Friday, May 5, 2017

Girl's guide to game (and a humiliating date that proved I have none)

The game of love is full of rules: don't text first, respond too quickly or before a certain time period since seeing someone; pretend you are the world's most popular, busiest person; and dear God, do not under any circumstances call! In high school, when I first started navigating the world of boys, my mom told me "make him wonder what you're up to. Don't be so available!"

When I met my ex husband in 2001, we fell easily into an instant relationship almost immediately. I didn't have to have game. Now divorced, I am baffled by attempting to date. The world of online dating has added more rules, but some things still apply. What does it mean to have "game?"

Having "game" in dating means a person is an attractive potential partner. A person with game knows how to say the right things at the right time. They're confident, together and have many dating options. They likely have many varied interests so they can easily talk to and connect with others. I learned how to up my game through a guy I'll call D.

D and I connected on a popular dating app and it quickly became apparent that we had much in common. His daughter was a freshmen a top state college where my daughter wanted to attend; he was a trail runner who loved the outdoors; he graduated a year behind me from a rival school to my high school in my hometown and his grandpa retired from the newspaper where I used to work. He was funny and got my sense of humor, and initially, our texts messages were paragraphs in length. He was my age, so I thought the level of maturity might be better than the typical guys I’d been dating who were younger than I. He was straight forward and openly said he "was too old for games." We seemed to have an easy familiarity that made talking effortless. Within a few lengthy messages on the site, we exchanged numbers and a flurry of texts followed. By the next day, we made plans to meet the following Friday at a local bar/restaurant downtown known for it’s wide selection of craft beers and multiple variations of yummy grilled cheese sandwiches.

As Friday drew closer, the banter increased over texts, and I grew to look forward to our conversations, waiting to see the iPhone bubble that indicated he was typing back. He was quick with a quip and we shared details about our activities throughout the day. Several days he mentioned he had been at a bar or drinking, and in the back of my mind, I made a mental note. Perhaps he just liked beer, I reasoned, but eight of them on a week night? Tiny red flags began sounding in my head. Still, he was cute, funny, and I shoved that information aside, deciding it wasn't fair to cast judgment without even meeting him.

Friday came, and I became increasingly nervous. What would I wear? I looked in my closet for something and became frustrated; nothing seemed right. I headed out to the mall shopping just for this date.

When Friday came, I wore the cutest navy and white polka dotted dress and two inch black wedge sandals I’d bought that day. My hair and make-up were on point. I felt confident. Excited, I arrived at the restaurant before he did and waited.

When he arrived, however, I immediately noticed a sour look on his face and huge bags under his eyes. He was way underdressed compared to me in a baggy t-shirt and jeans. He ordered a heavy-handed Kentucky bourbon scotch ale with a high (8.19%) alcohol content. Within minutes, he bogarted the conversation, talking excessively about himself and revealing highly personal things in almost confessional fashion; he casually recited details of multiple arrests within the first 45 minutes of our date, including DUI convictions. He mentioned that his 19-year-old daughter had a “fakey” at college and that her dorm was two blocks from the local brew pub there. Clearly condoning her underage drinking, he talked about how hammered he and the other parents got during parent visit weekend.

Finally, I got a word in and asked “do you disclose this kind of information on all of your first dates?" He seemed to realize he was talking a lot, and he finally asked about me. I told him about how long I had been single, and I confessed that had no game - that dating post-divorce and as an adult was perplexing and baffling to me. "There are so many rules," I said, "like should I text first..." and at that point he quickly jumped in: "By the way, I'll never text you first." The man who said he doesn't play games had just revealed a very big one he played.

I mentioned my kids, job, writing and this blog when he suddenly said "You're a narcissist for having a blog." He did not seem to notice the dress I searched for two hours for, or my hair, which rocked, or be even remotely excited about our date. He did not ask anything more about me.

Over the next Kentucky Bourbon Ale he disclosed abruptly that he'd killed a man after the victim turned left in front of his dump truck; he described how he watched the man’s head “flopped open” and “dying” while he was on the phone with 911 and said he openly that he had “mental problems” because of it. I could feel myself physically back away from him and despite it being a confrontational question, I asked him point blank if that was why he drinks every day.

By the third Kentucky Bourbon, he flipped through his profile photos on his own Facebook, saying "Look: don't I look hot in this picture?" He showed me photos of his ex wife, child, ex girlfriends, etc. I nodded in recognition - something he picked up on. "Have you creeped on my page?" he asked. I admitted it. He admitted he'd creeped on mine too.

“You know, I could just send you a friend request and then we could openly creep,” I said, and I sent him a friend request right then, but he never accepted it. The restaurant closed, and he suggested we go to the bar next door - a place he seemed familiar with. A lightweight, the three beers I had already made my head spin, but I went anyway and proceeded to have another beer. I rarely drink, and by this point I was admittedly drunk. This put me in a vulnerable position. I was not in any state to drive the 30 minutes back to my house in the country, and the bar was closing, so I reluctantly opted to go back to his house.

