I tried to think back and remember if there were times when I played games. And there was: when I was younger, I played a game called “Please God, Let This One Actually Like Me, And Not Be Lying To Me And Manipulating Me To Get sex”.
Here are the rules: I would meet a guy, and start dating, and try not to sleep with him until or unless I was reasonably sure he actually wanted some version of an honest relationship with me… and not just casual sex, which I wasn’t interested in at that time, because I knew that as soon as I slept with a guy, my feelings for him would become very serious. The fastest way to a woman’s heart is through her vagina, after all. So I stood to get really hurt if I slept with a guy whose sole interest in me would then be satisfied; if it turned out he was just lying to get in my pants. It was very, very challenging for me, because I love sex. And these were guys I wanted very much to sleep with. I would say it was harder for me than for a lot of the guys.
I learned quickly that a man saying “I definitely want to be in a relationship with you! I care for you as a human person and as a woman, in a romantic manner! Let’s be boyfriend girlfriend and date exclusively!” often meant nothing. I learned that the hard way. But they weren’t hurting anyone! They were just playing the game, right? If sex and the City taught us anything, it’s that women play games all the time! These guys were just evening the playing field.
Because Women Do It Worse, Right?
The thing is, sex and the City didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was a rebellious response to a culture in which women felt they were the ones that consistently lost in the ‘game’ of dating; the ones getting cheated on, who had to be passive and wait for a man to approach, who had to be the gatekeepers of sex thus denying their own sexual needs, etc. The show was a way for women to take their power back by being active sexually and romantically, instead of passive. It was an escalation in this ‘game’, that feels more and more like a war; it was women dropping the ‘I can play you like a harp’ bomb right back on to the men who, they felt, had dropped that bomb on them first.
And guess what? The show ends when they’re all fucking married. Because even these women, trying so fucking hard to be independent and hold men at arm’s length, even this generation raised on “I need a man as much as a fish needs a bicycle” just wants to be loved. Their ‘game-playing’ wasn’t a gleeful, torturous emasculation of men they viewed as peons. It was women who felt forced to play defense in an endeavor that’s become a minefield; one that is supposed to be about love.
That’s what happens when we think dating, love, relationships, sex, intimacy is a game. We play by ever more ruthless rules, as we look for the slimmest advantage over our ‘opponents’—the very people we ought to be caring for, giving of ourselves for. Dating, love, all of it, is supposed to be about making someone else’s life easier and more beautiful, and discovering something profound about ourselves in the process… not making life harder and awful and confusing and hateful.
Laying Down Arms
I kept expecting men to be adversarial, so I did what any smart woman would do: I played defense. Which involved trying to wait to sleep with guys, trying not to appear to eager or interested, trying to make sure they texted or called more often than I did. I tried asking straight direct open questions to get to the bottom of what they actually wanted from me: whether their desire was for more than just participation in my (admittedly fantastic) sexy-time. I tried not to feel, or at least, not to feel quite so goddamn vulnerable.