Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hard to get

Dating is a game...until it's not. We all know people who used to be one of us, struggling through the dating game one strategic (or not) play at a time - sometimes ending up with a devoted new fan, sometimes ending up with a new coat of pain for the closet of unrequited love. Then one day they run into the man/woman of their dreams at the grocery store (does this ever REALLY happen to anyone?), local bar, animal shelter, etc. and that's it - game over. But for the rest of us, we're still stuck rolling the dice and hoping for the "get-out-of-jail-free" card.

What I'm about to write will certainly be met with some resistance, but while it might not be the world's most perfect theory, it's definitely something to consider.

Playing hard-to-get works.

I'm not saying that "playing" anything is an ideal situation, but it's a time-tested fact that men (and women) appreciate things more when they don't fall into their laps (or beds). I see women who aren't especially pretty, smart or interesting, playing 'the game' with seemingly effortless confidence:

Step 1: She goes out dressed to kill, but when men do gawk and approach, she's standoffish, but not bitchy. If she's interested, and they spend an appropriate amount of time trying to talk to her, without treating her like a piece of meat, she may give them her phone number.

Step 2: The guy calls and she doesn't answer the phone. He leaves a messages along the lines of "Hi Brenda, it's Chad. I met you on Saturday night at Bar W. Just wanted to say hi and see how you're doing. You can reach me at 555-1234. Hope to talk to you soon."

Step 3: Two days pass and she doesn't call him back (because unlike most women, she isn't motivated by the intense fear that if she doesn't call him back, he's going to lose interest). He calls her again and this time she answers the phone - she apologizes for not having called him earlier but she was busy, busy, busy.

She wants to be pursued and has the self-control to act calm and collected, even though her heart may skip a beat when the phone rings. She knows that if she were available whenever he wanted, if she called him back right away and slept with him after one night, he'd lose interest quicker because the thrill of the hunt would be gone. Instead, she keeps him guessing and doesn't tell him what she's doing Friday night after she declines a date - he's intrigued.

Step 4: She finally accepts an invitation for a date and everything goes great -- the conversation, chemistry, etc. Maybe there is the much-anticipated first kiss, but when he calls her again to set up another date, she is busy, busy, busy.

The thesis is simple, and familiar to evolutionary scientists (and any woman who's mother was born before the 1960s): men are hunters who thrill in 'the chase.' For me, the wisdom here is that feminism hasn't changed the innate instincts of most heterosexual men. Women might have evolved from housewife to CEO, but men are still men. This is why we can't fully blame them for sleeping with a woman they met at a bar earlier that night - - if we're making it available, can we really blame them for taking it?

While the above may describe a common dating scenario in the 1940s and 50s, here's what's happening today:

Scenario 1: A single gal goes out in her cleavage baring halter top and drinks until she's wobbling in her stilettos. She sees a guy she likes and walks right up to him, making it clear that he can have her if he wants. They laugh and flirt. She goes home with him. Maybe she sleeps with him, or maybe, in a misguided attempt to play "hard to get," she limits herself to only making out with him. Either way, by being in his bed, she really isn't very "hard-to get."

Outcome 1: She goes home the next day, knowing deep down that she should have had more self-control and probably shouldn't have gone home with him. But she still hopes that this time it's different, that they had a "special connection" and that he's going to call.

He doesn't call.

Outcome 2: She goes home the next day, knowing deep down that she should have had more self-control and probably shouldn't have gone home with him. But she still hopes that this time it's different, that they had a "special connection" and that he's going to call.

He calls.

She is OVERJOYED, and in yet another attempt at playing hard to get she waits to call him back...until later that night. They chat and he asks her to meet for drinks the next night, she accepts. They have a great time. When he doesn't call her again for a week, she is confused. Wanting to "make sure" he knows she's interested, she calls him. After all, there is nothing wrong with a girl calling a guy, right? He calls her back and they arrange to hang out again. She thinks she is into something good, but then she doesn't hear from him again...until late one night when he texts her to see if she is "out." They officially become hook-up buddies.

Here's the thing: we want to believe that because women have proven themselves in so many ways, that it's anti-feminist and pathetic to follow "rules" in order to get the right type of attention from men. We should be able to be ourselves. Well, today's translation of "being ourselves" often means pursuing a guy because we don't believe they'll pursue us on their own. Feminists can also sleep with guys right away because sexual responsibility should be equal. Well, it's not. If it were equal, men would get pregnant too.

In some ways, we're using feminism and the fact that it's "not fair" that acting a certain way captures a guys attention, to make excuses for our own insecurity. By pursuing men, making sure we're available when they ask us out, and calling them back right away, we're trying to ensure that they won't lose interest and move on to someone better.

After years of being a cheerleader for the feminist dating camp, I'm here to report my findings: it's not feminist at all.

