Monday, December 19, 2005

Check Yes or No

Life in the third grade was sublime. School consisted of math, reading, English, science, history art, and three recess breaks where we played four square and hopscotch until we were worn out. Lunch consisted of peanut butter and jelly, Kudos and fruit and no one cared about childhood obesity. And when you liked someone, you slipped them a note during class that said, “I like you. Do you like me? Check ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” What I wouldn’t give to go back to simpler times.

Dating seems to get increasingly more complicated and convoluted the older I get, and I am not sure if this is a product of societal change or my impatience and inability to change precedent and habit. It would be so much easier to just call up the guy you like and tell him you are interested rather than wait around dropping subtle hints, hoping he’s picking them up and that he will eventually call or reciprocate your interest. But ironically doing that kills the momentum. The games are a necessary evil. We all hate them, and yet we all adhere to this unwritten code of dating rules that seems to have withstood the test of time. Too much interest is bad. Too little interest is bad. Calling too much is bad. Not calling is bad. Playing it cool and being friends can be bad. Too much interest too soon can be bad. We think that only guys lose interest in the beginning when they encounter an over eager interest, but it happens to girls too. Why? Thrill of the chase, a challenge, knowing that all the cards have not been played yet.

It’s a complicated card game. As the dealer hands you the cards, you take a look at what you’ve got. You don’t have any idea what the other people have, so you have to make assumptions through body language, facial expression and even past strategy. You play your cards right and you win the hand, which could result in enormous rewards. You fumble, make a wrong assumption, misinterpret the body language, break concentration and lose the poker face, you lose your shirt… or in this case, your heart, depending on the bets. How much you throw in the pot or choose to invest in the hand is based upon your interest and confidence in your ability to read the other players. This often creates a lot of stress and pressure to perform, which creates nervousness and inhibits your ability to be your normal, fun, card-playing self. Some people are quite good at this game and win nearly every time. Some never invest and therefore never really get anything back. Some never play their cards. Some always break even because they like neutrality although it never really gets them anywhere. For most people, learning the tricks for success takes a lifetime, but some just get lucky along the way, win a big hand and cash in their chips while others sit at the table trying to master the game wishing there was an easier way and hoping that they will get lucky one of these hands. I am only mediocre at poker… even worse at this metaphorical game.

We all know that guys and girls are different. It would have helped if we were sort of on the same page when it came to dating or if we were given some kind of instruction manual on how to read and interpret the opposite sex, but since we do not have that, we spend our lives being confused and trying to make sense of something that will never make sense. Thousands of books have been written on this topic, and yet I wonder if we are even close to unlocking the mysteries of the sexes. There is something I like to call Crossover that seems to apply mostly to women. A woman can be friends with a man for 6 months, a year, 3 years and never consider him as anything more than a friend, but one day she may wake up and see him differently and realize that she could be interested in more than a friendship. She is capable and open to Crossover. Men, on the other hand, generally need to be attracted to a woman in their initial meeting in order to be interested in pursuing it. Rarely do they consider Crossover. Once a friend… always a friend. I am speaking in general terms, so if you are one of those guys who does not fall into this category, then a gold star for you. I have never been able to understand this phenomena because it makes complete sense in my head that you could be friends with someone and then fall in love with them. To meet someone initially and be attracted to them and then get to know them seems awkward and a little backwards, and yet that is the strategy most people use. Dating would be so much easier without the added nervousness, superficial conversations, facades and inability to be yourself that accompany new relationships. But alas, it is not so easy.

Now I have to consciously think of strategy because it’s not in my general nature to do so. Text messages and emails have to drafted and planned. I have to consult my sounding board because often what I think is normal is just plain disastrous. My track record is pretty grim, so apparently whatever method I have been using has been largely ineffective. That just goes to show that plain honesty in this situation is not the best policy. I would like to just go the Check Yes or No route, but then I suppose that would take all the fun out of it although I do not consider this part of dating very much fun. There is too much uncertainty, anxiety, wondering, wishing, thinking, throwing up the hands in exasperation, impatience, disappointment followed by glimmers of often false hope, and, eventually… an ulcer.

I loathe the game and yet I cannot seem to escape it. And despite my repeated efforts, I don’t seem to be getting any better because my initial reaction is to just get my cards out on the table before I become emotionally invested. If there is no chance I will win the hand, then I can fold without losing too much. But I have been slapped on the wrists and scolded that this is not the way the game is played. Well, who decided this is how it was going to be played? Someone really should have consulted a third grader.


Stephen said...

your third grade sounds a lot better than the second grade i teach. my kids don't get no recess. you got three? i think the problem with modern dating is that modern 3rd grades have changed.

but besides that, i think you're in good company with people who hate playing the game. i hate it and usually don' t play it. but by not playing it, am i then playing it? because i always think i'm intentionally not playing it; but, i'm sure some ladies in my sordid past would have something to say about that. either way i think all our problems would be solved if we could all get together and watch i heart huckabees.

Liz said...

games games games - i love 'em - i admit it - they make life more fun - they're necessary and exciting - everyone claims to hate them and claims to not participate - but it's a big fat lie - everyone plays them and everyone loves them - especially if they're winning - which i usually am

Machu Picchu said...

hmmm... part of the simplicity of romance was that you had 15 boys or so your own age in homeroom to choose from. and lots more within the grade. you saw them everyday. 15 all day long, and the rest at recess, lunch, recess, after school. and during youth soccer. so social exposure is one consideration.

compare thhat to me now: how many single women my age do i interact with or observe every day of the week? i can hardly even think of anyone i see every day. let alone someone close to my age.

that all said, i think the solution is obvious. pick out a boy. and try the note thing again. i bet your odds would be just as good as they are playing the game.

nikki said...

Stephen: By not playing it you are playing your own game, but it's a lot less drama. We both know that is a good thing.

Liz: Must be nice to be a master of the game and to make any hand a winning one. That is why you are on the sounding board... so I learn from the best and don't do anything foolish.

Norm: thanks for your comment. I'd like to try that note thing again, but that has to come in the later stages... which is part of the game. Is there really any way to avoid it?

Anonymous said...

You can find all the answers in THE RULES.

nikki said...

from the mouth of a good friend, The Rules are a joke and a mockery. It sets women back about 50 years and although some of the points make sense, it should only be used for late night entertainment purposes.

Kelsrant said...

What a great read and dead on! I totally agree that dating was alot easier way back when. Or is that just my sentimentality getting the best of me? Don't we always think things were easier in days past? I guess being an adult is just harder...but it does have its perks: Getting into R rated movies, alcohol,living in your own home under your own rules...
One of the better aspects of adult dating is that if you get lucky and find the one, its always endearing to look back and remember the 'games' you played to win your love. I can remember sending emails and texts and then racing home to check my account to see if my love responded. I recently told my love that I used to do this and he confessed that he too would race to see if I replied. He even admitted reading my emails over and over again. Occasionally, he'd save a few that he thought were particularly sweet.
Its these later revelations that make all the superficial conversation and awkward moments worth while. Because, when you do find love you learn that you weren't alone in the game playing...and its rather flattering. Love is more difficult than Scrabble, more covert than Battleship, but definitely a worthwhile game. Thanks again for a great read.