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The other night my wife and I checked out this new Spanish restaurant. We had a fantastic meal of steamed clams, seafood paella, and stuffed lobster, washed down with a delicious Vinho Verde from Portugal. I was in the midst of not one, but two stuffed lobsters when for a moment, my mind briefly strayed from my ravenous escapade. Lobster, as everyone knows, is a rather messy food and I was devouring mine with wild abandon. As I paused and contemplated the scenario I said to my wife: “This is definitely not first-date food.” I immediately returned all of my attention back to my lobsters and saved that thought for now.
It is generally understood amongst the dating public that “first-date” food is neat food. It doesn’t have to be refined or hoity-toity, but it cannot be messy. Above all, it should not be a food that requires you to delve wrist-deep into the fray. First-date food is always food you can eat in a civilized manner with a knife and fork. Lobsters, barbequed ribs and corn-on-the-cob are definitely not victuals designed to woo your potential new love interest.
But exactly why is that? What is it about rolling your sleeves up and enthusiastically enjoying robust fare that may be a deterrent on the first date, but not the 6th date? We instinctively know that ripping apart a lobster with our bare hands and spewing lobster juices across the table as butter rolls off our chin, is not conducive to the mating dance. We know that’s not the gastronomic way to go at the seminal point in a relationship. But why? Have you ever stopped and really pondered what it would mean to you if your date engaged in such behavior? I believe the answer lies in the dark side of human nature.
Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, humans indeed have a dark side. One need only glimpse at the never ending history of warfare, genocide, crime, prejudice, and inhumanity on this planet to confirm it. More than a century ago Sigmund Freud posited that man is born with aggressive and lascivious instincts, (known as the Id). Perhaps this is an evolutionary remnant from our primitive past. Whatever the source, man indeed possesses some base impulses and these in turn can sometimes adversely affect others.
To some degree, we all know this as human beings. We know, be it intentional or not, that some people can hurt us. I’m not necessarily referring to more extreme forms of cruelty, (although that certainly happens), but simple everyday ways that people can hurt us: breaching our trust, hurting our feelings, and breaking our hearts. It is these experiences that erode our ability to trust with impunity.
In an effort to protect ourselves from these disappointments we endeavor to judge individuals’ behavior, searching for clues that would suggest interpersonal danger. Returning to our first date, we are generally leery of others exposing their carnal nature early in a relationship, especially a romantic one. Our fear is, that if this individual is so brash with their impulses right out of the gate, what does this mean about their overall personality? What will they be like later when even more ice is broken?
There’s an old joke amongst women that goes: What’s the difference between a nice guy and a jerk? Answer: Nice guys are jerks later! This witticism underscores even further our wariness about impulsive first-date behavior: We know that some people who are mean or hurtful start off as well mannered. If someone is ill-mannered right from the start, how much worse are they?
Now of course, pigging out on a plate of ribs and getting barbeque sauce all over your face doesn’t mean someone is going to break your heart. Maybe it just means they’re lacking in social graces. Maybe they’re just clueless that such behavior is inappropriate for a first date. Maybe they feel at ease with us and feel safe to take an interpersonal liberty. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a decent person with an unusually passionate first-date appetite. And maybe it means nothing.
The problem is there's no way of knowing for sure. We have little to go on during a first date. Most people do not wish to stereotype others or judge them prematurely. But by the same token, we seek to safeguard ourselves. Does the butter dripping down our first-date's chin mean they brazenly enjoy lobster or does it mean we’ll be filing for a restraining order in six months? How much you've been burned in the past we'll determine whether you err on the side of caution or not.
Therefore, my recommendation is, (and I hope I’m not helping the monsters out there to hide their true nature but the decent folk who could use some dating advice), is to be mindful of your behavior at the first-date dinner table. Actually, I would carry this conservativeness into the first few dates, (assuming you get past the first one). Eat etiquettely, don’t drink too much, and mind your manners. Let the other person get to know you a little bit sans Id. If things go well you’ll reach that cozy spot in the relationship where you can splatter lobster all over the table without fear of rejection. But it all starts with your first-date food.