That's when people reveal themselves, because it's before they feel something is at stake. Will she like me? What will he think of me? I hope I make a good impression.
The beginning -- the preliminary phone call, the casual party conversation, the unwitting meeting of total strangers on a plane, an elevator, a funeral (don't ask) -- is the best time to glean all the information you can from a person. Most of the time you don't understand the significance of what the other person is telling you, but it will prove to be invaluable later on, should there be a later on.
It's kind of like being a police investigator at a crime scene. Police need to interview suspects immediately following the crime -- to catch them off guard, before they have time to construct a story, an alibi, an alternate narrative where the details are changed.
In the case of dating, the suspect is your potential partner, but he doesn't know it yet and so he reveals all sorts of clues about himself in order to seem open and emotionally in touch. You, the investigator, have this one rare opportunity to probe delicately this first time without seeming invasive, needy or psycho, because, hey, you're just talking, casually, you know, as friends.
Ironically, the more you like the person the less you'll reveal about your true self because you'll want to impress, and it will take months for the other person to find out who you are, unless the other person is paying attention in the very, very beginning, before you try to pull the mask over his heart.
For example: In our first conversation, Mike tells me he's divorced.
"What happened?" I ask.
Because isn't that a natural question?
"She cheated on me," he admits.
"Your wife cheated on you?" I say, barely holding in my incredulity. Now that's a new one. And it's too unusual to be untrue. Not to say that women don't cheat, but it's a man-bites-dog story, and it leaves me speechless, like if you ask someone how many siblings he has, and he responds that his twin died.
"I'm so sorry," I say. "That is so terrible."
"Oh, it was a long time ago," he says, explaining his cavalier attitude.
I guess that's why I can get away with asking so many pointed questions. Questions I won't be able to broach two months from now because he'll know that I'm onto him. The suspect will realize I'm on his tail, using all my investigations and exculpatory examinations for evidence in the case I'm building against him -- i.e., The People vs. Mike Schwartzstein. (The people being me, and all the friends I bring evidence to of why he may not be good enough.)
But for now I can ask him things like "How long was she cheating on you?" "How did you find out?" "Who was the guy?" "What did you do?"
It is too sad.
"How could she do that to you?" I lament.
"No, it wasn't all her fault," he backtracks.
What a guy. Trying to take the blame.
"We're still friends," he says.
Something seems wrong with this.
"You're still friends?" I ask. "How can you be friends with the woman who cheated on you?" Could a person be so forgiving? So cavalier?
"Well, she had her reasons," he says. "I understand her reasons."
Mike says he wasn't always available to her; he was working really hard; he wasn't home a lot; he felt insecure about his income so he was working two jobs, and so he understood why she did it. By the way, she's still married to the guy she had the affair with.
It didn't add up. She wasn't a lying, unfaithful person if she was still married to her lover. And yet, Mike didn't seem bitter, hurt or vindictive. Is he such a magnanimous man?
I decide to let it go, because it is only our first conversation. I don't know that it would be one of our last conversations on that subject. That's right -- we started to really like each other; hence we were more circumspect. Every discussion began to have larger, personal implications. Why did he date that woman for only two months? Will he do the same thing to me? Why does he hate his mother? Does he hate all women? Why did his wife cheat on him? Will he be able to trust someone else again?
But he wouldn't talk about it anymore. He wouldn't talk about any of them. He thought I was hounding him. The truth is, he was onto me. The suspect pleaded the Fifth. And so, I had to go open my initial file: I found strange similarities between the two cases. Mine and hers.
He wasn't available to his wife = he wasn't available to me.
He didn't suspect anything was wrong = he didn't like to hear me complain.
He never went to counseling with her = he didn't want to talk things over with me.
She cheated on him = ???
In the end it wasn't a simple algebraic equation. My emotions were already involved; I was too close to the suspect to be impartial. But in reviewing the evidence, my only conclusion was that the suspect had a rap sheet with a long record for unavailability. He left the clues in the very beginning, and all I had to do was find them.
I didn't cheat on him; I don't do that. But I did leave him. Otherwise I'd be his next victim.