Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Making and Breaking the Rules

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of rules. They are fine for others, I suppose, but when they directly inhibit me, no thank you. After seeing the book The Rules mentioned on Sex and the City, I glanced through it one day in the book store. It seemed so old-fashioned and ridiculous to impose those kinds of rules on our social interactions with men. At the time it confirmed my negative feelings about the "rules" of dating. Until recently. I realized that all of us, whether we've sat down to analyze it or not, have our own set of dating guidelines, ones that make perfect sense to us and more often than not baffle those around us.

About two weeks ago, I went out with some friends and acquaintances where I made a new acquaintance who asked for my phone number at the end of the evening. I usually don't give out my number to near strangers, but this one was unusually cute and despite his slightly goofy demeanor seemed sincere. The kicker is that I actually sort of hoped he'd call. 72 hours, the time I arbitrarily set as the appropriate amount of time between meeting and calling (not over eager, not so long I forgot who you are), came and went. When the next Saturday--day 7--rolled around, I officially wrote him off. No hard feelings; people ask for numbers they ultimately decide against using all the time. Fast forward three more days to day 10, Tuesday night. A strange phone number appears on the caller ID, so I screen as per usual. A voice mail registers. It's from Mr. 10 Days Ago. He wants to get together. He makes NO mention of how much time has passed. He leaves his number for me to call him back if I'm interested. The End.

I am stunned by this latest development! It just isn't done. Who does he think he is? (Who do I think I am?...someone who gets called in 72 hours, apparently). Doesn't he know how this stuff works? Is he dating-challenged? While I was debating the to call or not to call back issue, I started thinking about all the games people play, if not to openly manipulate others, then to keep them firmly in line. There are rules for how soon to call, whether or not to answer, when to return call, what to wear if you go out, where to go, when to hook up, how to act if he forgets your birthday, etc, etc. The games go on and on and on.

I'm not writing in favor of obliterating the rules. As much as I'd love to advocate transparency and forthrightness, it's never going to happen on a grand scale. I might be forthright, but how do I know you are, or for that matter, how do you know my forthrightness isn't an act? All games have rules, even if it's only so we can cheat them later on. And dating is a game isn't it, at least in the opening stages of the match? Is it one competitor scoping out another, looking for a worthy contender for our affections, or at the very least, someone worthy of three hours of our time on a Friday night? Why don't we call the very next morning after we meet someone interesting? Because then the other person would know we are crazy about them and might even be turned off by the overzealous way we've played our hand. I'm just postulating here, but the very nature of the game it seems is to keep the other player intrigued and a little off balance.

So who wins you ask? Well, if the two become a couple, probably no one. It's a truce where both players eventually shake hands and say "Well played, well played." They've met their match. If the two stop seeing each other after a few dates, one player must have found the other wanting in some respect. He/she just couldn't keep up, couldn't meet the demands of the game. Cynical? Maybe. But the beauty of the game and its splendidly confusing rules is that it's not static; the rules can be changed, bent, or broken at a moment's notice and reinvent the entire playing field. We are drawn to the excitement of the challenge, the hunt, the gamble--all the elements that early romance is built on. I love the game and hate it, sometimes simultaneously.

Where will my interpretation of the rules take me in this case? I'm not calling back for at least 24 hours.


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