Odd creatures, we are.

You might imagine that a two-legged mammal with a large brain and opposable thumbs might not be that tricky to figure out. We’re omnivores because we don’t have speed or claws, social because we have a long gestation and tribal because we have language. What’s not to understand?

Here’s a thing. When we first meet people, we often overlook stuff. We’ll make an instant judgment based on a few superficial cues, and if the person sneaks past that stringent test we are inclined to give them the benefit of any doubt. From that point onwards, we’ll spin their behavior positively, often with unwitting blindness to reality.

The reverse is true, too. If we take an instant dislike to someone, that’s the way we tend to continue. We can call it emotional momentum if you like. Once that initial split-second thumbs-up or thumbs-down decision is made, that’s the way our outlook continues.

Dating is this way. On meeting someone new, that first five-second determination will predispose us for some time to come. Think of how well we remember first meetings of almost anyone in our lives – with possible (or actual) romantic involvement, the path so chosen is remarkably long-lasting.

Seems to me that the longing for coupling, for a mate, is so strong that we’ll overlook unbelievable faults in people. We so want to be together with someone, we’re prepared to overlook crazy incompatibilities for the chance at a happy togetherness.

Which is why we need to exert an enormous effort to be less carried away by this emotional foolishness. Peripheral qualities are the least important and most transient in anyone’s character. Disregarding that first impression is a start – a sober, realistic, practical and thoroughly critical investigation of this stranger will save us from disaster.

I can write all this because of the horrific mistakes I made. Optimism based on a first meeting is admirable. Hope based on wanting someone to be something other than who they are is life-destroying.