Varieties of Madness Commonly Met with On Dates
It’s generally easiest to love human nature from afar – to be touched by the kindness, intelligence, beauty and grace of our fellow creatures when we are, perhaps, surveying them from 30,000 feet or across a few centuries of history. The true challenge is to hold on to a little of this benevolent regard when they are across the table and the first course has only just arrived.
We know, in theory, that many of us are disturbed, that emotional trauma is widespread, that up to 60% of us may have severely disrupted attachment styles, but the reality remains surprising. Much of the difficulty is shielded from us in those far easier kinds of intercourse, friendship and work. People can do a good imitation of sanity until it comes to love. Through dating, we are offered a front row seat on the spectacle of psychological disturbance.
We may be tempted to rush over the details of the extremely peculiar date. We resort far too easily to the word ‘psycho’. We would do well to reflect on – and perhaps in a melancholy journal – keep a note of the Varieties of Madness Commonly Met with On Dates. The pathologies include:
One realises, gradually, that every question has gone in one direction only. No feather of curiosity has drifted back one’s way. At first, there was a certain natural vivacity that kept things afloat. Now one wonders what kind of neglect they must once have endured to feel that a few moments of interest in another person could be so dangerous. While waiting for a taxi, they briefly touch our arm and make us promise that next time, we really must tell them a bit more about what’s going on in our lives.
There’s nothing wrong with the lighter topics. It can be fascinating to hear about someone else’s plans for their apartment, their trip to the coast, a cousin who recently visited from abroad or how light the traffic has been of late, all things considered. The problem stems from the strength of the underlying determination not to be known. They have come, but only on the condition that their true self (apparently the repository of some powerfully threatening memories of unacceptability, loss or pain) won’t have to attend.
We may be drawn, initially, to their downbeat reticent manner. They may make a few darkly comedic remarks about themselves and life more broadly. But the negativity starts to weigh; there are never happy endings, everything is awful, nothing (including this evening) can work out. They are something far less palatable than melancholy: they have sheathed themselves in a cloak of cynicism to mask an impregnable terror of hope.
They appear very keen from the first. Their manner is overtly attentive and seductive. We can’t help but be flattered until we realise that none of it has anything to do with us. They just labour under a need to ensure that any and every candidate will end up desiring them – at which point, without calling back, they will feel more bearable to themselves. The idea of being wanted is so strange to them, they are addicted to hearing it from more and more people – though they can never believe it and will punish anyone who thinks more highly of them than they think of themselves. A lot of people will fail to receive texts, will have subsequent meetings cancelled and will wonder what they might have done wrong, because three decades ago, a grown up was severely disinterested in a very small person asleep in a crib.
If all this were not already so difficult, there is another agony that may await us: that by a miracle of psychological good health, the candidate will – unexpectedly – be entirely wondrous: funny, kind, self-aware, realistic, tolerant and imaginative. Yet, as becomes subtly and very gracefully evident as the meal progresses, they will be wholly indifferent to us too. They will see through our defences, they will spot our madness, we will be the ones described as psychos in the lacerating precis of this encounter they will give to their friends in the taxi home. We hadn’t really realised how lonely we were until this evening – or what a fun but profitless sport it is to try see through people.