by Esther D. Kustanowitz
New York Jewish Week, First Person Singular
August 18, 2006
When my friends and I moved to New York City after college, theater and high culture were out of our price range. But at the movies, we found affordable, air-conditioned entertainment. Popcorn was always extra (in terms of both coins and calories), but a secret bonus was included in the price of admission: Before the film started, we were treated to numerous movie trailers, designed to entice us into future movie ticket purchases and to create buzz for upcoming film releases. We’d predict how many trailers we’d get, and be delighted when we got more than expected. Based on how good each preview was, we’d make our decisions right there — “no way!” “totally!” and “maybe on DVD.”
In the dating world, several mechanisms operate as trailers, setting us up with overly vast expectations or none at all, and causing us to make instant judgments about the people we meet as romantic potentials. If we’re looking, we’re often “treated” to previews of the main attraction before we even determine whether the featured presentation holds any attraction at all. The movie judgment mechanism is activated. Bearing little information, we discard potential dates before we ever meet them, or elevate our expectations to such a level that no man or woman alive can ever hope to reach them.
“Have I got a guy for you,” your friend says. “He’s perfect for you — good-looking, a great sense of humor, and oh, so smart!” You’d like to believe her, but how does she know he’s perfect? And “perfect for you?” You’re not even sure you know what that means. Someone else might try the reverse pitch, complete with built-in disclaimer: “I don’t know her that well; she seems nice enough…” or “She’s single, you’re single, why not?”
But the truth is that these pitches are largely meaningless. Sometimes good trailers happen to bad movies, and vice versa. On the whole, we understand that perfection is impossible and that taste is highly subjective, even within a specific genre. But often, the inconsistency in the perceived quality of the trailers makes us suspicious and reluctant to even try, lest we experience disappointment. (Again.) Either case leads to pain. It might be quicker — if less nuanced and more painful — to follow this simple three-part process: Take gun, aim down, shoot self in foot.
And then there’s online dating, itself an experiment in great, and often misplaced, expectations. Everyone has a different system of approaching the online dating “trailers.” Do you assess someone’s profile content or IM/email style? Or do you judge by the photos, because similar personalities don’t mean anything if there’s no attraction? And what to do when the “preview” seems to indicate inconsistencies? For instance, if someone with a great profile can’t write a good email or someone with a perfunctory profile writes amazing correspondence.
Even images cannot be trusted. In a movie preview, you’re sometimes viewing footage that’s either stripped of context or, in some cases, doesn’t appear in the film at all. In online dating, confusion also reigns over photos, which are widely understood to be only partial and biased representations of the people who posted them.
But even when you take that leap of faith and decide to meet someone, you protect yourself. You’ve experienced other promising trailers which didn’t deliver. Even if initial contact has been encouraging, you maintain low expectations. And when you start at zero, expecting to find nothing, all you notice are cosmetic flaws — that her eyes aren’t symmetrical or that he snorts at the end of every laugh. The bullet hole in your foot begins to smart, reminding you of how you got here to begin with.
The movie trailer is only a brief representation of a larger work. Some trailers surpass the greatness of the film, others don’t do justice to the special, somewhat quirkier “indie” qualities that the full-length opus provides. It is the rare preview that authentically represents the feature presentation. And seeing too many previews in advance of a main attraction can distract you from your primary objective, the reason you bought your ticket to begin with.
You’re in the theater already. You’ve already bought into the process. Be considerate. Keep your feet off the seats and turn your cell phones off before the lights go down. If you’re lucky and open-minded, you’ll experience a blend of action, adventure, romance and pratfalls, making you laugh and cry in just the right balance, and leaving you with a feeling that you’re a part of something special.
Esther D. Kustanowitz likes to see movies on summer weekends, when you actually have a shot at not being in a packed theater with people kicking your seat. She can be reached at email@example.com.