Let's talk about the most important interview you'll ever be granted. Seated at a well-appointed table, you mull the choice between crab cakes and seared tuna, but truly you are sorting through a mental repertoire of wisecracks and war stories. If you are secure in your improvisational charms, you might use this moment to appraise the cleavage or cufflinks of the woman or man across the table.
There's no predicting discussion topics, but you can be sure they'll pertain to your marital status, extracurricular activities, and your job. (There are no verboten questions at this interview.) You are applying for a new and expanded life. Or, you simply want a one-night pass that can be renewed indefinitely. And you need to know whether your dining companion is up to the task.
A date makes us both spectator and performer at a two-ring circus: We troll for wit, kindness, curiosity, and "chemistry," hoping that we radiate these same attributes in the right amounts. From strategic winks and blinks to elaborate grooming to gifts of gorgeous baubles, men and women employ an arsenal of tricks in their romantic lives, all in the service of a demanding master at the far reaches of conscious awareness. Eons of evolution have honed our behavior to aid and abet a reproductive payoff.
The sum of the stratagems we employ, and the wisdom of nature in crafting them without our explicit awareness, are now the subject of intense study by evolutionary psychologists. Our sexual calculations and character reconnaissance, it turns out, call for smart, but not always accurate, judgments. That's because mating intelligence is as oxymoronic as the term suggests. We routinely bring both cold reason and outsized misconceptions to a relationship. Both serve a purpose.
A woman will accurately gauge her date's personality on first meeting, but she will grow more convinced of his good humor and charm if they stick together. Love has a loopy logic.
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