Friday, February 20, 2009

Games People Play

From a very young age our feelings are protected and sheltered with “words of wisdom” that take the pain out of difficult moments but inflict long term damage. It all begins with our mothers and teachers telling us that the boys bully and tease little girls they like. What seems like an innocent way to explain that little boys are sometimes little shits becomes a dangerous long-term lesson. Women go through life hearing the same basic statements over and over again; “he is just too afraid to call because he likes you,” “he is a jerk because he is trying to get your attention,” “he likes you he just hasn’t figured it out yet,” “he hit you because he likes you so much he cannot contain his emotions.” The lies aimed at protecting the feelings of those we love turned the beauty of courtship into the world of gaming. “He’s just not that into you” is hard to hear, harder to say, but are often the most honest words we can deliver. How much different would the world of dating be if more women shared this phrase with their friends and loved ones?

When it comes to the pursuit of romantic relationships we learn “the game” as young girls and “refine” it throughout adulthood. Women are explicitly taught that men tease us when they like us, play cool and aloof when interested, and aren’t interested in women who seem “desperate” or “easy” which translates loosely to “interested.” Our mothers, friends, classmates, and co-workers perpetuate these lessons as a means of protecting us from the hurt and pain of rejection. Men who actually are interested in us become invisible; women are unable to recognize the true signs of love since they are so busy looking for the cues and clues learned to master the game. We learn that relationships are full of swinging emotions and drama, and run from relationships that are comfortable and stable.

What we don’t learn from the “Rejection Protection Program” we learn from Disney; someday my prince will come. After Disney brainwashing women hone their advanced gaming skills through the romantic comedy where we learn the road to perfect hair, perfect grades, the perfect job, perfect body, and perfect life is to find the perfect guy and get him to fall in love. This hypothetical prince is supposed to sweep us off our feet, fall in love at first sight, read our minds, love our mothers, paint our toenails, sing us love songs at bars, and rescue us from the mean cruel world. Men don’t stand a chance of meeting those lofty expectations; if there is no immediate spark, romantic first meeting, or storybook beginning then women decide with little personality analysis that you are not “the one.”

Conflicting lessons create enough confusion and chaos to make it nearly impossible to be “normal” in the pursuit of love. Piling the crushing self-esteem struggle that plagues most women, especially in their younger years, on top of the messages we receive from the world and you have the perfect recipe for dating disasters. Many women feel they are too flawed to be loved. If a man shows too much interest many women will draw the conclusion that aforementioned man has something wrong with him. The only possible reason a man could be head over heels interested in a woman with bad skin/a wide butt/cankles/crooked teeth/big feet/an outtie belly button/armpit fat/hairy knees is if he too has some deep, hidden issue. So the generally nice and interested guy is rejected leaving women fixated on men who show no interest, convincing themselves if they can just lose weight, cut their hair, hike the Himalayas, learn to surf, bungee jump, or pick up six foreign languages then the out of reach guy will certainly fall in love. If a woman is able to catch the attention of the jerk that didn’t show interest in the first place she often makes something out of nothing. She will romanticize a crappy relationship and play it like bad stock. The relationship continues well past its “use by” date because there was an incredible investment of time, money, and pride. Just like Wall Street, sometimes it is necessary to sell short and walk away from a bad investment.

Obviously I can only assess “the game” aspect of love and relationships from the set of eyes attached to my female body. I can only speak authoritatively and intelligently about the systematic programming that our friends, our family, and our culture perform on women to screw us up so royally in the arena of romantic relationships. However I imagine that men themselves go through their own programming by the world around them. Men hear messages that women only go for the “bad boys” and act like jerks because of that. Men learn that women don’t like a man to come on too strong because it scares them and then become distant and aloof. Men act disinterested because they don’t want to be too eager and chase a woman away. Men are warned that women are only after two things; their money and having their babies. Men experience women who change dramatically after a few months because those women can no longer keep up “the game” of pretending to be someone else, thus concluding that all women are liars. Men hear from other men that women are not worth the trouble. There is also a somewhat pervasive issue with men wrongly learning that it is okay to break off a relationship by simply disappearing. Men accuse women of playing games without realizing they are playing right back.