In fact, I think this so-called feminist view has taken away a lot of a woman's control in the dating world...we don't demand pursuit, chivalry or commitment before devoting ourselves to a guy. This gives men an unbalanced amount of control, and relegates women to waiting around to see if the man we choose will disappoint us or stick it out. How is this a better representation of feminism than playing hard to get? At least with the latter, we're in a position to choose someone who has already proven they're willing to go the extra mile and treat us right.

For those of you who are foaming at the mouth, waiting to argue that some men like a woman to pursue and be in charge - - I have no doubt that you're right. However, I wonder if these are the men who don't have the confidence to pursue women themselves? Anyone who is insecure finds it comforting to get assurance that there's no risk. Yet men who are comfortable with what they have to offer, may be turned off by a women who pursues, and therefore accidentally gives the impression that she doesn't think she's worth being pursued. And as for those heterosexual guys who fantasize about a woman taking charge on dates, and in bed? Well, it's my personal belief that a little goes a long way. There is nothing wrong with being a strong woman, but most heterosexual men don't want to date another man.

As usual, there are no stones being thrown from behind my pink lap top - this is coming from someone who has always been told to just "be herself," and someday I'll find the "love of my life." While this might very well be true, no one ever warned me that in the meantime, I might scare off a bunch a great practice guys by being my emotional, over-thinking, passionate, honest self.

Like most women, at one point or another I've worried that if I don't call a guy back right away, he's not going to know I'm interested. Then I was struck by a bolt of lightening: when I don't like a guy, I forget to call him back, I'm too busy for dates, and I'm accidentally aloof. Consequently, it's these men - the ones I'm not interested in - that fall all over themselves to pursue me. When I don't like a guy, and I don't call him back, does he call once and give up? No. Usually, if he likes me, he wants to "make sure" I got his call, and he'll try again. So why are we so scared to take that risk with a guy we like?

While I think there is some unavoidable truth in the "hard to get" theory, I think there is a bigger problem here: why are beautiful, strong, intelligent women so insecure that they need to play hard to get? We should be hard to get. We should be "busy, busy, busy." Regardless of what should be, the truth is, that no matter how far women have come, successful, interesting women everywhere are spending a lot of time worrying about what men think and want. Worse than that, we measure ourselves against what we read and learn about men, and end up feeling undesirable.


Unknown said...

You are absolutely right. Great post!

Anonymous said...

I think some of the point here is that a man wants a girl who really is "busy busy busy" and confident enough not to call insesintly (sp?). Often as women we have to "play" this part but we should be this confident. I don't necessarily think that women should "play" hard to get. I think as women we should aspire to be that confident and secure instead of learning how to put on the show. Eventually, if the relationship works, the woman who is simply "playing the part" is going to show her true colors and then there will be a whole new part of the relationship. I know a girl who refuses to play the part and puts herself out there as a "needy girl" basically. But she makes no appologies for it and although its painful for me as a friend to watch her throw herself at a guy and then call them constantly and then be continueally disappointed, she's not faking a thing. Just another point to explore. I still think you're brilliant.

Anonymous said...

You know this has long been a book called The Rules, right?

Laurie Stark said...

I think your last point hits the nail on the head. I personally don't think I should lie to a man to make it seem like I'm less available than I am, but I do think that I should a full enough, interesting enough life that I'm really not available at a moment's notice for someone I just met. It's not about playing a game, it's about not making your entire life revolve around your next date. Because there is nothing 'feminist' about that.

Though I may not agree on every little detail in this, I think you've written an interesting, thought-provoking post once again!

jinbahji said...

I'm blown away.

This has to be one of the most fiercely intelligent, and yet, nuanced on a modern feminist's view on dating and the theory of playing hard to get - for lack of a better word.

I do believe playing "hard to get" from a woman's perspective is the best way to go, for both parties involved. Sometime due to general boredom, nice weather or because of the built up ennui, I might call up girls that I would never call up for the aforementioned reasons. However, if she does not pick up or makes it obvious to me (or men in general) to step up their "game" (for another lack of a more appropriate word), it serves as a reality check to the man. Thus, forcing the man to really consider the merits of pursuing something serious with this girl for better, or for worse.

Now, regardless of the the male's reaction to this initial "resistance", I believe this is a like a good disclaimer which serves to refine the intentions and feelings this guy has for said girl. This does not automatically mean the guy is sold on this girl being the "end game" (okay I'm getting tired of my own "...") or just another hook up. If enough interest is there on the guy's part to want to dig deeper and get to know the girl better, he will most likely engage with more purpose and direction.

On a side note a "get-out-of-jail-free" card is only for people who are frustrated by the dynamics of a ruthless game, where there are no rules. Just like any good war, all is fair. I think if one understands that concept even half-way, dating is actually not so bad. And it might even be fun. ;)

Anonymous said...

love it! living it ;-)

Invisible G. said...

In my meager dating experience if a fella is TRULY interested he will pursue. So yes, calling him a hundred times to let him know you're interested won't make a difference. It will only make one appear unstable.

I view a potential mate as someone adding to my life, not becoming MY LIFE. This is the mistake many young women make.

Lovely blog by the way, I've been meaning to comment for some time.