Myth of Meeting: Why We Place So Much Importance on an Introduction

Posted August 19, 2015

“How did you meet?”

It’s almost always the first question anybody asks when you introduce a new person you’re seeing. It’s become as instinctive as saying “Good” when somebody asks how you are or offering a “Nice to meet you,” when you leave people you will forget about ten minutes later.

It’s a seemingly innocuous question, but one that I realized recently has been subconsciously shaping the way many people my age, myself included, look at relationships.

When discussing a new guy/girl with friends, it’s easy to not focus solely on who the person is or what his/her interests might be, but anticipate that one question. Which makes sense since it’s the first thing our friends will ask, so that must mean it’s important. Don’t our friends always want to know the important stuff first?

Instead, they ask about the moment in which two people met as if it has some indication of their longterm viability. Oftentimes, the answer is profoundly boring: “We work together” or mundanely classic: “We met in college”  (which itself is probably a variation on the truth – “We got drunk and made out at a party”).

Instead, these meetings are almost always like introductions; they help set up the story, but are often in no way connected. In fact, most people skip over the introductions in the book and enjoy the story just fine.

In almost all instances, these initial encounters tell us nothing about the two people who are now seeing each other; yet, we continue to ask. Half the time, the people asking the question don’t even really care. On some level, they know the answer makes no difference, but it seems like the question they’re supposed to ask. The thing is, the simple asking of the question contributes to a societal pressure in which the way you meet somebody is almost as important as who you’ve met.

Part of the blame can be put on Hollywood and the idea of the “meet cute” that has filled our brains with images of romantic collisions, zany wedding encounters, or lustful fights between big business and independent commerce (I think Meg Ryan was in all of these – Where did she go? Topic for another time).

However, we shouldn’t free ourselves from blame. The stigma attached to how a couple met has become even more common as online dating has become engrained in our culture. Anybody who has introduced somebody they met online, or on a dating app, to friends knows that moment of comfortable silence when they ask “Where did you meet?”

People begin to fear the judgment of where they met somebody more than they fear the judgment of the person they met. Instead of worrying if your friends will like the person you’ve begun seeing, you wonder if they’ll smile at the idea of you meeting somebody on OK Cupid or Tinder or the hundreds of other options that seem to keep popping up. It’s become such a stigma that there’s cultural acceptance around lying about meeting people on dating apps, which only furthers the idea that people should be ashamed if they don’t have a worthwhile, or acceptable, story for how they met somebody.

Is rekindling a relationship with an old girlfriend romantic? Is finally overcoming the problem of timing a story that will make people smile when they ask?

The truth is that even a second spent thinking about that is wasteful (unless, of course, it’s about your security and not meeting somebody when they bumped into you while running from the cops).

However, it remains prevalent. Even as my friends tell me not to worry about it, the stories of meetings are played out in front of me. My best friend and his wife had a wedding invitation of them kissing as babies, and my parents and their best friends have one of the most memorable meeting stories anybody has ever told. Sure, their marriages may all work for a variety of other reasons, but that doesn’t stop people from continuously asking them to tell the story and commenting on how “Cute” their story is or how it’s some sort of “destiny.” Meanwhile the people who will never have that story sit nearby wondering if there’s a way they can manufacture something that creates similar excitement.

It took me too long to realize that searching for this was bullshit. We find it more natural for couples to have met in college or during work than on a dating app, but why? A lot of couples that started dating in college had relationships that were as founded on sex as people that met on Tinder, and haven’t we always been told that dating somebody from work is a crazy idea? (Don’t shit where you eat after all). So why are these stories met with smiles, while app or online meet-ups tend to get a silent nod or the unenthusiastic “Cool“?

When I look back on the friendships and relationships that stand out to me, I rarely ever think about the first meeting. I assume that when I look back on my relationship with the person I wind up settling down with I won’t consider our first meeting more important than the other moments we shared. It will have no impact on moments we spend together, how she gets along with my friends, or whether or not she’s sarcastic enough for my family.

Yet, just like super hero movies, we keep asking for origin stories. And just like super hero movies, most of them are not worth delving into.

Maybe I’ll come up with a smart ass remark next time somebody asks me the question, or maybe I’ll accept that it’s not a trend we can ever fully buck. Maybe it’s engrained in us like “Great” and “Nice to see you,” but it’s also possible that if we all just take a second before asking that question, we might find that we can stop putting unnecessary emphasis on a single instant.

Don’t dwell in the past, right? Maybe it’s time to try not to.