I Refuse To Play The Dating Game

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You are too interested

“I’m just afraid she likes me too much,” he confided to a mutual friend.

A few weeks earlier, I had wondered the same thing about him. Fresh out of an abortive attempt at a relationship, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or ruin our friend group. But his charm, compliments, and habit of hugging me and asking me, “How’s my favorite person?” won me over. I decided to take his apparent interest as a good thing.

After I’d already decided that this was a relationship I might want to give a shot, he started to leave my text messages on the dreaded read.

With some prodding from me and under the influence of pain medicine, our mutual friend let me in on their conversation, admitting that he’d decided he wasn’t interested in me. I seethed internally, wondering how he could say that after giving me so much encouragement. But I’d already asked him to our school’s version of Sadie Hawkins, so I swallowed my pride, and—with some trepidation—I went with him anyway. About a month later, he was dating someone else to my surprise—and to the surprise of many of our friends.

The summer after, I shared the story with another guy. He shook his head and said, “This guy reminds me of me when I was younger. You deserve to be treated better than that.” A few days later, we broached the subject again. This time, he looked me in the eye and said, “You’re so beautiful, Ella. You’re an authentic Catholic woman, and you ask people to live up to a higher standard. You deserve to be treated so well, and a man who deserves you will step up and do that.”

When a beautiful boy with sparkling eyes and a flashing white smile tells you that you’re beautiful and valued, it’s easy to get lost in his eyes—easy to expect him to treat you the way he described.

The relationship did not improve from there; we would undergo two painfully awkward DTRs—where I would ask him to either commit or stop flirting with me, and he would claim to be unable to commit to anyone. It ended in tears for me, but for him a relationship with another girl would begin two weeks later. When I overheard him talking about this girl, I was stung to hear him emphasize that it was “casual” and “relaxed.” He quite clearly wanted someone who didn’t care as much as I did—or at least didn’t show it.

Honest Abe’s romantic fumbles

A quick internet search reveals that I’m not alone. Girls all over the world have experienced the same feelings and the same rejection as me. The belief that it’s somehow unattractive to show interest is all over popular culture—and it’s even within the pages of my history textbooks.

In 1838, a twenty-nine-year-old, Abraham Lincoln described a romantic mishap to his friend, Mrs. Orville Browning, in a letter. In 1826, a friend of Lincoln’s suggested he marry her sister, Mary Owens, and she offered to bring her sister back to Springfield so he could see more of her. Before Lincoln saw Mary again, he described her as “intelligent and agreeable.” But Lincoln changed his tune when she arrived. Lincoln writes,

“This stomached me a little; for it appeared to me, that her coming so readily showed she was a trifle too willing.”

Lincoln immediately started to fixate on her faults. He called her fat, and he cuttingly remarked that “she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff (the fat, vain, and drunken friend of Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V).” But Lincoln felt honor bound to marry her, so after he had put off the odious task for as long as possible—for a year—he proposed. To his shock, she refused him. In a move that reminded me strikingly of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice, he says, “I supposed she did it through an affectation of modesty.” He asked and was denied three more times.

After he was fully rebuffed, Lincoln writes, “I began to suspect that I was really a little in love with her.”

After this disappointment, Lincoln swore off of women, but years later he married Mary Todd.

Somewhere along the line it became cool not to care

The phenomenon that Lincoln so amusingly illustrated has a sociological name. It’s called the Principle of Least Interest, and the Encyclopedia of Sociology defines it as “The generalization that, in any relationship, the person who cares least about maintaining it is in the best bargaining position.”

The Principle of Least Interest now rules the dating world. Click To Tweet

Until I came across Lincoln’s letter in my Civil War class, I always thought this was a modern problem. Countless articles and blogposts discuss the dating situation it has created. Both men and women play a game where they try to appear uninterested. The rules are endless: don’t call too soon, don’t be the first to send a text message, don’t send more than one text message in a row, don’t be the first to clearly express interest. In 2015, Vanity Fair explored the situation in the context of Tinder and the Hookup culture (warning: the article contains detailed discussions of sex).

