Demystifying dating

Why treating relationships like a strategy might mean you’re doing it wrong

By Sophie Isbister, Gamekeeper

The ball is in your court, and you’re hoping you make the right move, or it will be game over.

Humans like analogies. Especially, it seems, when it comes to dating: there’s your roster (the list of people you plan to call on for dates or booty), your plan of attack (the words you intend to say as soon as you cross the bar to talk to that hottie), and of course, the bases you hope to eventually round with the sweetie of your choice (culminating in a home run!).

We reference popular sports terminology when it comes to dating in part because it impresses a cavalier and fun attitude towards relationships and the seeking of them—topics that many people find challenging or upsetting. After all, many people don’t like being single, and anything that can imbue the courtship process with a bit of joy and familiarity is probably a good thing.

But treating dating like a game makes the process complex where it should be simple. Dating should be as easy as saying to a person, “Hey, I want to spend time with you.” Text a person when you want to. If you don’t want to go out with a person anymore, tell them. There is no game involved in dating; no hidden code. And if it feels like there is—if it’s not easy like Sunday morning—then maybe you’re focusing your attention on the wrong person.

I get it: clear communication is really hard, and almost nobody is able to do it perfectly all the time. It puts you in a vulnerable position to be completely honest about what it is you want and how you feel. Sometimes I would rather set myself on fire than communicate frankly about my feelings; after all, the inner workings of my brain and heart are about the only things that are mine and mine alone. Opening that vault up to someone else is a challenge. At first the bolts and hinges are rusty, but the only way to get the door open smoothly is to practice.

You might, at first, feel like a total nerd by communicating plainly with potential mates. You may think you’ll seem a bit too eager if you call your beau fewer than three days after your first date, and you might feel like you’re over-sharing if you walk up to a person at a party and plainly ask if they’re interested in going out. But the right person will appreciate it.

I get frustrated when I see examples of the dating game on popular TV shows. While I love shows like New Girl and How I Met Your Mother, I think they do modern daters a disservice with any advice that centres on pretending to be something you’re not, or hiding your true feelings when happiness could be a simple I-like-you-too away.

The truth is that there is no game to dating; the game is an illusion. Dating is just two people having fun. It isn’t rigged in anyone’s favour, and there’s no winning strategy other than saccharine-sweet simple platitudes such as “Be yourself.” Dating becomes cryptic and challenging when lies are told, truths are omitted, and desires are left unvoiced. Be real with each other, and, in the immortal words of the Backstreet Boys, “quit playing games with my heart.”