Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Poetry: The Food of Love or Faux Pas?

'I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!'

'I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,' said Darcy.

'Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.'

-- Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice

Lately I've been wondering about the role poetry plays in dating, my thoughts on which begin with a little story.

Picture this:

A friend of mine recently went on a date which seemed to be going well: the conversation flowed, there was that spark of attraction which painful encounters lack. An invitation back to the date's Brooklyn apartment presented itself, and my friend accepted. 

Things were going very well!

Until suddenly the date in question, without encouragement of any kind, pulled out poetry that had been published in a small magazine and proceeded to read it aloud. 

My friend politely listened, silently wondering when she could make her escape without breaching the laws of etiquette or wounding tender feelings, when the date decided it was time to abandon poetry and play the guitar.

It was the final nail in the coffin. As far as I know, there has been no successive date. (Shocker!)

Sadly my friend is not alone in this predicament, for a similar occurrence happened to me. Perfectly normal conversations have been soiled by my unwelcome, and uninvited, subjection to poems about death. Because nothing says romance like melancholy writings on mortality? There I was, uncomfortably twiddling my thumbs while speculating how to respond without indicating that I wanted to hear more. I just wanted to get away; far, far away!

All this leads me to wonder if this sort of event transpires with frequency. In the intellectual/reader/writer/student dating pool, do overeager individuals often torment potential partners with similarly awkward encounters? 

I consider this to be a big no-no when it comes to dating (and social interactions in general for that matter). Perhaps it's motivated by a desire to bare one's soul to an object of attraction, but it comes off as vain and conceited. And if the poetry in question is bad, it comes off as groundlessly narcissistic in the grand tradition of Don Quixote.

Here's the dilemma: how does one appropriately respond to the song that sounds like nails on a chalkboard or the short story featuring the grammatical competency of a twelve-year-old? Do you proffer slight compliments? Offer an honest critique? Or do you simply say, 'Well, this has been fun, but I really must get home to shampoo my hair'?

No, no, just no. Particularly in the early stages of a relationship, I feel it's only considerate to wait for an invitation to share one's art. 

Elizabeth's right. There's no surer way to kill 'a slight, thin sort of inclination' than to read one's poetry uninvited. It only takes one sonnet. If you save that sonnet for when your significant other is already hopelessly in love, surely the rose-colored glasses will lead them to assure you of its brilliance...even if it's rubbish. 

Thoughts? Has this happened to anybody else out there? Are Elizabeth and I in the right, or do you agree with Darcy?


Ashley said...

I whole-heartedly agree. Though my exposure to such awkward encounters is limited, I do recall one experience in which a fellow student read aloud a "poetic" passage about me in class. I did not jump out of my chair and profess my love to him after his reading, much to his (I imagine) disappointment. Ring any bells? :)

Caro said...

Thank God, I have never been subjected to poetry during a date. I've been subjected to football talk I didn't understand in the least, but thankfully not poetry. Whoever thinks it's romantic is, well, not necessarily mistaken, but certainly not my type.
My condolences to your poor friend.

Terri B. said...

"Because nothing says romance like melancholy writings on mortality?" Only if you're in high school ;)

Diana said...

Ashley: No, no bells are ringing. To what are you referring? ;)

Seriously though, that moment was priceless in a tragic sort of way. Yours was infinitely worse as it was public, but it featured the same mistaken confidence in one's 'art' that is so off-putting.

Diana said...

Caro: I'm not sure what's worse: football talk or poetry. Personally, I think I'd take the football talk. It's far less uncomfortable.

I mean, I like football, but I think everybody has had a date drone on incessantly about a topic their partner has no interest in, but that is merely boring. One can smile and nod, confident that the conversation won't be repeated.

These poetry encounters, on the other hand, result in nothing but squirming. :/

Diana said...

Terri: haha! You'd think, wouldn't you? It seems to be a phase that takes longer for some to grow out of than others.