But it was a Relevant Magazine article by Patreeya Prasertvit that resonated most for me.

When someone rejects us, we retort that we didn’t care anyways. We play it safe, we ambiguously hang out until we are sure our affections are returned. Because somewhere along the way, showing that you care too much, too soon, became terribly uncool.

Losing a game you never wanted to play

While women can be the person in the relationship who cares less, that doesn’t appear to be the norm, and it has not been my personal experience. I see an undeniable pattern in my life of men who show obvious interest, but when I mirror their interest, they turn weird and act like they never liked me.

In each situation, I had played my cards too early; I hadn’t followed the rules of the game. Instead of playing it cool, I honestly let each guy know that I was interested. It’s in my nature to be direct.

What’s the solution?

I have to ask myself what went wrong? In Pride & Prejudice, written in 1813, Charlotte Lucas tells Lizzie that “In nine cases out of ten a woman had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.” But twenty-five years later, Honest Abe criticize a woman for being “too willing.” Somewhere along the line, love became a game and people’s feelings began something to play with.

But my feelings echo Prasertvit’s, who writes, “I don’t think we can really win until we are willing to fold, to leave the game and remember that love is much bigger than a power struggle. Otherwise we approach romance with fear, with insecurity, with a need to control and predict, with armor on.”

I’m not sure how this problem can be fixed. But I know that I refuse to play with other people’s feelings—I choose sincerity.

And in case you’re coming away with a bad opinion of one of our most beloved presidents, know that Lincoln was self-aware. He concluded his letter with, “Others have been made fools of by the girls’ but this can never be with truth said of me. I most emphatically, in this instance, made a fool of myself.”

Can the same be said for the rest of us?



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14 Comments

  1. Daniel-1138285 May 20, 2017 Reply

    I don’t really know a complete solution, but I know that the hook-up culture makes it worse. The ever ignoring of text messages and pretending not to care keeps happening because it works, in the sense that it will pique and often develop the interest of the target, on either end. But at what cost? Every time an individual is sincere in their romantic approaches, and the other responds with coldness, it calluses the heart of both of those who play the game. Repeated playing lead to a default approach of not-caring, and sometimes never caring. Like pre-marital sex directly or indirectly teaches those doing it to unnaturally separate sex and love so also does flirting without intent chill the relations between the sexes.

  2. Erica-1140479 May 20, 2017 Reply

    I love this article. It is indeed a perfect explanation of what many of us women endure in relationships or even in the search for them. I had a great shock to be a victim to this here on a Catholic site. I guess I expected Catholics to be more Christ-like and less worldly. I expected Catholics to court seriously and not play the dating game with people’s emotions. The latter breaks down people in ways unknown…

  3. Phyllis-1423411 May 20, 2017 Reply

    “You deserve to be treated better than that.”

    I like that! O:)

  4. Sue-1434915 May 19, 2017 Reply

    Such a well written article that articulates my own thoughts, and as an added plus, good ole’ down to earth Patrick added a few words of wisdom also! As a woman in my late 50s also, and also direct, I have been doing this dating thing for 15 years and I become very frustrated to still be single and what I see is life just passing me by all the while, I am not where I want to be. But, as Patrick said, for the times when I have met someone promising, they may have been lucky enough to find “the one” who just wasn’t me. Truly, I don’t want to settle for someone less that the right one. Thanks for your inspired writing!

  5. Genevieve-1442840 May 19, 2017 Reply

    Ella, age makes a difference in too many ways. My opinions will come across as sarcastic, but when you reach a certain age, the filter doesn’t exist. I am widowed, so I have a different outlook on things. In the 40’s I guess is when there was the ‘little black book’ that guys kept. Now in the 2017’s it is the iphone match games. Everything is visual. First they check out the pictures. Then they check out the profile. Do they want LTR, play around, coffee dates, whatever. They don’t tell you initially so you never really know. Even at my age guys won’t commit to what they want. Am I leery about a man who at 67 has never been married? Yes. What a conversation starter, eh? So they look at pictures first. Have they looked into a mirror lately? They don’t see the old man looking back at them; his face is shaped differently, more rounder than before but they want someone who is thin, someone to take care of their 10 year old child (from an obviously younger spouse who has left). I don’t think so, been there, done that. I am comfortable with who I am. Take it or leave it. So, even at my age, I think dating is a hit or miss. I hope it gets better for younger people. It is time for a generation to put down the phones, look at other people and talk, not text. Life is passing them by. One day they will think back and realize how much precious time was used on texting and not living. I must say that I had a wonderful marriage and now would be happy to just have a male friend or companion to go to the movies, lunch or have coffee and talk over sports. I miss that. I wish you the best.

