OK, so iconic American author and feminist Maya Angelou hasn’t yet said anything on the record specific to first dates, per se. Still, over the course of her prolific career she has written and spoken many, many wise words. Because she is an artist and a genius and someone whom Oprah goes as far as to claim as hermentor-mother-sister-friend, her words typically have profound meaning relevant to many scenarios and situations.  Scenarios such as, say, the highly uncomfortable societal ritual we all love to loathe: the first date.

There are probably many Maya-isms that could be considered sound advice for first dates. But we’re going with this one, because I stumbled across it once at exactly the right time in my life, in that eerie way that things sometimes happen, and in an instant it explained everything that was wrong about my recently expired relationship and why it was so great that it ended.

Scouring the Internet for the exact quote brings up several variations, but here is Oprah’s take on Maya’s words from an interview with her (so it’s probably accurate — I mean, she wouldn’t misquote her mentor-mother-sister-friend, right?).

According to Oprah, Maya Angelou once said: “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

So, from that we get: When people show you who they are on a first date, believe them.

First date woes. Illustration by <a href="http://stuarthausmann.tumblr.com/">Stuart Hausmann.</a>

First date woes. Illustration by Stuart Hausmann.

I don’t know what goes on in other people’s heads during first dates, but I can venture to guess that for a lot of people it’s similar to what goes on in mine if left unchecked. First dates are breeding grounds for pesky insecure thoughts, like Did the dry shampoo really work, or can s/he tell that I haven’t washed my hair in three days because, time? Oh God, is it obvious that I’m sweating like a whore in church…is there any discreet way I can check for pit stains? Dammit, I have to pee again. S/He’s definitely going to think I have a UTI.

These thoughts are all unproductive distractions from what we should really be thinking, which is, Is this person an asshole?

When it comes down to it, a first date isn’t the time to put ourselves on trial; we’re stuck with ourselves for the long haul. No, a first date is the time to decide whether or not the person sitting across from us is someone we want to continue to spend valuable time and energy with on an ongoing basis, because that’s something we do get to choose. So, use that hour or three you have with this other person for drinks / dinner / whatever to decide whether or not they’re an asshole.

It’s important to get to the bottom of this very serious question right from the get-go, because this is the moment in the relationship when we can exit most painlessly, thus saving ourselves months or (gulp) years of needless aggravation and grief.

Be ruthless about pulling out when people shows signs of assholery, because the reality is that 1) people rarely or never change, depending on whom you ask (and either way those are pretty bad odds) and 2) people really never get nicer as a relationship progresses. So if you’ve got yourself a frog on date one, that frog isn’t likely going to turn into a royal two years later, when you’re living together in a one bedroom apartment and the toilet is overflowing while the fire alarm goes off because the crepes you thought would be fun to try for brunch took a lot less time on the skillet than pancakes do.

There are many signs that your date is, in fact, an asshole whom you can scratch off the list of people that get to be a part of your life. Here are a few:

  • S/He’s rude to the wait staff. Does your date thank the waiter and make eye contact as decent people do when speaking to a fellow human being? No? Asshole.
  • S/He talks about him or herself for over an hour. Or even just for an hour, really. At some point, it needs to be your turn to speak. That’s called courtesy.
  • S/He casually, or not-so-casually, brings up salaries or money. That’s just tacky.
  • S/He gets impossibly drunk….while you watch, sober. Drinking is fun, sure, but on a first date it should be a team sport, not a solo effort.
  • S/He says anything negative about an ex. Not all people get along with their exes, and that’s fine. But if this person is not above disrespecting a former significant other to a stranger, how much respect will s/he ever be able to have for you?

There are plenty of flags out there, but you get the gist. So look for the signs, and keep the wise words of Maya Angelou in mind while treading treacherous first date waters: When someone shows you who they are, believe them.