Love & Tinderness: The cynic’s guide to dating

Disillusioned with humanity? Distrustful of the modern world? You’re not alone...and you can turn your newfound cynicism into dates.


Perhaps, like me, you’ve been dating for some time now. As one broken relationship bleeds into a string of bad dates, you become discouraged. You develop a blanket distrust of people’s motives and have more or less abandoned hope in the human species. Sound familiar? You become, in short, a cynic. 

I’m right there with you. But I also have good news. I have been piloting cynicism for several weeks now — and I’ve gotta say — it’s like catnip for men. As such, allow me to offer a new guide to dating: the cynic’s guide. Let’s throw The Rules and the rom-coms out the window and wallow in the dark truths of modern existence. Let’s treat dates as opportunities to discuss capitalism (slavery), the environment (death), and society (illusion). Equipped with this easy guide, the budding cynic should be able to go on at least eight unique and fulfilling dates.

To begin, let’s set some ground rules:

1) Wear black. This is critical. You might have noticed some advanced practitioners, myself included, have mastered the art of “technicolor cynicism” and are able to wear vibrant hues while maintaining a consistently bleak outlook. However, this is an advanced practice and not recommended for beginning cynics.

2) Arrive late. Provide no explanation.

3) If you’re caught without something to say, mutter unintelligibly to yourself, only allowing words like “agony,” “Sartre,” and “crisis” to be audible. If your date asks what you said, reply, “Oh, nothing,” then wistfully, “you wouldn’t understand.”

4) When in doubt, light another cigarette.

Now that you’ve got basic cynicism down, here are some basic date ideas:

The zoo: While in line to pay an inflated entrance fee, make polite conversation about how the economic-ideological complex requires we pay for the privilege of distracting ourselves from our own tortured existence, briefly diverting ourselves from the agony of capitalist toil with games, movies, and “days out.” Directly compare today’s festive outing to watching Christians vs. lions at the Roman Coliseum. Next, ask what his/her favorite animal exhibit is. Visit this exhibit and point out most animals do not mate for life and that the males of almost every species abandon the females — starving and alone — to care for their young. Other lively topics include: the ivory trade, the prison-industrial complex, and the futility of environmental organizations.

Local gallery: The door is wide open here to talk about the failure of the modern gallery system, the ways in which art-making is merely an extension of global capitalism (this aside is a good fall-back in almost any scenario). Remark on how all the other gallery-goers are probably just looking for something that will look good above their West Elm sofa, and how most Americans see art as peripheral to life, like the cherry on top of a milkshake — attractive, but ultimately superfluous, left to languish on a cocktail napkin until the waitress picks up the cherry’s bleeding corpse and exercises a final act of mercy by depositing it in the trash. Apply dark lipstick. Hold hands.


The aquarium: Much like the zoo, waiting in line here is a good opportunity to hash out the finer points of Das Kapital with your date. Impress them (and the ticket vendor) by handing over your $27 and saying something like, “I bow to the economic miracle.” Standing in front of the giant fish tank, allow several minutes to pass in silence before wondering aloud whether fish feel pain, loneliness, and abject fear.
Park: This is a great backdrop for discussions on obesity, global warming, and child abuse. Advanced cynics will be able to have these conversations while sprawled on a picnic blanket, un-self-consciously drinking red wine and eating soft cheeses. Use the soft French cheeses as springboards to talk about soft French philosophers.

The Beltline: Another good opportunity to wring your hands and bemoan the gentrification of neighborhoods you know nothing about and would not have imagined visiting until a Ford Fry restaurant opened there. Whenever possible, step out in front of a cyclist.

Ford Fry restaurant: Ask your server in severe and knowing tones about the origin of the haddock. Order the cheeseburger. If your date remarks on your choice, tell them you reject the idea of vegetarianism, as humans are by nature brutal, merciless creatures, and to deny our basic instincts by coddling farm animals is dishonest at best. Make out in the backseat of your Volkswagen.

Movie: Obviously, you are a patron of the Tara or Midtown Arts Cinema. Do not buy popcorn. Do not make out in the back of the theater, as to do so would disrespect the director. Later, driving your date home, discuss whether the film “owed more” to the French or Italian New Wave. Keep secret that the entirety of your exposure to both movements was in college, when you fell asleep during The 400 Blows.
Dive bar: This is the only sensible date for a cynic. Get there early and down at least two shots of something hard before your date arrives. Ideally, choose an establishment where you and those around you can chain smoke. The smell will endure in your date’s clothes, hair, and skin, allowing him/her a wistful olfactory souvenir to enjoy in the coming days. While waiting for your date to arrive, practice saying “Nietzsche” and “Bataille” without affectation. Fail. Decide that it doesn’t matter, as all life is meaningless. Smile to yourself, for the first time in weeks.
Equipped with these handy tips and engaging date ideas, you too can put a newfound spark in your love life. And if cynicism does not unlock lasting romance for you, well, probably nothing will. Ever. And you can take a strange comfort in that.