When we think of game, many images might come to mind, but usually there’s an idea. There are set rules and house rules. Scores kept. Moves made. Someone to win. Someone to lose.
Then there’s the kind of game that applies to dating and relationships where we think of people having skill. Playing by the rules or breaking them. Making moves. Scoring. Love seems to be the only game where it’s possible for both players to win. Or to lose.
If we’re keeping score, I don’t look like the strongest player. After all, I’ve weathered breakups and divorce, then more breakups. I used to play by the rules, and now I break them. There are some moves made, and scoring is my business alone. I’ve played, and I’ve lost. And lost. And lost. Perhaps you think it’s time I stopped playing and just picked a partner. Or got out of the game altogether.
Of course, the way I measure success now has little to do with rounding the metaphorical bases. I don’t base it on whether or not I’ve kept a player or partner for a set amount of time. In fact, I see it as a strength that I stopped playing by someone else’s rules. I got out of relationships where there was a clear winner and a clear loser, and I was losing everything- namely myself.
If we want to level up our game for the kind of love where we don’t lose, we don’t need to practice flirtation or strengthen our texting prowess. We don’t need mad emoji game or to be able to entice strangers with just a few tricks up our sleeves. What we need to do is to level up our growth game.
A reader recently told me that her experience of dating as a more mature woman (30s and up) is that women have a strong growth game and men just play games. It makes dating fraught with frustration. She phrased it that men seem to have doubled-down on their issues while women are working through theirs. Of course, I know that this doesn’t apply to all women or men. There are men who have focused on their own personal growth as successfully as many women, but I do agree that it seems more common for women to have addressed issues and worked on self-improvement more so than men.
Before you protest, think about it. I’m not going to launch into a diatribe about the patriarchy, but I will say that our culture enables learned helplessness in men while encouraging women to be more independent. It does this by making household chores, childcare, and cooking the province of girls and women and shaming boys and men for taking an early interest in these areas. Women often learn early how to care for everyone else, which makes us particularly skilled at surviving on our own — even if we often don’t learn how to adequately take care of ourselves from a holistic perspective. We’re told that self-care is selfish, but we’re given all the tools to run households, raise children, hold down a job, get an education, and pay the bills.
You can see how this might elevate women and directly harm men. It’s why dismantling the patriarchy isn’t just a way of helping women. It’s an equalizer to create societies where all genders are encouraged to learn a full set of skills to become successful adults.
If it seems like I’m going off-topic, stay with me. In this same culture, we have women who are capable of taking care of business and comfortable with independence. Many of these women have also worked on personal growth over the years, looking at challenges as opportunities to learn and change. These same women go out into the dating world and are often encountering men (please excuse the heteronormative language) who have not done the work. Not only are some of them incapable of managing their finances, taking care of a home, single-handedly raising children, and cooking a meal that doesn’t involve a can or the microwave, they are also looking for a woman to fill that role. Beyond that, many of them express few interests or hobbies and often complain of being lonely and bored, as if women are supposed to also keep them entertained.
While I know that this doesn’t apply to every man and woman across the board, it’s a complaint I here often from other women. Women are working on their growth game, and yet the dating world is filled with men just working on another game entirely- trying to play games when women just aren’t interested in yet another mind f*ck. Men like this just want to score, but many women aren’t defining the success of our dating interactions by sex alone. Maybe it’s because we know that if we would settle for anything, sex would be easy to obtain. But that doesn’t make it a quality interaction (or quality sex), and many of us are looking for equal partners, not playmates.
Men and women alike need to level up the growth game and drop this other nonsense. It can’t be said enough, but sexy has little to do with physical appearance alone. There are many other qualities that are sexy: intelligence, confidence, having interests and hobbies, being authentic, being comfortable in one’s own skin, and having a good sense of humor. We don’t get these with another filtered selfie. We get this when we work on our personal development, unpack our own baggage, and stop looking for someone to complete us. Because no one is going to do that.
Read that again: No one is going to complete you. You are enough on your own. You don’t have this missing piece in the form of another person. Even if you believe in soul mates, that person isn’t meant to make your life magically whole. That’s putting way too much pressure on another human and can often lead to toxic relationships. We are meant to mature and develop into our fullest selves, capable of partnering another person if we so choose but not to be completed by them. I don’t care what Jerry Maguire says. That line tugged every heart string, but it isn’t true.
Once we realize that no one else is supposed to magically fulfill our needs, we can start doing the work on ourselves. Step one will always be getting to know who we are and what we want. After that, we need to figure out how to make what we want into a reality. We shouldn’t be online acting as though we don’t have interests or hobbies and are just sitting around lonely waiting for someone to make it all better. That’s not an attractive quality in a potential partner; it’s a big, fat, waving red flag.
When we have a strong growth game, the dating world isn’t easy. But we know that it’s not enough just to settle for anyone in order to have that handy plus-one. We’re ready for mature, strong relationships with people who are on the same level as we are, not someone playing that first level over and over again until they die. We need partners who have leveled up the way we have, so they can meet us where we are. And we don’t have the time or patience for anything else.
Some people are out there just trying to score, in the way they’ve traditionally thought of it. It’s all about sex and popularity still, as if high school never ended. But others are out there, leveling up, growing, getting stronger. We don’t want to play the love game where we keep losing. We don’t want to keep being sent back to the start to play again. We want to win, not score, but we’re not looking for the kind of win that means someone else naturally loses. We’re playing a partners game, or we’re just as happy to live this life on our own. After all, we’re smart, confident, happy in our own skin, authentic, interesting, and we have the sense of humor that keeps us going without becoming bitter. We’ve leveled up. We just want to know which game you’re playing.