My biggest disappointment in the recent movie “He’s Just Not That Into You” was its focus on the “exception” rather than “the rule.” According to the movie (and perhaps the book I have yet to read) the rule is if he (or she) doesn’t call, write, or ask you out then he (or she) “is just not that into you” and you should just say “screw it” and move on (my own adlibbing). The “exception” occurs when one catches the guy who showed little to no interest in the first place. “The Rule” could actually be a good message for women (and men) to watch and learn but doesn’t make for a very good romantic comedy. The lesson should be that we are each important, beautiful, special, and amazing in our own ways and deserve to find love with a person who appreciates and loves us right back. If someone doesn’t embrace you for who you are, appreciate your talents, hang on your every word, and spend their days dreaming about you then move the hell on and forget about becoming “the exception.”

Everyone learns their own set of rules even if they don’t buy the game. It is up to each of us to recognize our own patterns and break them. Women must understand that Disney isn’t reality. They are worth being loved rather than played. It is okay to dump and be dumped. A person cannot be deemed “the one” or eliminated from contention in a 6 minute speed date. Sticking around with someone who is “just not that into you” is a waste of time for both parties; then and only then can the vicious game cycle be broken. 6 billion people grace this planet and if you are willing to get out there and meet people there is a good chance of meeting a few that are just not that into you. Breakups and rejection, while painful and personal, doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you (or them) it just means there is another person out there who will be into you, and we all deserve that.

A personal note: Unless you fall in love with your pizza delivery person finding love requires “getting out there,” meeting new people, taking chances, and giving chances. Sometimes dating it is hard, awkward, scary, funny, annoying, and downright painful but this makes us stronger, wiser, and teaches us important lessons about people and ourselves. I met wadE in a bar; it wasn’t romantic, we didn’t have a spark, he was cute enough to approach and chat with but otherwise wasn’t “my type.” We hung out, became friends, shared laughs, dated other people, and somewhere along the way realized “it’s you.” We could have easily brushed each other off because we lived 1000 miles apart and weren’t the other’s “type” (admittedly I thought he was cute enough for a little “fun” but didn’t fit my preference of tall, lanky, dark haired, with a foreign accent and he thought I was “out of his league” and probably a bit obnoxious). It took us a while to develop our happy ending, getting over our how we didn’t fit the other’s mold, and realizing how we were actually a good match. If we would have rushed into becoming “exclusive” we would have quickly extinguished any chance of letting our feelings grow organically. We did not have the love at first sight Disney relationship, but I’m pretty darn happy we fell in love anyway.
This piece adapted from my response to Alex on


Alex said...

Armpit fat? I can only hope that's a joke (and if it is, it's a brilliant one). I assure you, there is no gathering of men out there where one guy says to his friends "yeah she's a nice girl, but the flabby underarms are a deal breaker".

Totally agree with everything else you've written. You said it much better (and more compassionately) than I - have you ever thought of writing an advice column? :)

Explosive Bombchelle said...

I think I would channel my sister Renee' if writing an advice column and be a bit more blunt and to the point. Like Dr. Phil but smarter, funnier, and with boobs.

And do you know how much the movie boomarang did to screw up the emotional strength of women with bad feet?

Nursedude said...

As usual, a lot to digest in this interesting post. It is interesting just how many "nice guys", don't get a lot of interest shown to them in high school. (Where I could not BUY a date) It's funny, when I was in college and by my own admission, I was a total jerk my freshman year, I had no trouble hooking up with women-and I did not suddenly become rich or good looking. (Luckily, I got over the Jerk phase-I hated treating people badly)

I ended up meeting my wife through French Club at Wartburg College. Funny that she was not 'my type', either. I liked dark mediteranean(spelling), or Latina women-and my wife was (and still is) red headed and very light skinned. She was good looking enough, but we were friends for a long time-months- even before I even thought about her in "That Way".

We celebrate 25 years of marriage this April. I don't pretend to have any special knowledge about dating-I've been out of circulation for awhile. But I will say since I work in a career field that is about 93% female, I have gained a lot of knowledge on what makes women tick, and the mistakes that they make with the men in their lives.

Rev Mark said...

Well said and Amen.