One of the major things I’ve come to realize is that most game-playing in love and sex bites. Being in a long-term relationship for a few years now, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it in the realm of dating anymore.
Part of how I knew my man was a keeper was the fact that he didn’t beat around the bush in the early days of our relationship. If he wanted to see me, he’d text me. If he was thinking about me, he’d let me know. All the anxious hand-wringing that I went through around whether he truly liked me or not was easily solved by a sit-down conversation in which we dished out our feelings, uncensored. The drama that had characterized my intimate connections in my early twenties was a thing of the past. And I didn’t miss it.
I loved how easy it was to be with my partner and to cut through the crap and get to the heart of what was real. What truly mattered. However, it also made me realize that the absence of games altogether makes for a bland kind of relating. If we didn’t live in a world in which games were being played, we’d lose the essential sap that erotic desire and relationships thrive on. The world would be totally linear and dull.
Humans are fundamentally equipped for, and need to, play actively throughout our lives by nature’s design. Through the trial and error of millions of years of evolution, play is encoded in the very fabric of our DNA. And it’s what desire is made of.
I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t want games—it’s that I wanted better ones…ones that didn’t include the lies and oneupmanship that have caused so many women (and many men) to become embittered. The man I wanted would play a different game. A more gratifying game. A higher game. One in which he would meet me face-to-face, greet my desire, push me to let it out, and ride it like a bucking bronco.
As James Carse, author of Finite and Infinite Games, has noted: “A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”
When I met my partner, I was nine months out of a long-term relationship and ready to date again—but I was dreading the games that were causing so much heartache among my female friends. My partner was the first and only man I met online, and I think part of the reason we worked out is that I determined from the get-go that his game preference was infinite over finite.
The rules of a finite game are set in advance and can’t be changed, but the rules of an infinite game are always malleable, for the purpose of continuation and expansion. The thing with finite games is that they’re usually set up with a winner/loser framework, whereas an infinite game isn’t about coming out on top—it’s about making sure that everyone who’s involved is having a good time.
I’d figured out long ago that I didn’t need to waste my time and energy on a man running a game of a lesser variety. I intuited that the right kind of game doesn’t entail constantly wondering whether he “really likes me” or if “we want the same thing.” There are plenty of red flags and subtle signs that would announce his intentions from miles away. This is where the advantage of female intuition comes in handy, and where I think we are well within our rights to use it in lieu of “logic.”
On my brief but informative dating journey, I discovered that while plenty of men will tell you that the thrill of the chase is an important part of the courtship dance, players might throw you off by insisting that their intentions are “noble.” I was wary of the men who were overly smooth. Exaggeration as a method to get a woman hooked is a well-honed player tactic.
That’s why I learned to pay attention to what a man was saying, and I looked at his actions to see if they coincided with his words. From what I’ve seen, many men are accustomed to flattering a woman in order to get what they want, and it’s mostly unconscious, so language is hardly going to cue us into what he’s really thinking. Being out of a 10-year relationship that taught me that my time and attention are precious and nonrenewable resources, I learned to resist the need to have my ego stroked. I learned to listen for the message behind the message.
Most of all, I paid attention to nonverbal communication. A man who enjoys being the center of attention is usually incapable of offering his attention. While confidence is always appreciated, the smirk and swagger of the player reveal a guy who’s more vain than self-assured. The tendency to move into a woman’s personal space without much provocation is another sign that a man not interested in “penetrating” a woman and calling her desire out to play—he’s all about the domination, but only on his terms.
I was also careful not to misconstrue the guy with oh-so-keen attention as an automatic keeper. Just because he wasn’t a narcissist didn’t mean his motives were crystal clear. A man who is genuinely enjoying himself in the moment doesn’t need to hook a woman with false promises or grand claims of interest.
Of course, observing the way the men I dated interacted with other people—especially women—was another thing that helped me figure out whether he was going to be special in the long run. I considered how respectful each man was toward the people in his immediate circle. If he had a wingman flanking him (who was constantly assuring me that this dude was a great catch), my guard automatically went up. A player usually requires some artificial plumping-up by an external source to avoid looking like a total loser.
It’s usually a good sign if he has women friends, but I was also sure to look carefully at how the women in his life treated him. Did he have unfinished business with any of them? Did he speak poorly of his exes and refer to them as “psycho” or “crazy”? I figured this was a forewarning of what was to come if I were to get on his bad side—and at the very least, I saw it as a sign of a guy who didn’t take well to personal responsibility.
While players are usually perceived as being men who are “in their bodies,” I also realized that a man who uses physical affection as an ego stroke is quite distinct from a man who is genuinely at ease in his sexuality and body; the latter doesn’t need to constantly soak in other people’s adoration, and is just as comfortable in a woman’s bed as he is doing something in which he might get zero recognition.
I was also sure to pay attention to my sense of whether or not he was operating on formulas (for example, touching me on the knee or the small of my back to reinforce his interest) or whether he was acting from a place of spontaneous, un-self-conscious interest. If the latter was the case, the guy simply felt “good” to me. I attuned to my body to know whether or not I could trust him. After all, if there’s anything I’ve learned in life and love, it’s that the intellect has all kinds of tricks it routinely employs to explain away those weird gut feelings we sometimes get when something doesn’t quite feel right…but the body never lies.
At our core, we women understand that seduction is like good art; a man who’s sensitive to our deepest needs and desires will play upon them like a Stradivarius violin, simply for the pleasure of it. Players don’t really have time for this kind of non-goal-oriented pleasure, which is about two people entering a kind of “flow” state. The primary qualities of flow (which can’t, by the way, be faked) are timelessness, a loss of one’s narrow grip on self and identity, and intensified focus. In other words, true seduction happens for the sheer pleasure of it, not for any other purpose or goal. We are compelled to do what we are doing as kids in play are compelled to run, climb, wrestle, chase, shriek, and laugh. From this place, a man is oblivious to the possibility of failure, disappointment, or embarrassment. This leads to exquisite sexual tension rather than just plain tension—as well as deeply nourishing sex that takes its time to get to know you.
Author: Nirmala Nataraj
Editor: Travis May
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