Personal Development: Our columnist Belle de Bruxelles laments the lost art of keeping something back at the beginning of relationships.
Remember the butterflies in your stomach, a flutter of dread and hope, when you made that phone call, asking your crush on a first date? Followed by the anxiety mixed with excitement of where to go and what to wear and that wonderful moment when the day arrives and you see each other again.
I saw a young a couple out on their first date recently. The nervous, shy glances, the hands moving towards each other after conversation and perhaps some wine had been flowing, and the happiness glowing in their faces that, for the object of their desires, the feeling was mutual.
Never when sober? Yet the reality is that many relationships start (or most likely never get off the ground) with the easier route of an alcohol-fuelled night. No risk there. You can always claim if your advance is rejected you were drunk and would never have considered such a move in the sober light of day.
I had my eye on a guy for several months. When we finally got chatting at a party, one margarita after another heralded another early start to the passion (read drunken fumble), killing off any chance of romance even though he too, I was reliably informed, had admired me from afar.
How different it would have been if we had only talked and ended the evening arranging a first date. No embarrassment the next day; only the anticipation of what was yet to come. How many other requited passions and yet unrequited romances are there out there?
Discretion and daring On the date itself, there’s no need to be deliberately mysterious (that’s just annoying and tedious). But there’s also no need to spill out your life story, talk up your achievements, discuss previous partners or your penchant for, could we say, more exotic styles of love-making.
I’ve spent evenings with men desperate to impress (one even tried to tell me he had produced some films; turned out he chucked a few bucks at an amateur video), men who bring their emotional baggage from their evil exes from previous relationships and those who bluntly ask to spend the night together.
One of the most beautiful dates I ever had was with a fellow journalist who I saw sporadically at press conferences. We went out for a drink and when we reached his metro stop, which was just before mine, he pecked me on the lips, blushed and dived out of the carriage.
I felt like Liesel in The Sound of Music (1965) when the telegram boy finally kisses her before darting off in a similar style. That total ‘whoopie’ moment of ‘he actually likes me’ was worth a thousand passionate, raunchy kisses. It also told me he was nervous and didn’t want to risk pushing me.
When I finally met my husband, I swear it was only the expectation that kept me going. We could talk all evening about everything and nothing, usually prompting knowing winks between our friends, and yet we didn’t even reach the hand-holding stage by the end of our first date.
But I knew i wanted more and not because I like the chase (And who doesn’t? Men, you are not the only ones who like a challenge) but because in the time we had spent getting to know each other, I could see there was potential for that rare mix of love required for a long-term relationship.
Six degrees of attraction According to psychologist John Lee, there are six categories of love in relationships: the passionate kind of eros; the conquest love of Ludus; Storge, which grows out of friendship; Pragma, a love driven by need; Mania (yes, think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987); and altruistic love known as Agape.
Scientists say that men have a tendency towards the playful love of Ludus whereas women look more for friendship and are pragmatic. For me, having a deep emotional bond that grows out of friendship and passion is the magic combination.
But as well as using those early days to find out more about each other before the ‘can’t-keep-your-hands-off-each-other’ phase, there’s so much excitement in waiting, albeit a painstaking wait at times. As one friend put it, “the not quite knowing is torture but it makes you feel alive”.
In the words of Thomas Hardy’s female protagonist in his novel The Return of the Native when she finds herself unexpectedly alone on the moors with her lover: “Pleasure not known beforehand is half wasted; to anticipate it is to double it.”