Hate the Player and the Game

Category: Points Of View

Author: Benjamin Davis

When I was a kid, I had an uncle with no teeth who used to tell stories about a rabbit. He’d take out his false teeth, sit down on a stool, and all the children would gather around, cross-legged, hands-on-chins, doe-eyed, engrossed.

When I was a teenager at an all-boys high school, a girl named Jessica used to come early to pick up her brother before he got out of soccer practice; she’d perch outside on the wall, one leg folded over another, smiling down at us as we sat around, cross-legged, hands-on-chins, doe-eyed, engrossed. She didn’t have to say a goddamn word.

And eventually, of course, she wound up dating a senior kid, a kid who hadn’t been sitting there, who had walked by with nothing more than a “Hey, Jess” any time she came around. How could this be?! I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was there. I would have starved for her, given her my lunch every day of the week – yes, even on chicken nugget day. And yet, she walks off after a passing “Hey, Jess”? Psh.

I thought I’d learned the rules of the game: nice guys finish last; jerks get the girl.

Dating advice gets all twisted up at that age. ‘The Game’, people called it. How to win? “Be a jerk,” “ignore her,” and “make back-handed compliments” were standard bits of wisdom that got thrown around. I could never manage those – I could barely crawl out of the needy-desperation category (one, arguably, almost as unattractive). So, understandably, I did not get laid in high school. I thought, at the time, that only jerks got laid… but that wasn’t true. The thing was, the most attractive thing, the bit of advice that never got talked up enough, is that you simply needed to be nice. And the nice kids weren’t announcing to everyone that they’d gotten laid.

Movies at that time weren’t helping anyone. Sure, the jerks would lose in the end, but they were still getting laid. I know I should’ve been more concerned with a deeper connection – but I couldn’t even figure out this whole genitals-on-genitals connection. What did I know of love? And, in the end, the jerks didn’t lose to the nice guy. In any film that wasn’t near parody, they always lost to the confident guy.

So, I learned another rule (or so I thought): kind or mean, confidence is the name of the game.

Project confidence, be the center of attention, be admired by people around you. That’s how you do it. Women will want you if you are the ‘top-dog’. Being a jerk was no longer an attractive trait by that point. And still, I was… wrong. Projected confidence is shallow: it resulted in innumerable broken relationships, toxic encounters, sad endings. Those around me who had positive relationships that didn’t always work out and didn’t leave scars? The nice guys.

Now, in my 30s, I’m still single. Most jerks I’ve met in my life got unhappily married in their late 20s, usually to someone who was willing to put up with their shit. Similarly, most nice guys I’ve met are married or in long-term relationships, often happy. The few single guys I know at this age no longer see dating or sex as a game. A lot of them – like me – have learned enough to know that it has never been a game. And, if I’m honest, we should have figured that out a whole lot sooner. Nice guys don’t finish last – you just don’t hear about it until they’re in a serious relationship. Jerks don’t get laid – they’re bullies who are abusive and manipulative. There are no victories or defeats, winners or losers.

As they get older, two paths emerge for the single man: those who realize it’s not a game and those who don’t. Those who don’t, it doesn’t matter how old they get, they’ll be the ones in their 40s, like lingering farts, trolling bars, hitting on 20-year-olds. Those who do see that there are no rules because there are no players – there are only people forming connections. Men I’ve talked to in their 30s, 40s and even 50s, who are either never married or divorced, don’t talk about getting laid like it’s a game anymore. If anything, it comes up most often with married men who “got out of the game” when everyone still thought it was a game.

On countless occasions, I’ve sat with married men while they lament not being able to hit on chicks and get laid. Yet, when I got out with unmarried men, it becomes about whether you want to spend the whole night talking to someone, or if they make you laugh – or have the same goals, lifestyle, ideals. It’s not that being nice is a winning tactic – it’s human decency.

It’d be nice, though unlikely, if no one referred to sex and dating as a game again. Games have winners and losers, tactics, players, points. And it shouldn’t take 30 years for men to stop talking about ‘scoring’ like a bunch of goddamn losers.

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