A Million First Dates, or Looking Back at the Same Thing Farther Away

I wonder how many first dates I’ve had in my life. I went on another one last night. We met at a bar, drank for a couple hours, made small talk, made out a little bit and called it a night.

It sounds so formulaic; it feels rote. The same origin stories are told, the same characters appear at the same moments when I tell my life story in retrospect. It’s become a kind of puppet drama, losing particulate truth as the memories become fixed in the past.

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I wrote about the terrible time I was having letting go of some old text messages from a woman I used to date. Someone wrote in the comments, “Life is too short to be continually looking backwards.”

I have an aphorism for all occasions. I am generally too pleased with ability to be glib, to reduce something complex to an essential pith; a rind of truth in ten words or less. Aphorisms are about as useful as religion. They free the brain from the need to prove something, to understand it beyond its root mystical level. And they all contradict one another, they’re meant to stop conversation not provoke it.

Life is to be lived with perpetual forward movement, my old reader asserts.

It’s a pretty sentiment, but I don’t think it means anything. I will never understand myself well enough to be able to walk away from the past and my place in it. Time is inevitable, it takes us all to the same place, like an avalanche. It doesn’t matter what direction we face, it picks us up and sends us tumbling downward in an expanding ball that accumulates everything.

To think you can fundamentally change your experience by deciding to face forward seems to be a misunderstanding of what it is to live. I do not know what I am, or why I want the things I want. But I remember feelings; the cyclical whoosh gives new variations to the same sensations again and again.

So I was sitting at a table in a bar last night, listening to my date talk. She was pretty and neurotic, self-censoring and filled with outbursts of laughter. I wondered when I was going to kiss her. I started watching her hands move; I listened to the rhythm of her voice; followed her eyes when they drifted across the bar to gather the next thought.

I felt my blood pressure drop, a flash of pinpricks ran across the palm of my hands, and I could feel my heart beating in the veins on my neck.

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I remembered that feeling instantly. I had it in the moments before I kissed the woman for whom I moved to New York on the first day we met. The same physical symptoms, the same details, and two completely separate experiences. I still remember that night. The details are so mundane, echoes of a million people’s stories throughout time. A bar, a look, a jump out into the unknowable. But that night was hers and mine, it was private. And somehow here it was again, the same chemical responses and physiology.

I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been on that same threshold, a first date, a first move, waiting for a pause to move in. Only that one time something moved back into me. It reminded me why all the physical responses happen in the first place. There are times and people with whom those moments mean something.

And others are first dates, comfortable, infinitely repeatable, and willingly lost in the crush of the avalanche.

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