Typical scene. A bar. Boy notices girl. He approaches. Offers to buy her a drink. "Ketel and soda." A drink that says, "I'm practical but with high-end tastes." She starts talking. About movies. She saw something recently she liked. Can't remember the title. Had that guy from "Sideways" in it. It was cute. "Have you seen any good movies lately?" she asks. He responds, "Anything with Martin Lawrence. But early Lawrence. I think he peaked at 'Roscoe Jenkins'." She moves on.
Let's start over. Guy approaches girl. Buys drink. They talk movies. She liked this Paul Giamatti movie. He gives a dour look and says, "Giamatti? (Sigh.) I'm really into this Armenian filmmaker right now. She doesn't have legs and she shoots everything on Saran Wrap. I haven't watched a movie in a theater since my fistfight with Werner Herzog." She moves on.
Once more. Guy approaches girl. Drink. Talk movies. She liked this Giamatti movie. He saw that. He liked it too. They get a second drink. She notices his watch. "Where'd you get it?"
"This watch? ... Gander Mountain. You can barely notice that I had to tape the plastic camo band, though, right?" She leaves.
Try again. "This Watch? Nice, right? I car-jacked a rich couple right before I got here." Leaves.
"This watch? It was my grandfather's. He wrested it from the clutches of a German soldier he killed at Omaha Beach. ... I just loved him so much." Ah, there it is. Third drink.
It all means something. We purchase things, say things, believe things that demonstrate our positive traits. A man leaves his Porsche keys on the table, or mentions his lake house, or orders the 15-year-old, small-batch, single-malt scotch. (I'm rich.) He needs to get home. Walk his dog. (I care for things. I'm affectionate and reliable.) He's an early riser. Runs at 5 a.m. every morning. (I'm athletic, ambitious, healthy.) He just moved and, "...had no idea [he] had so many books!" (He's intelligent, cultured.)
The same goes for the negative. Just as snakes offer warnings in the wild — "red and yellow, kill a fellow" – humans give intimations that may protect us from, say, contagious disease, moral corruption or Kid Rock fans. If you're looking for a mate who will be loyal, perhaps the young debutante in the mesh mini-shirt and low-cut T-shirt that reads "Save a horse. Ride a cowboy" isn't the best option. Ladies, maybe the guy with the "F*%# The Police" neck-tat isn't the one to bring to your sister's wedding. (However, if we're in the market for something more one-nightish, as it were, we may be willing to lower our long-term reproductive standards.)
The point is that all we wear, consume and emote as an easy way to display our deeper personality traits. Dates, or even an encounter in a bar or on a bus, are nothing less than a test of someone's potential as a breeder.
And if you think you can opt out, you're mistaken. We live in a world of self-advertising and commercial signals and you're giving them off whether you think you are or not. We all love consumption in one form or other; we just don't like certain graceless versions of it. Sure, we hate the nouveau riche McMansions and SUVs, but our Toyota hybrid and our organic, spelt-based chocolate chip cookie are saying something just as loud or louder. What we really want is to attract those that are like us, and repel those who are unlike us. Besides, attempt to opt out entirely, while everyone else is opting in, and you run the risk of your genes being made obsolete. We're in an arms race of consumer fitness and our stuff is no less an advertisement for our genes than our bodies are.
Now, there are things that our things can't do. A sportscoat, whether it cost $1,600 or not, can't fix your face. Maybe it's not Sephora's luxury toothpaste that you need; maybe it's an orthodontist. But the seduction — with its requisite ruses, schemes and deceptions — is constant and only empowered and complicated by a commercial age. Life might be simpler were we to just approach an attractive person and say the words, "I want my baby to look like you," but what would we do with our time?