My mom always gives me really funny, but heartfelt, dating advice. My favorite was when I lived near a grocery store, and she told me that was the perfect place to meet guys.
“Mom, even if I saw a cute guy, I wouldn’t just go up and talk to him. I mean, what if he’s got a girlfriend? What would I even say?”
“Well…if you saw him near the meat section, you could say, ‘Hey, could you help me pick out a nice piece of meat?’ Or you could ask a guy, ‘Do you know where the cream of coconut is? I’m having a party, and I’m making pina coladas.’”
“Uh…thanks, Mom, but I barely know what cream of coconut is. I doubt a guy would. Or if so, that I would be his type…”
“Yeah! It’d be great. He’d think you’re fun, and he’d want to come to your party.”
“Mom. Guys don’t go to parties with pina coladas. They like beer.”
Needless to say, I never tried either of those suggestions out. While I was dating the one guy I ever dated that she liked and we were having problems, she gave me a book called Why Men Can’t Commit. Encouraging, Mom, thanks. When that same guy and I broke up and I finally owned up about how wrong the relationship was, she gave me another book. Smart Women, Foolish Choices. Not that I read either because I think if I did, my head would implode from all the nonsense.
So it should be no surprise to you that when that despicable book The Rules came out, she bought a copy and made me read it. She quizzed me on it. I’m serious. The book had priceless pearls of wisdom like, “Don’t cut your hair. Men like long hair.” And “Go to parties even if you don’t feel like it.” Really? How interesting and charming am I going to be if I don’t even want to be there? Ooo and another great one is, “Pretend to be interested in his hobbies.” So if I don’t like professional wrestling, I’m supposed to act like I do? When can I stop and be myself? (This is the question you are never supposed to ask because, evidently, the answer is never.)
There’s a lot of crazy advice in that book, and basically, they’re telling you to let a man do all the work and just respond to his overtures. So ok. I do like to be chased, and I'd definitely avoid getting involved in any situation where the guy’s “just not that into me,” but it all seems so calculated and manipulative.
So do “the rules” and game playing really work?
I just had a long conversation about this, and I think the answer to that question is most of the time, yes.
It's hard to know what to do when you first start dating someone. Again, that John Mayer song Tracing comes to mind. There are a few lines in it that I really dig and find coming into my head at just the right time. But my favorite says, I can't say I really blame you, for being bored with the beginning, always staring at the score, to figure out who's barely winning.
I do hate the beginning. It's not even that it's boring, but that I usually just want to speed through it and get to the good stuff - the real meat. All the back-and-forth is so exhausting and nerve-wracking, trying to figure out what he's thinking, what you’re supposed to do. But John’s right - there's always the feeling that someone is winning. As tacky as it is to say, there is a power struggle. And I’m a lover - not a fighter.
In the beginning, you’re always trying to read the signs and figure out just who this person is and whether they like you. He does the same thing. For me, if he waits too long to call after a date, I figure he’s watched Swingers one too many times and might be a player so I’m on guard. And if he doesn’t make a point to eventually say something to let me know he likes me, I assume he doesn’t. Admittedly, I may put too much stock in words because I foolishly always seem to believe whatever someone tells me. “I’ve learned the hard way that they all say things you wanna hear.”
Sure, I can be cool as a cucumber, bat my eyes at the right time, say the right thing – be flirty and mysterious. But I’ve also tried a couple of times to be out there, open and honest. I think that can sometimes be misleading and runs the risk of causing the guy to assume I'm really head over heels or something when I might just be intrigued. I actually think there's a perfect spot somewhere in between.
I’m a big fan of direct communication. It’s a necessity for me. A guy has to like that I’m a direct communicator, and he’s gotta be that way too for anything with us to go anywhere. I always look for clues as to whether those things line up, and if I sense that it’s not going to, I may still date the guy for a bit to see if I was wrong, but there’s always something in the back of my mind that knows this is just never going to work.
I guess my point in saying that is that I don’t think game playing is very direct or honest, but still necessary. So what is the right answer? If it works, shouldn't we keep doing it?I think that only when you become calculating and manipulative, that’s when you run into The Rules territory. And I believe there is a nice place in between where you can be anxious because you like someone and still maintain an optimal level of mysterious. We all like anxious because everyone likes to be liked, and we all need mystery to stay curious and interested.
But contrary to what dating gurus may tell you, I also believe it's important to be yourself. The next line after the Tracing lyric I quoted earlier says, There is a reason strong moves slow. So maybe that's the point of the games. To slow things down a bit, and I think that's probably always a good idea.
My mom’s most recent attempt to give me advice led to her admitting that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Do any of us? That Rules lady certainly didn’t cuz she got a divorce a few years ago. Maybe she cut her hair.