Anyone who didn’t meet the love of their life in grade school has, at some point or another, sought advice. Some of us picked up a Cosmo or a GQ, some of us Googled “How do I attract another person?” and some of us discussed endlessly with best friends and strangers alike the nuances of how to get the interest of a potential special sweetheart. And the advice market is ripe: From bullet pointed lists about seductive not sultry makeup tips to tutorials on manners to some very convoluted concepts based on personal experience, no part of dating has been left undiscussed. For better or worse, much of the datingverse rhetoric is rooted in one simple premise: be a facade of who you already are.
This bothers me. Always has.
I remember being a teenager – 18 at most – and lamenting to my grandmother that boys just were not interested in me. She firmly explained that one of my biggest issues was that I did not “play the game” – I didn’t dress up (unless corduroy pants altered by my mom to be bell bottoms counted), I didn’t wear make up or nail polish, and I didn’t coo and say things like, “My what big muscles you have!” I countered her explanation, saying I didn’t believe “the game” was necessary, or that at the very least, the game shouldn’t be. We were standing by her washing machine, our debate more and more heated, until finally tears came to my eyes as I wondered if the only way to be loved would be to change. It was a lot to take in, especially considering I grew up in a culture that told me I should “be myself” and revel in my uniqueness. Clearly, my grandmother and I grew up in different eras.
I never did play the full game, and yes, have had dates and relationships (some more successful than others). In some ways, I evolved on my own into the “advice” recommended to date-cravers, and yes, I do change my outfit three or four times before a date – though to be fair, I do the same before an interview for a job, too. I suppose the difference is that the elements of the game I’ve incorporated are about what makes me comfortable and what pleases me. Which leads me to wondering: what happens to you and your relationships when instead of evolving, you simply play the game, put on the facade, strut the walk and at some point after catching someone, have to reveal your other self?*
Take ladies. We’re encouraged to dress the part of a vixen, not only to tell a guy we’re interested in having sex with him, but also just to get attention in the first place (thus perhaps leading a guy to believe we want to have sex with him when really we may want companionship too). And men, you’re told to bill yourself as confident beyond all reason. So what happens when the gals dressed to the nines are actually old fashioned and not into sex on the first date, or a guy’s true personality is a bit more humble? Keeping up appearances is tough when it doesn’t come naturally. Instead of enjoying being with a person, you’re stuck figuring out your next move, staying up on your game, and focusing on yourself…which is odd since part of the point of dating is focusing on someone else and figuring out of they’re right for you.
I’m not saying these techniques don’t work; they have proven time and time again to either get someone laid or get someone a date. I am saying I’m not convinced they set you up for a healthy relationship (past one night together) with another person. (And even if all you want is one night, I can’t be the only person who has ever woken up in the morning and disliked myself because I behaved in a way not true to me.) If we change for dating, attempting to fit into a more constructed idea of what is “likable” and what is not, how do we go about not losing what makes us an individual with morals, values, beliefs, and thoughts? How do we not stifle what we could actually be bringing to the table?
Of course, there’s another side of the coin: the only way for being exactly yourself in the datingspehere to work relies on potential mates/dates being willing to not to be socialized to only be attracted to a uniformed brand of people.
*Perhaps I’m staunchly concerned about this style of dating because I dislike the idea of having to catch someone, or of having to be caught.