Mark Radcliffe laments that the guy who makes the great catch in the long run doesn’t always make a great first impression.
I’ll admit, I’m a huge TV fan these days. Not the reality-show garbage, but the ones with genuinely well-crafted writing. The last few years, I think you could make the case that there’s better writing on TV than on film, and actors like Alec Baldwin, Keifer Sutherland, Glenn Close, Steve Buscemi and Holly Hunter seem to agree, based on the roles they’re choosing. Here, the human condition is finally getting proper representation.
One of my favorite TV comedies is How I Met Your Mother, which follows the romantic misadventures of several 20-somethings in New York. Two of the male leads are Ted (Josh Radnor) and Barney (played brilliantly by Neal Patrick Harris). Together, they represent polar opposites in the male dating pool—Ted is earnest and idealistic, looking for “the one,” Barney is the seasoned player simply out for the score.
In the pilot episode, Ted finds himself head over heels in love with the captivating Robin, and he’s clumsily confessed “I love you” on their very first date. It’s done. Over. He’s crossed the line and Robin is completely freaked out. It’s a situation the calm and collected Barney would never have found himself in. But here’s Ted’s response to her after he’s out on the sidewalk, attempting damage control:
“You know what? I’m done being single, I’m not good at it. Look, obviously you can’t tell a woman you just met that you love her, but it sucks that you can’t. I’ll tell you something though, if a woman, not you, just some hypothetical woman, were to bear with me through all this, I think I’d make a damn good husband, because that’s the stuff I’d be good at. Stuff like making her laugh and being a good father and walking her five hypothetical dogs.”
It was a scene that struck deep into my heart, both as a fellow romantic idealist and someone who has unfortunately said “too much, too soon” more times in his own life than he cares to admit. Regardless of what you think of the show, it touches on what I consider to be an essential truth of dating:
The guy who’s a great catch in the long run? He doesn’t always make a great first impression.
And the guy who does make a great first impression? In the bar, or wherever? He’s usually an asshole once you get him home and away from the spotlight.
There’s a big emphasis on first impressions in the dating world. We’re lead to believe that you’ve gotta have crazy chemistry right off the bat for things to work. But the truth is often that the flame that burns brightest at first burns out pretty quickly.
And, conversely, it’s the ones that take a little time to catch that can burn the longest.
The essential problem with why quality people don’t always connect with each other is that the place where most couples meet—the bar, or some other equivalent of a fleeting, chance meet-up in a loud, public venue with lots of distractions, has nothing to do with the real world in which couples live—in the quietude of home, or the car, or the hospital as someone is ill, or giving birth, or attending a loved one.
And so the guy who performs well in the bar might have none of the skills he’ll be required to have once you’re deeply into a relationship, like attentiveness, listening, consideration, empathy, respectfulness, thoughtfulness, caring and patience.
But the guy who’s got all of those qualities? He probably hasn’t spent the hours on the social circuit that it takes to be instantly charming, confident and funny to a complete stranger he just met at the bar.
The bar is a performance hall.
The home is reality.
The bar is where guys who are charming but shallow, inconsiderate and downright selfish can completely hide their demerits just long enough to get a woman home and undressed.
The home is where it matters. But unfortunately no one meets their future wife hanging out in their home. They’ve got to go out into the world. To where you can meet someone you don’t know yet. Where, if you’re focused on more important things, you might not be so skilled.
Because if you are a person of true spirit, one who believes in love, who aches for it, and who can perceive it all in someone else they’ve just met, you often are so forthcoming with your feelings that you commit that one sin that can be the kiss of death—appearing too eager or desperate.
I’ve heard hundreds of my female friends talk about wanting a guy who’s a supportive and trustworthy soul, with a heart of gold, a great sense of humor, a kind heart, a courageous mind, who will listen to them, care about what they’re feeling and be completely transparent about his feelings. But those very same characteristics will make them run for the hills if thrown out there all at once. They’ll simply walk away. And instead go home with a guy who will lack all of those qualities, but be casual, confident and not too eager (because he genuinely doesn’t care about them) when bellied up to the bar with his wallet open.
Now, before the protests start, I acknowledge—the two can co-exist; the guy who’s a pillar of morality can also be charming and funny and confident in the bar. But not always. Sometimes the guy who’s the equivalent father of the year will be the guy who’s a bit of awkward on first brush. He won’t have the funniest line. Or the loudest voice that everyone’s paying attention to. Or the brightest smile. And unfortunately the ladies won’t always notice him. Or they’ll notice him but write him off as lacking that mysterious X-factor, or ‘shark’ gene.
But meanwhile, that guy who is the funniest/ loudest/ most charming guy in the bar who has your attention? He’s not gonna be there for her tomorrow night. He’ll be back at the bar again, trying to give another girl that same impression.
Because being “on” in a bar is a skill in itself. It takes years to become completely charming, magnetic and at ease amid strangers in a noisy room. It’s almost like becoming a standup comic. But do you really want a guy who’s spent all that time honing those skills? Because if he has, lord knows what he’s not spent his time doing. Volunteering for a local charity? Being a supportive friend? Becoming a good cook? Managing his finances? Being a good uncle? Calling his mother?
So here’s to the Teds of the world.
The ones with a true soul, who are out there living their lives with pure purpose, with passion, following wherever the heart takes them, professionally, socially, romantically. The Barneys might take the early lead in the chase for the girl of your dreams, but hang in there. He’ll be found in time. And she’ll come looking for something with a little more substance.
And you’ll be there.
Just try to wait at least till the second date before you tell her you love her.
Your wife, your future kids and the world in general will be forever in your debt.