We are never as shy and gauche as we are when attempting to seduce someone we deeply like. The thought of someone this perfect coming to take an interest in us seems at once tantalising and entirely implausible. We develop vertigo and, too often, fall. Behind our insecurity lie two conjoined fears: that we are exceptionally awful. And that the beloved is exceptionally perfect. Both ideas are hugely destructive – and false.
However, the road to greater confidence about our own nature is not to start to tell ourselves that we are, after all, brilliant. It is to examine more carefully how brilliant any other human being can plausibly be – and conclude that we are no more awful than the next soul. We are so closely in contact with our own ridiculous sides, we cannot – from within, if we are halfway honest – have many illusions about ourselves: every day, we are made aware of our inherent clumsiness, error and absurdity. By contrast, we only ever see the carefully constructed facades of everyone else, which is what can make them seem – quite unfairly – more impressive than they in fact are.
“The thought of someone this perfect coming to take an interest in us seems at once tantalising and entirely implausible.”
We shouldn’t try to reassure ourselves of our own dignity; we should grow at peace with the inevitable nature of our but also everybody else’s ridiculousness. We are idiots now, we have been idiots in the past, and we will be idiots again in the future – and that is entirely normal. There aren’t any other available options for a human being.
Once we learn to see ourselves as already, and by nature, foolish, it really doesn’t matter so much if we do one more thing that might look quite stupid. The person we try to kiss could indeed think us ridiculous. But if they did so, it wouldn’t be news to us; they would only be confirming what we had already gracefully accepted in our hearts long ago: that we, like them – and every other person on the earth – are something of a nitwit. The risk of trying and failing would have its sting substantially removed. The fear of humiliation would no longer stalk us in the shadows.
Furthermore, it is properly unhelpful ever to think of someone we want to seduce as particularly special. It is normal, of course, to be momentarily dazzled by beauty or intelligence, but we should quickly recover our poise and remember that our beloved is, after all, only human. In other words, that behind the alluring facade, once we know them better, they will have a litany of irritating habits, insecurities, obsessions and flaws. To give us further confidence, if we did kiss and even one day marry this person, we’d almost certainly be quite unhappy a lot of the time. Our intimidated feelings before a prospective lover stem from a melodramatic sense of how much is at stake. This paragon will, with time, prove to be a lot more complicated than they appear and will at points be plain heart-wrenchingly maddening. This dark knowledge should relax us as we struggle to cross the room and speak to them: we are not, in fact, faced with a divine being balancing our fate entirely in their well-formed hands. They are an ordinary creature beset with all the tensions, compromises and blind spots we know from our own selves – who will, if everything goes really well, in substantial ways eventually ruin our lives.
We can approach our date with the down-to-earth confidence of one misery-inducing human reaching out to another to start a relationship that will, in time, at many points, feel like an enormous mistake. We can import into the seduction phase some of the (usefully relaxing) ingratitude that we naturally experience once a relationship has started – and use it to get love going.
We should, before heading out for the evening, tell oneself that one is of course something of a cretin and an imbecile, but then so are they, and everyone else we will meet. One or two more acts of folly should, thereafter, not seem like they matter very much at all.
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