By request: dating games

Reader Esther asks me what I think about this. I guess I think of it the way I think of The Rules. Does it work? Sure, sexual manipulation often works; pick your favorite economic or neurobiological model, it will probably be effective.

I had a friend in college who was an A1 expert at manipulating men (still was, the last time I saw her; she was married and nonetheless had half a dozen men fighting to bring her drinks and light her cigarette even though as she herself once said, "On a very good day, I'm an 8.") I never really understood the point.

There's a phase most women probably go through in high school or college, when they realize that they have extraordinary power to get men to do things, and they see how many people they can get to chase them at once. Most of us, though, I think quickly realize how pointless it is. There's something terribly lonely about interacting with someone when you know what's really going on, and they don't.

Men go through the phase a little later, but the result is the same: anyone worth dating soon leaves it. Dating three or four men at a time isn't fun for more than a few months; it's exhausting. Of course, I have a high need for personal time and few people have ever described me as "enigmatic".

Like most women in New York, I've dated guys who thought that they were major players. Luckily for me, I got out early, because the average actual amusement to be had in the company of such a man is about 36 hours. (Cumulative, and get your minds out of the gutter, please.) The performance is briefly fascinating, and then you realize that there is much better theater to be had Off Broadway, where they won't waste hours of your time and lip gloss.

If you want casual sex, why go to so much trouble? It's freely available in most urban bars; what's the great need to take it from someone who doesn't really want to give it to you?

In a cosmic sense, the punishment for getting stuck in permanent adolescence is not, unfortunately, some theatrical denouement; it's that you are someone with the emotional life of a teenager. They may never realize what they are missing. Mostly, they do, of course, and it's sort of tragic to watch. They gain weight, the face sags (or slowly tightens into skeletal thinness), the men's hair erodes, jobs make it harder to keep up with wardrobes and bands. If they catch themselves in time and marry, their marriages are brittle and unsatisfying--it's hardly surprising that one of the authors of The Rules got divorced not long after publishing the book.

The awkwardest experience in the entire world is being macked on by a guy who is just past it, but hasn't yet gotten the message. It always makes me think of Mr. Skeffington, which gives me the cold crawlies.

Sadly, of course, not everyone gets out early, and a lot of innocent, if silly, people get caught up in these games. All I can say is, only suckers play games where they don't quite understand the rules and the percentage seems to be running strongly to the house. If you suspect you're the sucker, no matter how much fun you think you're having, it's time to cash out your chips and close your house account.