When someone decides it’s OK to cheat because it’s less than a year in, or lies and manipulates, or uses and pretends, and the other is heartbroken… discrepancies like that don’t go to the scrabble dictionary or to a referee. They don’t go anywhere. They just fucking hurt people. People who wanted to love and be loved, who opened their hearts and lives and legs.
Saying that dating is a game is a way to claim that all’s fair.
But it’s not. And unless you’re suffering from bone-deep cognitive dissonance or have never had a broken heart, you know that’s true. There are members of all genders who say that “all men/women treat it as a game! So I’m just doing the smart thing: I’m just playing defense. If they complain about it, it’s only because they’re used to winning, or they just hate losing. I’ve lost too many times. I’m justified in playing these people.” Right. You’ve been hurt. And hurting someone else will make that better! Yes, it’s a little known fact that breaking someone else’s heart with calculated callousness will heal yours.
I am of course just joking.
In a game, the other players are the competition and you do whatever you can to outsmart, outmaneuver, and generally outplay them. There are rules of what’s allowed, and they do not match up with the morals of society at large: you aren’t allowed to punch someone in the face to get what you want in the real world, but that’s fine in boxing, encouraged even. Similarly, when dating is perceived as a ‘game’, it is perfectly acceptable to lie about your intentions with someone, what type of relationship you might desire with them, or what you really think of them in order to score… even though you’d never do that to a friend, to someone you actually cared about (unless you’re suffering from a mental illness or serious untreated trauma).
In a game, you score as many points as possible without letting them get any in… aka, you get as much vulnerability, sex, care, and devotion, as possible, without actually showing emotion or providing emotional connection in return. You take, you use, you manipulate and you can justify it all because hey! It’s just a game, and players choose to play. Sounds fun! You go on and enjoy it without me.
What I’ve learned is that most people aren’t playing.
Most people are genuine in their desire for connection and honest in their pursuit of it. For the vast majority of people outside of Manhattan and over the age of 26, dating simply is not a game. It’s an honest endeavor, like making a garden. It involves patience, trust, investment, cultivation, and these things are assumed of all those who participate.
This is why playing dating as a game is so hurtful, to all involved: because those who aren’t playing it expect better of you. They would have, could have, seen the best in you, and been part of bringing that best into your daily life, your every moment. They could have been part of your triumphs, your growth, you being the best person you could possibly be. They could have believed in you, cared for you, supported you, liked you. They could have loved you. They could have changed your entire fucking life in ways you can’t even imagine until it happens. Even if you’re not interested in a long term relationship right now, honest casual experiences can be very healing and positive. In order to actually find romance, vulnerability is necessary. Trust and honesty are necessary. In romance, even in good one-night-stand sex, people are honest and expect the same of their partner.
It’s a trust. If you were a big old smarmy hopeless-romantic-cheesy-cheese-factory like me, you might even say it’s a sacred trust. And playing dating as a game is breaking that.