When we see potential mates as opponents, targets and obstacles instead of beautiful people worthy of our love and trust, everyone loses.

There are some people who view dating as a game. We all know they’re out there. You may even be one of them. And that’s fine. You do you. If that’s the kind of relationship you want, you go for it.

The thing is, dating isn’t inherently a game any more than the act of putting one foot in front of the other is; viewing dating as a competitive, adversarial pursuit that requires cunning, strategy and deception is not a function of dating itself. It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s not inevitable, not fundamental to the pursuit of courtship, it’s not even as common as you think.

It’s a choice. And it’s one that guarantees you will lose out on all the best things that romance, dating and even casual sex have to offer.

The Game

There are different versions of this game. There’s the competitive sport in which players compete with each other to see who can score the most. There’s a version of tag, in which you’re it! Then you’re it! Then this other person over here! There’s playing pretend… most of us have been played by someone who, as it turned out, was just pretending to care for us, to love us, even to like us, all in calculated effort to get from us without giving in return.

And then of course, there’s the ‘but (insert gender here) always wins! It’s time for us lowly (opposite gender) to start fighting back, protecting ourselves, and getting ours every once in a while!’ justification version, perpetuated by Pick Up Culture, Sex and the City, and Cosmopolitan magazine… the Lord of the Flies, eat or be eaten, Survivor: Dating Edition, only without the million dollar prize. It’s not just men that play, despite what you’ll hear jilted, scorned, used and heartbroken women saying. It’s not just women, either; despite the lamentations of rejected, earnest and lonely men.

When I say ‘dating as a game’, I mean that potential mates aren’t beautiful, great people, humans worthy of love and affection, worthy of honesty and vulnerability, of our best. They’re other players, to be held at emotional arms-length, outsmarted, and beaten. Viewing romance, dating, even casual sex as a game is a way of taking something that could be co-operative and uplifting, and turning it into a battlefield in which some win… and someone always loses.

It’s when guys are focused on choosing words they think will subconsciously suggest that their date give them a blowjob, when they could instead just focus on, well, connecting with her, a human woman predisposed to spontaneously engaging in acts of enthusiastic heterosexuality of her own volition! Or when women play hot and cold, trying to shift the balance of power in a relationship.

Games are where people’s feelings don’t matter, because it’s all just for fun, trivial, a diversion, all a friendly competition. Or, because players choose to play, and losing is just proof of weakness. ‘What?’ We can say, nonchalant and smug, when we’ve hurt someone who trusted us and cared for us: ‘I was playing by the rules!’

Playing to Win Means Everyone Loses

Except this isn’t fucking Yahtzee. This is real life. There is no rule book that everyone agrees on, no matter what best-selling authors with financial incentives to the contrary may have you believe… and telling readers that they will lose unless they follow this patented system for playing the game is an excellent sales tactic; framing courtship as a game with rules that everyone knows but you is a great way to scare anyone into a sale. No one wants to lose at this, of all things. Of course, it’s bullshit. But in something so personal as romance, few of us think with our heads and hearts before responding from our fears and unfulfilled needs.

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