  6. Catherine-996317 May 19, 2017 Reply

    “He who loves the least controls the relationship.” And old but often true adage.

    By being honest with your interest, you will quickly sort out who is a kindred spirit to you.

    I hope that you won’t take it personally, though, when they’re different. It might hurt, but it will ultimately lead you to the one God intends for you, hopefully.

    I love your reference to Lincoln. Thank you for sharing this part of you with us.

  7. Tammy-1417966 May 18, 2017 Reply

    I’ve had similar experiences and can only say what I say over and over to my teenagers…” It’s better to be hated (shunned,rejected) for who you are, than loved ( accepted) for who you are not”. I , like you Ella, will continue to be sincere/enthusiastic/honest and let the chips fall where they may…

  8. Stephanie-1368834 May 16, 2017 Reply

    +JMJ+
    Whether consciously or not, it’s natural to have one’s feelings involved when you put forth the effort to know someone. I plead guilty to being young and totally green in the realms of cultivating a relationship. God graciously hit me with a proverbial 2×4 on my head (recently) that I needed to seek like-minded Catholic friendship at this time and to trust Him with matters of the heart, in HIS timing; not mine. I can’t prognosticate how I’d approach a man who has won my heart, but I do pray that God will provide me with wisdom and the right words to convey my intentions and vice versa. Will I make a fool of myself?! Only time will tell! 😉

  9. Yvette-1099864 May 16, 2017 Reply

    Having been on the receiving end of a guy playing a game … it’s not pleasant. I don’t get it. This person probably wouldn’t even admit they were playing a game, but it certainly played with my emotions. What’s a girl to do.

  10. Beth-1291040 May 16, 2017 Reply

    I’ve been out of the dating “game” for years, and just back to dating. I’m going on a year of attempts that were never meant to be anything from the beginning. I feel I put all this effort into it. And it doesn’t matter if I say I’m looking for a LTR in my profile. In the initial stages, I’m bombarded with emails ,then texts which I’m not too keen on. After 2-4 weeks, the guy “disappears” and I’m wondering how do I get that month back LoL.
    I’m 50 years old, I don’t want to spend a decade finding someone. I’d like to be living life, not serial dating. But I know I’m not going to apologize for ” Feeling” either. Honesty first, I agree. I’ll take being alone over the other choices.

  11. Nicholas-1207352 May 16, 2017 Reply

    Right on Patrick. I couldn’t have said it better.

  12. Clara-1221598 May 16, 2017 Reply

    Excellent article! Thank you for writing it. I think that the bit about Lincoln is awfully funny! Actually, it makes me like Lincoln even more. I agree with you Ms. Ella; sincerity and refusing to play with the emotions of others are so important to me. My two most formative relationship experiences in high school put me on the receiving end of both experiences. I am grateful for both because having the two attitudes of emotional games versus sincere honesty displayed before me changed me and gave me the courage to take up the road of sincere honesty in my own relationships.

  13. Patrick-341178 May 16, 2017 Reply

    An article like this should be accompanied from the male point of view. Obviously, I don’t know what those guys were thinking, but it very possible they simply met someone else who they thought was a better match, and since you weren’t yet in the relationship, they weren’t sure how the best way was to handle stopping communication. i can’t tell you how many times in my dating life where something has looked promising with a woman only to hear nothing from her, or get some totally unnecessary overly cold or nasty text telling me to have a nice life in so many words. It works both ways in our world of endless digital dating possibilities. Welcome to the club!

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