I learned it at the movies.
How to hold a cigarette (Humphrey Bogart, "Casablanca") and why to quit (Bogart, real life). How to wear a dinner jacket (Sean Connery, "Dr. No") or a trenchcoat (Robert Mitchum, "Out of the Past"), and how to sling either one over your shoulder without looking like a slob (Frank Sinatra, in anything).
But mostly, I learned how to date.
A lot of us did, I think, and a lot of teenagers still do. You can't, after all, ask your parents how to do it. Sympathetic older brothers and sisters are in short supply. Your pimply friends don't know any more than you do, no matter what they say.
But the movies are always there, eager to offer all sorts of information.
Unfortunately, most of it's wrong. There isn't a piece of Hollywood love advice that wouldn't get you a black eye in real life — or worse.
Take a look at all the lies they've been telling us from childhood:
1. People Who Hate Each Other on Sight Usually End Up Falling in Love ("The Way We Were," "Titanic," most Astaire/Rogers movies).
Actually, people who hate each other when they first meet usually work very hard to avoid each other in the future. And if you ever really tried the sort of things Hollywood calls "meeting cute" — mixed-up luggage, mistaken identities, fender-benders — you wouldn't end up at a table for two, but in court.
2. If the Person Isn't Interested — Or Loses Interest — Pursue Him/Her Twice as Hard (see above).
Screenwriters must love this one — scenes of rejected suitors (chiefly men) showing up with picket signs, camping outside suburban homes with boomboxes, or lying in wait by office buildings are in everything from silent comedies to "Say Anything." In Hollywood, this dedication marks you as a Sensitive Soul and often results in true love. In real life, of course, it marks you as a Stalker and usually results in a restraining order.
3. If You're a Man, Try Pretending You're Gay — Women Will Become Instantly Intrigued ("A Very Special Favor," "Three to Tango").
No, not really. They may, however, quiz you on the latest Hollywood gossip, beg for exfoliating tips, or ask if those tangerine capris make their butts look big. No, tell the truth. Do they, really?
4. If You're Gay, Don't Worry About Approaching That Straight — He/She Is Latently Gay Anyway, and Will End Up Thanking You ("Bedrooms and Hallways," "Claire of the Moon," almost any other indie movie).
No, not really. They may, however, end up turning red, pouring their drink in your lap or punching you in the nose.
5. Looks Are Unimportant to Most Women, As Long as You're Funny ("The Graduate," "The Tao of Steve").
A firmly cherished belief, particularly among lumpy studio executives who think they get all those dates because they're charming. Somewhat true in real life, although it should be pointed out that Woody Allen is not just funny, but very funny — and also, conveniently, rich.
6. Looks Are Unimportant to Most Men, as Long as You've Got a Good Personality ("Frankie and Johnny," "The Truth About Cats and Dogs").
Actually, even Hollywood doesn't really believe this — they know they're shallow. Which is why, although the homely guys in their movies are always played by homely guys, the plain gals are always played by attractive women in sloppy clothes.
7. Upper-class Gentlemen Are Secretly Attracted to Real, Working-Class Gals Who Show Them How to Have Fun ("Pretty Woman," "Working Girl"). Undoubtedly true, if that gentleman is 103, and the real, working-class gal is Anna Nicole Smith. But, unfortunately, nothing to count on — unless you look the way Anna Nicole Smith used to, and really want to date 103-year-old men.
8. Upper-class Ladies Are Secretly Attracted to Real, Working-Class Guys Who Show Them "What It Means to Be a Woman" ("Woman of the Year," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back").
Possibly true for brief periods of time, particularly if it's the last night of her Jamaican getaway, and you're a tight young hardbody. But just because it worked for Taye Diggs doesn't mean it's going to work for you.
9. Breakups Are Inevitable But Can Usually Be Resolved by Chasing the Other Person Down the Street or Embarrassing Them at Work ("Love With the Proper Stranger," "An Officer and a Gentleman," "love jones").
Actually, that's more likely to result in another one of those restraining orders. See Lie No. 2.
10. On the Rare Chance You Really Break Up, When You Finally Part for Good — Or Meet Again Later — You'll Share a Significant, Bittersweet Moment ("The Way We Were," "Now, Voyager," "Casablanca").
Extremely doubtful, really, compared to the chance that you'll share a few flung insults, or dishes. As a highly impressionable film fan, though, there's an excellent chance you will trudge home in a foul mood, open up a pint of ice cream and watch another movie — and wonder, once again, why your love life can't match them quite so neatly.