it's probably more common in relationships to selectively disregard past (or present!) performance and think that, evidence to the contrary, things with you will be different.

A claim of being duped is fundamentally distinct(and has dissimilar implications for agency, as you note) than acknowledging that one has, through ordinary human weakness, convinced one's self of something that cannot be. Is it better to be a fool or to be weak? The weak man is everyone's potential victim, and so in a strange way retreat into the role of the fool, especially one fooled by someone particularly adept at nefarious evil, allows one to minimize one's fear of becoming a victim going forward. After all, you can always say that you won't be fooled again! (Until, of course, you're again bound by the volitionless animal spirit of love to another uniquely seductive yet destructive heartbreaker.)

But enough of this. Let's talk cinema. A friend recently inquired whether anyone actually likes
date movies for themselves, as opposed to seeing them because they are "guaranteed to be somewhat anodyne (and therefore minimally tolerable to most) and have a romantic subtext." Now that includes the generic rom-com, but the problem is that modern rom-coms are almost always chick flicks (of the worst sort: poorly scripted, emotionally manipulative, and rife with unflattering stereotypes), and why would you drag a fellow to a film that he is almost certain to not enjoy? If the purpose of a date movie is to facilitate the getting-to-know-you process in the early stages of a relationship, then maybe what you want is some kind of movie that 1) promotes conversation afterward, 2) promotes romantic feelings or arousal, to the degree that would not be awkward for the relationship stage, or both. It should also be something that is likely to be enjoyed by both sexes, so one party will not feel resentful later and spoil the mood.

So say you're taking a fellow out on a date: what sort of movie do you pick? It should be sexy, but not so sexy that you're going to be embarrassed. (Maybe not Lust, Caution, frex.) Both very high quality and very low quality pictures are fodder for post-film conversation, but deliberately going to see a bad movie, MST3K-style, may result in resentment, so it's dangerous. Foreign films are a standard go-to, but you may lose the plot if you kiss during the picture and can no longer follow the subtitles. Probably no Bruckheimer-style explosionfests: they get the blood pumping, but not the right way. Pure adrenaline is not conducive to seduction. Nothing with heavy, depressing themes: I saw The Reader tonight, and Holocaust pictures always make my limbs feel leaden, which is hardly a recipe for sassy banter and third-date hookups. Preferably there should be no relationship issues that could bleed over into real life. (This is why most chick flicks, with their dependence on engagements, marriages, and babies, are questionable. Do you really want to get into a spirited debate with a new beau about these types of weighty issues?)

Here are some lists of possibilities. Thoughts? (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind shows up practically everywhere, but it's not a good date movie, really---too much negativity focused on the main relationship. And incidentally, this is the worst date movie ever.)