When we reached his place that was only four miles from the bar, what transpired isn't anything worth writing about. Some parts are a blur in my memory, but one thing that clearly stands out is him breaking wind for a full five seconds during an intimate moment!
We finally fell asleep about 3 a.m., and at 4:15 I woke with him draped across me asleep. I slipped quietly out from under him and out of his bed. I left at 4:30 a.m., texting him as I did to say thank you for the evening.
The next day, I was very busy and he was preparing to run a marathon the following Sunday, so our conversations were brief, but he did say he had an "amazing" time with me. But that Saturday night, I began thinking about what he confided in me about, and I made a crucial mistake that changed the trajectory of our interactions. In a fairly long text, I acknowledged what happened to him was incredibly traumatic and how sorry I was that it happened to him. "I can't imagine what kind of helplessness you felt. You are an amazingly strong person," I wrote. I told him I thought he was beautiful for sharing his story with me, and for all the things he's lived through. "You've gone through something most can't imagine and somehow turned it around. That's something to truly be proud of," I concluded.  I never got a response.

Over the next few days, I became increasingly anxious. Our text conversations had moved from paragraphs to short sentences of a few words. I'd text and wait for the iPhone bubble to show from his end, but he became less responsive, sometimes taking hours to reply. I tried to keep communication light, but I would often send multiple texts in succession. Within a few days, the communication had all but stopped. I never saw D again. There were obvious glaring red flags in this situation, and I had to admit I had no game.

Hindsight is 20/20, but if I had I been paying attention and listened to my instincts, I would have realized the subtle cues I was giving off as well as the glaring obvious red flags he was giving and not allowed myself to become as involved as I did. It certainly would have prevented a lot of angst.

First, I didn’t heed my own instincts. Girls with game do not question themselves. The writing was on the wall with this one. I brought my best self to the table; he brought his worst. He was ill mannered, self-centered and clearly had a drinking problem.
Second, I allowed the things that happened or didn't happen, like if he didn't text back right away, make me crazy. I became reactionary based on what he did or didn't do instead of just letting go and living my life.

Third, I sought out his approval by being overly nice and I looked for his reassurance/compliments. Girls with game do not need anyone to tell them they're good/smart/pretty enough. They do not look for confidence from external factors. Chronically nice people who accept unacceptable behavior do so from deep-seated anxiety about the unknown. All of my searching, reacting and analyzing was really just my attempt to control the outcome, and stemmed from insecurity and fear of rejection.

I made a few huge mistakes and so did he, which brings me to

The Do's and Don'ts of First Dates:

1. Don’t get inebriated.
Being drunk lets down inhibitions and tends to create a perfect storm for us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. It can also put us in compromising situations where we lose control, putting us in jeopardy for date rape, for example. Don't do it.
DO have a drink or two if it helps you to relax.

2. Don’t send multiple, heavy or excessively long texts. Ever. Keep texting light. D told me later on that he was embarrassed that he'd shared so much personal stuff with me; my bringing it up in a long text only exacerbated his feeling awkward about sharing. Topics of conversation that are heavy (death, your ex, overt and thoughtful compliments about someone’s resiliency in life) should be saved for in-person conversations.

DO engage. Gone are the days where we picked up the telephone to get to know someone. Using text is the primary means of learning someone in 2017. Respond. But don't wait around for his response.

3. Pay attention. If he doesn’t ask about your life/hobbies/passions/day, he’s just not that into you, as the movie title says. Someone who is interested in getting to know you will not be reluctant to initiate conversation or ask questions to get to know you. If he doesn’t compliment you at all on that first date, beware. Furthermore, a first date is when we put our very best foot forward. If he shows up looking unenthused, haggard or otherwise like he just doesn’t give a shit, he probably doesn’t.

4. Do not involve social media. This is a hard one for me personally because I am a super sleuth when it comes to research and, as a single mother with two girls, I really can't be too careful. Anyone you meet may have a scary past, and it's best to be informed. In this day and age, everyone and their 97-year-old grandmother has Facebook. It becomes so easy to creep someone's page. Girls, creeping someone's page is something we all do but will never admit. My mistake? I admitted it...and initiated a friend request. Do not do this.

DO trust your instincts. If a guy seems questionable, you don't need to check his Facebook status to find out.
5. Don’t use a first date as a confessional. Revealing majorly private things such as your arrest record, how many people you’ve slept with, and otherwise highly personal things illustrates a total lack of social appropriateness and boundaries which are red flags for real issues, such as mental illness and personality disorders.
DO be yourself. Being honest about your life, values and experiences isn't a bad thing. Just keep it light.
6. Don’t complain. My good friend, B, is also newly single after being married to her high school sweetheart. Back in the dating game, she relayed a disturbing story recently about a man she went out with. On the second date, he complained for the first 30 minutes about his coworkers, his shitty day at work, and generally how much he hates his life. Spreading this kind of negativity in general should be avoided, but especially with a prospective romantic partner.

Girls (and really anyone's) Guide to Game

So how can you up your game?

Amy Cuddy says in Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, “True confidence comes from real love and leads to long-term commitment to growth. False confidence comes from desperate passion and leads to dysfunctional relationships, disappointment and frustration.” She goes on “...the source of secure high self-esteem is internal. It doesn’t need external validation to thrive, and it doesn’t crumble at the first sign of a threat. People who have a solid sense of self-worth reflect that feeling through healthy, effective ways of dealing with challenges and relationships, making them both more resilient and more open.”*
Confident people do what they love and love what they do. They don’t second guess themselves or fret about whether someone will contact them for the second date because they know either way, it's all good. They go about their lives. They don't need someone else's validation to feel good or know what's good about them.

The way to get game? Simple. Indulge in your passions. Watching anyone do something they're passionate about, whether it's a sport, art, teaching etc immediately increases their attractiveness. Sink your energy into things you love. Focus on yourself. Stop trying so hard to impress.
* Cuddy, Amy (2015-12-22). Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (p. 33). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.